The Awe-Inspiring Sadness of Deafheaven’s ‘Ordinary Corrupt Human Love’

ordinary corrupt human love - Deafheaven
Deafheaven embrace post-rock and traditional heavy metal on the black metal band’s latest epic, ‘Ordinary Corrupt Human Love.’

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San Francisco’s Deafheaven perform a style of metal that, more often than not, has a high barrier for entry.  Black metal’s blast beats, distorted chugging guitars, and lo-fi production are all contributing factors, but the growled and screamed vocals often turn off a number of potential listeners above all else.  Deafheaven packs all the intensity of classic black metal, but they’ve created their own ambient sound making them more accessible, most notably on 2013’s Sunbather.  Still, Deafheaven’s music bears an insurmountable weight.  It’s the type of music that will swallow you whole.  It’s music that can compliment pain and numbness comfortably.  The band’s latest offering Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (released July 13, 2018 via ANTI-) sees the band stretching their sound as far as they ever have, incorporating clean vocals, bringing clean tones to the forefront, and utilizing guitar solos that harken to classic metal bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, and Black Sabbath.


ordinary corrupt human love - Deafheaven

ordinary corrupt human love – Deafheaven

What’s most distinctive about Deafheaven perhaps is the immeasurable parts of sadness that it forces you to explore, and those feelings are directly tackled on OCHL.  This is noticed from the beginning of the Nadia Kury-narrated spoken word piece of “You Without End”-a love song to the deceased.  Unlike Deafheaven’s past albums, this opener isn’t menacing (like on New Bermuda), aggressive (like Sunbather), or haunting (like Roads to Judah); it’s peaceful.  The song never builds to a pulverizing drone that Deafheaven performs so well.  Kerry McCoy just gently solos, and it has the epic simplicity of classic rock.  Even though George Clarke’s signature growl comes in, he’s performing over a much slower and more subdued piece.  The band’s use of cleaner, crisper tones is the most noticeable deviation from their past work.  While they’ve always been cinematic, songs like “Glint” and “Night People” see the band exploring how to make clean tones sound epic.  “Night People” in particular explores this the best.  As Clarke sings clean with Chelsea Wolfe, they create a true metal ballad-a song about finding love in chaos:

Biblical sky speckled with flame
Do you hold your mother’s eyes
From wetting the earth?
From weeping for those
Who reward fame to absolutes of war?
Or for heroic myths
Provided to children
Married into ferocity?
They instead witness themselves
And the black sand of your body slipped through
And the black sand of your body slipped through
And the black sand of your body slipped through
And the black sand of your body
I found myself at your side


The piano and production of “Night People” presses down in a way that Deafheaven in the past would have rather beat down.  This is to say that it bares a heavy load, but it doesn’t try to drive you into the ground with it.

Of course, there is still plenty of intensity though.  Deafheaven’s heavier side here mostly embraces the sort of black metal-shoegaze hybrid that the band has become known for.  Clarke’s vocals may be a little higher in the mix, but it’s still suited for people who don’t regularly listen to black metal.  The songs still contain the same battering yet calming black metal that surrounds the listener.  Here it doesn’t sound as brutal as on New Bermuda though or as beachy and relaxed as Sunbather; on Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, the onslaught is depressive.  Still, there’s a certain resilience against it that comes in the best records about depression.  This is reflected best in McCoy’s guitar playing that incorporates classic hard rock and traditional metal soloing.  About four and half minutes into “Honeycomb,” McCoy plays a major key solo that sounds reminiscent of Randy Rhoads or Hammerfall.  These little moments of joy are scattered throughout OCHL, and they provide optimism amongst the darkness.

Deafheaven © 2018

Deafheaven © 2018

What Ordinary Corrupt Human Love does best is that it cements Deafheaven as a rock band rather than a metal outfit.  It makes it harder to pigeonhole them into a shoegaze-inspired black metal for hipsters band.  It shows off their versatility more so than in the past, and it retains the same dark emotions that make Deafheaven so great to begin with.

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ordinary corrupt human love - Deafheaven

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Ordinary Corrupt Human Love

James is a writer, currently in Human Resources at The New York Times. Besides Atwood, he's contributed to SensationsPress.com and his own blog BurgerADay.com. In his free time, James also writes poetry, performs stand-up comedy, listens to more podcasts than he can keep up with, and can be found floating around shows in New York City's punk scene.