With a title derived from a mid-20th century British novel, San Francisco-based “blackgaze” band Deafheaven is unafraid to dive directly into the thought provoking and, to the detriment of the art presented here, get blinded by pretension. Deafheaven made their mark in 2013 with the release of the exalted Sunbather, a black metal album that brought elements of shoegaze and post-rock alongside a warm touch that was in stark contrast to the icy approach that the genre was frozen within. Five years later Deafheaven is still delivering their trademark sound; now I strongly get the impression that they are so wrapped up in their own originality in comparison to the rest of their genre that they have forgotten that their entire foundation was built upon innovation. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is, fittingly, the most ordinary Deafheaven album the world has ever laid ears upon.
The album opens up with the most atrocious offense Deafheaven has committed to recording, “You Without End,” which plays at first like an intricate post-rock piece but morphs into sounding like a piano rock ballad one might hear on an adult contemporary station with screamed vocals. Both of the tracks that contain piano on this album – this one and “Night People” – come across as nothing but corny, and the piano playing is so unimpressive compared to every other element of the band’s sonic lineup that it makes me wonder whose idea it was to include it. The most redeeming quality of this song comes at the end, when it transitions relatively interestingly into “Honeycomb.” This track, in contrast to “You Without End,” is one of the best pieces that Deafheaven have put together. It is a swaggering display of everything that has made Deafheaven so critically acclaimed – every aspect of their instrumentation is firing on all cylinders throughout the entirety of the track’s eleven minute runtime. Perhaps the band’s most compelling quality is their firm grasp on knowing when to drown the mix and when to not – and this song is a master class in just that. A common theme throughout Deafheaven’s discography is that the guitar takes the narrative lead throughout most of it, and with “Honeycomb” it tells a tale of building triumph and crashing melancholy. “Honeycomb” closes with an angelic choir – a must-have in black metal as it seems – and transitions into “Canary Yellow.”
At the outset, the guitar within “Canary Yellow” takes a much lighter approach than the preceding track, but the drums retain the same level of intensity. This contrast keeps fresh what is otherwise not a particularly momentous song. The ferocity of the guitar playing in the track flips about, displaying Deafheaven’s infatuation with going from a loud bit, to a breakdown, to loud again in predictable fashion. This retains its interest for most of the runtime of “Canary Yellow,” but by the time the album comes around to “Glint,” this wears incredibly thin, especially considering how the trio of “Honeycomb,” “Canary Yellow,” and “Glint” – the three tracks that are entirely built on this structure – collectively last almost thirty five minutes. For its cinematic length, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love presents too few original angles to their musical approach to make it worth sitting through.
A notable counterpoint to this comes in the form of “Near,” a lackluster repetitive post-rock mumbling mess that nevertheless sounds different than everything else on the album. “Can I rest for a while?” the lyrics ask, and Deafheaven certainly is resting here. Unfortunately, they seem to have also fallen asleep.
“Worthless Animal,” the closer of Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is – with the exception of “Near” – markedly the most somber moment. Deafheaven drops the blast beats for once and instead opts for a different approach to percussion that breathes air into otherwise still water. The euphoric flip within this track captures a very powerful emotional moment, and is the most genuine point that the album happens to come across as. The lead out into wind bleeds archetypical.
Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is a delivery of what was expected, which ultimately comes across as uninteresting. If Deafheaven is to produce another masterpiece like Sunbather again in their existence, they need to get out of their own head and stop believing that the innovations they made half a decade ago are still mind-melting today.