10 Years Ago, Deafheaven’s Sunbather Challenged the Boundaries of Metal

By mixing dissimilar genres, the band created one of the most praised yet polarizing albums of the 2010s

Deafheaven Sunbather anniversary
Deafheaven, courtesy of the artist

    “The whole shoegaze/black metal, or post-black metal thing, was being done 10 years before we were a band,” founding Deafheaven guitarist Kerry McCoy told Red Bull Music Academy in 2017. Indeed, blackgaze had been around for several years prior to the San Francisco act’s 2010 formation, with Alcest, Fen, and Amesoeurs (among other artists) helping kick it off.

    Even so, neither those bands nor their black metal forefathers (Immortal, Agalloch, Mayhem, Bathory, etc.) were ever truly household names. Despite being moderately successful, Deafheaven’s 2011 debut record – Roads to Judah – didn’t exactly launch the style into the public consciousness, either.

    Follow-up Sunbather, however, absolutely did.

    Released on June 11th, 2013, it saw McCoy and founding vocalist George Clarke further combining the brutality and/or beauty of influences such as Ulver, Emperor, Mogwai, The Cranberries, and Slowdive (whose name inspired theirs) into innovative new musical tapestries. Unsurprisingly, the end result was simultaneously adored by critics and admonished by black metal purists.


    A full decade later, the highly celebrated but contentious album still stands as a bold step forward for both Deafheaven and blackgaze as a whole.

    Part of Sunbather’s triumph lies in the hardships that the duo – who were previously in grindcore act Rise of Caligula – overcame while creating it. Simply put, Roads to Judah was written and recorded as a quintet, but shortly thereafter, guitarist Nick Bassett, drummer Trevor Deschryver, and bassist Derek Prine left due in part to the fact that Clarke and McCoy couldn’t afford to keep them around.

    Actually, McCoy revealed in the Red Bull interview, the pair were sharing an apartment with several other roommates and “eating on food stamps.” Thus, they couldn’t fully begrudge the other guys for leaving, and they embraced composing Sunbather entirely on their own since – as Clarke mentioned to PopMatters in 2013 – it allowed them to “get into each other’s heads” and work with a shared vision.

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