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Live Review + Photos: Deafheaven 2016

Deafheaven
The Sydney Opera House, 02/06/2016
Review + Pics: Peter Zaluzny

From now on, all metal bands must play at the Sydney Opera House. Okay, maybe not all, but more bands need to give it a try. Sure, sitting down to watch a show that would typically demand frenzied moshing is a little weird, but for a band like Deafheaven, who had been brought out as part of the Vivid Live series, the backdrop was strangely fitting.

Shows such as these in standing venues are half-entertainment, half-self preservation amidst a flurry of sweaty hair, with an endless circle pit swirling behind But without the first segment of this equation, the Sydney crowd had a rare opportunity to completely focus on the gritty beauty that is blackgaze. To lose themselves in ambient, reverb heavy, effect laden tones and fast, filthy, distorted tremolos – two sides of the same atmospheric coin that somehow complement each other when placed in the right hands.

Well that, and Deafheaven’s mind-boggling live skills. Listen to their albums, then go to a show and you won’t be able to tell the difference. After watching them play in a concert hall fine-tuned for optimum audio, it’s hard to think about Deafheaven’s complex, multifaceted wall of sound being torn apart in some shitty bar with a lazy slob behind the mixing desk. This music needs to be treated with care, and the Opera House delicately gave each member their own spot to shine through with total clarity.

And volume, lots of volume, but is there any other way to absorb their music? After all, 2015’s New Bermuda, which was played in full, is designed to ensconce, assault and caress every inch of your body. By cranking up the speakers, Sydney fans experienced a sensation normally reserved for headphones or home listening, in the flesh, from their heads to their toes and right through to their fingertips.

Most of the members stayed relatively still, directing their attention towards nailing the complicated songs, with some like head banging. Front man George Clarke handled the theatrical side of the show, erratically moving about the stage with a kind of frenetic urgency that seemed spontaneous, but was far too precise to have emerged unrehearsed. At times he would embrace his inner grandiose conductor, others he would go completely old-school by banging his head like a mad man.

Sydney eventually matched his enthusiasm, after his repeated attempts to get everyone on their feet. The problem was, even though everyone knew that standing head banging and throwing your arms in the air was completely fine, it still felt a little weird given the surroundings. It wasn’t until “Sunbather” that the general air of insecurity about going fucking wild, in a place normally reserved for symphonies and ballet, completely disappeared. It was wonderful.

Clarke’s piercing screeches were up there with the black metal legends, while Daniel Tracy’s incredible abilities and unrelenting blast beats behind the drum kit, pummel the room beneath the wavy, soaring sounds of blackgaze guitar and bass. Behind strobes, hazy orange hues and other visual treats from the lighting rig, Deafheaven delivered an impeccable set that brought a new kind of beauty to the Opera House.

It was a euphoric experience, one that was so overwhelming at times, all you could do was laugh as the stunning spectacle continued to unfold, while it held everyone in a clenched fist. 75-minutes wasn’t nearly enough time for fans, but Deafheaven showed that they, and other metal bands of a similar ilk, deserve to take that stage. The juxtaposition between the chaos inside the theatre, and the calm surroundings of the Sydney Opera House, was a perfect way to emphasise just how special that show was. It was so different, and yet after watching it play out, it was impossible to picture their performance anywhere else.

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