Hardcore band Poison the Well was playing through the speakers as the Granada’s doors opened to decorated metal fans wearing black metal band tees and shoegazers wearing Canadian tuxedo. Naturally, the denim denizens resided in the back of the venue, hovering near the safety of the merch table. While bloggers and various forums might be divided on the genre-classification of Deafheaven, lead guitarist Kerry McCoy’s first major chords would later unify the superficially divided crowd at Deafheaven’s October 25 show.
No matter what color the vibrant lighting rig was radiating, the stage was shrouded in blackness when Swedish death metal band Tribulation exorcised their musical demons before a crowd that slowly increased in size.
As the opening band for Deafheaven, Tribulation’s skull-embroidered chains lowering three odorless candles from the mic stands initially seemed excessive. But Tribulation’s ominous visual scheme and figurative throat-slicing aren’t representative of their current incarnation as ’70s hard-rockers. Opting out of the extended amalgamations of their previous work, Tribulation performed relatively focused and succinct tracks.
Tribulation guitarists Jonathan Hultén and Adam Zaars resourcefully used every minute of their performance as a platform to illustrate their raw talent. With ten minutes left in their performance, Tribulation unleashed a supernova of bass, forcing the courageous metalheads standing directly next to the speakers on either side of the stage to centralize in an effort to distribute damage equally to both ears. Those with the bravery to remain by the speakers devised bonnets with their recently purchased Deafheaven tees and fleece sweaters to reduce the impact.
After Tribulation casually expressed their gratitude to the audience, Deafheaven ambled on to the stage in a measured manner and performed a roughly twenty minute soundcheck. Deafheaven is renowned for their unadulterated emotional content, but their stoic demeanor didn’t belie this. None of the eclectic band’s members even acknowledged the audience until their pedals were live, the drum set was dusted of powder, and their guitars were tuned.
When Deafheaven’s vocalist and co-founder George Clarke indicated to the audio technicians in his soft, nasally driven voice that he was comfortable with the acoustics, the crowd anxiously gathered around the apron of the stage. Foreshadowing the crowd’s dynamics, the right side of the crowd pounced their heads forwards and backwards with the fervor of an aggressively vomitting cat during the intermission, while the left side swayed with the viscosity of a malleable Jell-O jenga tower.
Deafheaven began playing New Bermuda, their third and most recent LP, which they would play in its entire chronological order, as they did with Sunbather — their lauded 2013 album. Despite knowing the setlist ahead of time, the sudden intensity of the opening track “Brought to the Water” transported the crowd into a static trance, which quickly morphed into reverent energy.
The sheer activity of New Bermuda’s second track “Luna” is more emblematic of a cognitive barricade to an undesirable emotion than an unabashed thrasher. Deafheaven treats deafness as a conduit to introspection. Covering your ears with your hands renders you helpless to your own voice. They enveloped the crowd’s ears with their thoughtful and refined guitar riffs and a tireless bombardment of overwhelming drum-technique, coiling around the crowd’s perception like a therapeutic snake, forcing them to confront themselves introspectively.
By New Bermuda’s last track “Gifts for the Earth,” the lights radiated through the fog onto an audience that was physically polarized by their response to the music, but unified by Clarke’s frenetic howls and Deafheaven’s instrumentally ubiquitous emotion.
Rather than dropping the mic, McCoy looped the guitar, concluding the album. Deafheaven disassembled one-by-one, and the crowd anxiously stood fast, allowing the paralyzing guitar drone permeate them. The guitar’s single droning note was somehow more powerful than the relatively busy interludes earlier in the show — a testament to both McCoy’s technical skill and Deafheaven’s cumulative ability to draw emotion out of every note and every member of the crowd.
Clarke returned to the stage, pulling the crowd together towards the apron with rapid hand-gestures, announcing “this next track is called ‘Sunbather.’” If a mic drop would be appropriate at any point, it would be then. Sunbather gleamed through the darkness of New Bermuda’s residual energy like sun-rays during rain.
The sole barrier separating both genuses of the crowd, physicality, was eviscerated in a simultaneously desperate and victorious moment. Metalheads, shoegazers, post-rock fans, and unaffiliated music fans flooded toward the front of the show. When Clarke announced that Sunbather’s other critically revered track “Dream House” would be closing the show, the energy of the crowd could only be expressed by moshing towards the right of the stage, where the thrashers generally congregated. One man lost his glasses and another accessory, but smiled, releasing knowing tears of joy anyway.
Deafheaven tethered the otherwise divided crowd emotionally and physically. Lawrence’s Granada was tangibly oozing with raw emotion — or maybe that was sweat. Probably the latter.
Regardless, the Deafheaven concert resembled a shaman retreat more than a metal concert. It was emotionally charged and physically draining, but immensely rewarding for everyone who attended.