The partnership of Chelsea Wolfe and Deafheaven had the blessing of the sort of excitement that can only really come from the spontaneous.
Deafheaven's opener Chelsea Wolfe’s self-described “specific brand of drone-metal-art-folk” had the potential to fall flat before a more traditional metal audience, especially with an hour long set. But while Chelsea’s creative use of two microphones, loop tracks, ambient effects and a strong backing band helped draw the crowd in, it was her remarkable personal charisma which succeeded in sustaining her unique, somewhat homogenous tonal space.
Chelsea’s set led to a boiling-kettle level of intensity before the main act, a sense of unreleased tension helped by The Garage’s somewhat fascistic security policy and no-reentry rules. Both Chelsea Wolfe and Deafheaven have spent time touring with noise-metal act Russian Circles, whose vocals-less performances have made them experts in building and releasing tension, something both acts channeled over the course of the night.
Deafheaven are in many ways the next step after bands like Agalloch and Wolves in the Throne Room, who began to filter the under-produced transcendent aggression of black metal through careful use of acoustic instrumentation, post-rock song structures and sparing clean vocals. Deafheaven’s evolution from prior influence is built partly on an influence from Shoegaze, evidenced in the swirling, noisy tremolo guitars. This successful amalgamation, fully realised in their latest album, Sunbather, has brought the band a wealth of critical praise.
While most of Deafheaven spend the show focused on their complex and shifting musicianship (drummer Daniel Tracey deserves special note), singer Clarke brought an energy and physicality to his live performance which blended militaristic posturing with an occasional swing into heavily feminine physicality. If you take the position that extreme music is designed to inspire a reaction, a black metal band who spit on an effigy of Christ to the cheers of their audience are no different to a preacher who denounces Satan to a rapturous audience. But when Clarke violates the performative posturing of the metal subculture, in front of an audience still rooted in that mentality, his presence becomes far more provocative. In the same way that Deafheaven refuse to conform to normative ideas of a 'black metal' band, Clarke plays with image and physicality to subvert expectations of metal machismo.
The audience were also treated to a new song, 'From the Kettle Onto the Coil', but it was Sunbather favourites, 'Dream House' and the album’s sprawling titular track which brought the audience surging forwards. Deafheaven bring a lot of interesting issues to light, but none of these issues would be relevant if they weren’t rooted in novel and skillful music. From brutal extremity to moments of post-rock lightness, the audience and band were in lockstep. There’s a lot of self-belief in Deafheaven’s existence, and it’s hard to overstate just how strong the audience-band bond had become by the end. Clarke acted as a sort of conduit between the music and his audience, sailing, arms spread through the front rows. At certain points, the show touched on the transcendent. As live acts go, Deafhaven could hardly come more highly recommended.