Deafheaven make inner-directed ambient metal that could fill an aircraft hangar, and keep evolving while it did it. With a Metacritic score of 92 out of 100 after 17 reviews, the San Francisco band's second album, Sunbather, is probably the most critically acclaimed metal release of 2013, with a mournful wall of caterwaul that is impressively varied. The architectural details beg for headphones and have inspired Swans comparisons from awed metal pundits.
Deafheaven's core, since months before their first show in July 2010, has always been guitarist Kerry McCoy and vocalist George Clarke, previously both members of the Modesto, Calif., grindcore/tech-death band Rise of Caligula. Taking on three other musicians, they followed up a four-song demo and their "Libertine Dissolves"/"Daedelus" single with the 2012 debut full-length [Roads to Judah]. They still tour as a quintet, though the drummer, bassist and second guitarist have all changed in the past year. And Sunbather itself is more sonically stripped down: Basically, just McCoy and Clarke supported by drummer Daniel Tracy, plus Neige of the French metalgaze band Alcest reciting spoken words in one song.
Three shorter tracks shift the pace: a music-box lullaby for post-Tortoise post-rockers ("Irresistible"); film sound bites overcome by what sounds like a vacuum cleaner that reveals acoustic strumming when unplugged ("Please Remember"); a preacher warning that hell is a real place amid musique concrète ("Windows"). But the yaaaarghing black metal panic attacks, crisscrossing feedback-storm overtones and melancholy minimalist moods in four long compositions -- ranging from nine to nearly 12 minutes each -- are Deafheaven's real chaotic calling card.