Is blackgaze a genre of its own? Is blackgaze a branch of black metal? Is blackgaze anathema to a trve metaller?
Yes, yes and no. These are my answers. Yours would be probably different and we’d get along just fine. Blackgaze is a weird beast, wildly variating between being rooted in the extreme metal spectrum and being too “easy listening”. Nor that a genre that includes screaming can be considered easy to listen in any case. Yet, that’s the common accusation.
Whatever you may think of blackgaze, it’d be a crime to approach it with an emotionally charged state, usually a negative one. There are some true gems that are blackgaze or have influenced the genre that ignoring it altogether would be a dire loss for your ears. Without even going back as far as Burzum or Ulver’s Bergtatt, the latest efforts of Agalloch and the first of Alcest are valid issues no matter what side of the music we approach it. You may not like for a reason or another, too atmospheric or too harsh as it may be; yet they’re objectively good albums.
As is Ordinary Corrupt Human Love.
Deafheaven have long pioneered the blackgaze scene, which in my opinion has its roots in Burzum as much as black metal has its in Venom. Now they may have taken the crown of the kings of the genre with this stunning album.
I usually worry when a band I follow gets a great review on Pitchfork. In the case of Deafheaven, they liked each one of their previous efforts, while I found them always lacking in something, and not the best they could do. There was always a feeling of having room for improvement, that with some more polishing and care the albums would attain masterpiece status.
Therefore their resounding 8.5 for Ordinary Corrupt Human Love looked like yet another not completely successful act for Deafheaven. The very first song proved me wrong, and Pitchfork right, for once.
“You Without End” may be one of the best songs I’ve heard in the last decade. In any genre. It’s a cornerstone of mellow piano melodies, melancholia, sunny afternoons, love, shrieking vocals and melodious guitar blasts that comes and goes for 7, amazing, minutes. It catches you unaware each time, yet somehow you expects it each time too. Kerry McCoy has space enough to enjoy crafty guitarwork and Clarke’s vocals are just the right amount and the right power to not overcome the slower moments while remembering the “black” element of the band.
If you have a friend that asks what blackgaze is, direct him/her to Ordinary Corrupt Human Love and its very first song. It is the Freezing Moon of the genre. Oh yes.
The following song, “Honeycomb”, reverts the order of the extreme and mellow, putting the former at the beginning whereas “You Without End” had put it after. Not a drop in quality altogether either. “Canary Yellow” has an epic touch, while still being melancholic enough to not divert the mood of the album elsewhere. Both these songs sport an amazing guitar playing, which I found sometimes missing or subdued in the previous Deafheaven’s albums. Finally now it is on the front, for every listener to be amazed of.
The melancholia grows to its highest in the album with “Near”, which would be a song Pink Floyd would write if they were a young band in the 2000s. “Glint” is as musically powerful as the others but less emotionally valid. It is the one that the most remembers me of Sunbather, and the one I play the less.
Chelsea Wolfe adds her voice to the following song, “Night People”, which conveys all the love and languid desperation feelings of the album into it. Again, it remembers me of Pink Floyd, like it was a Wish You Were Here of Deafheaven, simple yet emotionally powerful. “Worthless Animal” may be one of the less “worthless” ending track of any album, Harshness and sweetness mixed throughout the song without a clear pattern, making it the perfect conclusion for the album. It may have a nice nod to the ending of Bergtatt too, which I hope somebody asks Clarke about. To me the semblance is obvious.
We’re facing here an album that is great for a lazy hot summer or for a dark and lonely winter as well. There’s enough of either seasons in it to make it a valid play throughout the year. Which is an accomplishment in itself. The rest is awesome metal and emotions, as I hadn’t heard in a very long time. Buy it, go see the tour, support the band. This is what an evolution should be for a band, fixing all the missing pieces of Sunbather and New Bermuda, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is where Deafheaven found their perfect concoction of sounds and vocals, what blackgaze is all about and what the genre will look for inspiration in the years to come.