Music fans can be bitter. They can be bitchy. They can be pissy. Just ask Deafheaven: When their second album, Sunbather, slammed its pink cover, modern art font and shoegaze melodies up against the music world's brittle psyche in 2013, a chorus of "true" black-metal cultists replied with a resounding cry of Waaaa! Mom! The pool's dirty!
It was ugly. Deafheaven were considered hipster's pets. They peddled limited-edition pink blankets. They had fascist haircuts. They played false metal. Deafheaven responded by touting their black-metal bona fides in interviews and doubling down on heaviness and harshness with 2015's New Bermuda. Then they did the smart thing: They stopped giving a fuck.
So let's get this out of the way: Deafheaven is not a black-metal band. Once you accept that, you can judge Ordinary Corrupt Human Love on its merits rather than how well it might fit into some basement-dwelling titty-baby's idea of black metal. Because here's the thing: The members themselves don't even consider Deafheaven a black-metal band. Here's an excerpt from an interview I did with vocalist George Clarke a couple of months ago:
IS DEAFHEAVEN STILL A BLACK-METAL BAND?
GEORGE CLARKE No. But we haven't been for a long time. We may have never been, ever. [Laughs] Do we have black-metal influences? Yes. Will we always? Probably. Has it also spider-webbed into a million different things? Yes.
That spider web is Ordinary Corrupt Human Love. After opening with a somber piano and lap steel on "You Without End," the first voice you hear isn't Clarke's scathing rasp. It's that of a woman named Nadia Kury — girlfriend of Deafheaven guitarist Shiv Mehra — reading from a short story written by Clarke's friend Tom McElravey. When Clarke does emerge from the gauzy post-rock haze, he's the most metal thing on the song, which relies on Queen-inspired leads and a "Layla"-esque piano melody rather than tremolo riffs and blast beats.
After a brief electronic intro, slashing metallic chords announce "Honeycomb," the album's dizzying lead single, which locks into Deafheaven's signature trifecta of frenzied drums, triumphant black-gaze guitars and Clarke's demonic hiss. But then something unexpected happens: It turns into this incredibly upbeat rock & roll song, complete with flashy Seventies guitar moves. Then it downshifts into a chiming indie-rock cascade. Clocking in at 11:05, it's only the second longest-song on the album.
The longest is "Canary Yellow," which undulates in languid instrumental optimism for nearly three minutes before exploding in shredded-larynx catharsis and then morphing into a chanted sing-along. It's like three different songs in one, but the transitions are seamless. The same could be said of the 10-plus minute epics "Glint" and "Worthless Animal."
The band — led by guitarist/composer Kerry McCoy and drummer Daniel Tracy — deliver bravura performances throughout. You'll hear Radiohead influences. You'll hear Godspeed You! Black Emperor influences. You'll hear Britpop influences. You'll hear Clarke duet — and by that we mean actually sing — with Chelsea Wolfe on "Night People." It's not a Dio cover, either — it's a pulsing piano ballad that sounds like something the late virtuoso Jeff Buckley might have written.
What does any of this have to do with black metal? Who cares? As with every other band you've ever heard, you either like Deafheaven or you don't. Four albums in, they've transcended genre. So enjoy the album. Or don't. Just don't waste your time/energy/breath worrying about how "true" it is.