Photographs by Neil Van.
The one noticeable thing about a Deafheaven show is how unique the experience always is. Before tonight, I had seen the group three times and they played the exact same setlist. Each show still felt unique because of the vastly contrasting opening bands that started each evening. We’ve had dream pop, indie rock, industrial and stripped down metal lead the band in before, but with a new release (New Bermuda), it was going to be interesting seeing how the band was going to present themselves this time.
Before a single note was played, it already was interesting. Incense was strapped to a speaker and candles hung from a microphone via a dangling backbone. Who knew what was going to happen (unless you did your simple research, of course). Suddenly, in LA-glammed corpse paint and tight clothes, Swedish metal band Tribulation came out. Like the dead come alive and strung out on souls, guitarists Jonathan Hultén and Adam Zaars coasted around the stage with sprawled stances and pulled faces. This was very much an extreme metal band that was influenced by some lighter metal genres as they weren’t too serious about their performance. With Nachtmystium-like effects and a clear groove within each song, Tribulation were a Halloween after the holiday: Good, clean, sinister fun.
After the heaviest band to open for Deafheaven that I’ve personally seen, the ghoulish set pieces were removed (it’s a shame as the incense was lovely). We had a set up that had the next band somewhat turned in on each other. There was a stand for the lead singer that faced stage left, for instance. Then came on Japanese post rock/hardcore group Envy, who performed precisely within that arrangement. It was quite a unique experience, where it was as though we were witnessing a band rehearsing in a studio. The connection with the audience came from the skyrocketing textures of melodies. Singer Tetsuya Fukagawa read off stories in Japanese that I couldn’t understand but felt like I connected with. The pain in his face and the way his hands conducted the ways his words soared in mid air was all through distraught angst. It was stunning, until he finally faced the audience and growled with such fury and anguish. The music got highly chaotic to match the turning tide. That’s when Envy’s set became even more stunning. What a palette of emotions that united the entire venue! Everyone applauded and chanted for Envy quite unlike the kind of reception you see for many opening bands nowadays (this would have been their encore moment had they been the headliners).
We had heavy metal and post hardcore as appetizers, and there wasn’t a better way to open for the newly evolved Deafheaven. This time around, there wasn’t that tremelo guitar that opened Dream House to scorch my ears. There were bells and drone, awaiting to start-wait for it-all of New Bermuda in full. With a few songs to follow this album play through, this was to be (what George Clarke himself described as) the longest setlist Deafheaven have ever played at an hour and a half in length. This was a triathlon for the band who always play with such energy and charisma, but it was a decathlon for drummer Daniel Tracy who absolutely nailed the complex speed and timing that was required (with his best performance I have seen yet).
This Deafheaven was a bit different and it was refreshing. Clarke’s vocals were mixed higher than the other three times I have seen the band. His dancing was as manic as ever, but this time he had some rhythm to his madness, as if he was more in control and was even having a bit of fun with his possessive demons. Kerry McCoy, usually clad in a variety of logos and patches, simply donned a Metallica shirt tonight that perhaps matched the stronger metal elements on the new album. His playing, along with the other band mates, was incredibly tight. The group has always sounded close, but not as close as they did this night with the new material. With Tribulation, Envy and Deafheaven, Toronto got a nuanced, fun and emotional show that was like a tapestry of chaos. What a thrill as always, Deafheaven.