2020; the year that wasn’t a year. A year where so much changed, but so little happened. A generation defining 12 months; yet for most of those months the population was confined to their homes. A year without live music.
And so we come to '10 Years Gone' - San Francisco metal band Deafheaven’s answer to some of the problems 2020 has thrown at us - a live album that isn’t a live album. Deafheaven had planned for this to be a celebratory year; they wanted to mark the 10th anniversary of their debut demo with a grand tour of North America. The events of 2020 put paid to that, and so '10 Years Gone' is a ‘live in the studio’ rendition of the set they had planned to perform; eight tracks from throughout their career, recorded in studio session format with long-time producer Jack Shirley.
Adored by the indie-press for their progressive melding of extreme metal with shoegaze and post-rock, whilst conversely reviled by many in the traditional metal community for their apparent temerity in using black metal genre motifs while eschewing the traditional aesthetic, it is fair to say the middle-ground is often untrodden when it comes to opinions on Deafheaven. But an objective listener would be hard-pushed to deny Deafheaven offer a lot to both the indie and the metal fan, and this record provides a chance to study the progress of the band as songwriters, and to really take in their musicianship. The track listing itself is interesting as it isn’t necessarily a ‘greatest hits’, but more a carefully crafted reflection on the disparate parts of the band’s sound, and a journey through their development from unsigned duo to Grammy-nominated five-piece.
The session format both adds and takes away. Older tracks such as 'Deadalus' and 'Vertigo' feel sharper and more focused, guitarists McCoy and Mehra finding new ways to refine and accentuate particular parts and melodies, whilst the bluesy breakdown in 'Glint', from 2018’s 'Ordinary Corrupt Human Love', sounds like it’s been further honed in its two years away from the studio and in front of crowds. But on tracks such as 'Dream House' and 'The Pecan Tree', opener and closer respectively of their 2013 opus 'Sunbather', lack some of the multi-tracked glory of their studio versions, and it’s on favourites like this that you yearn for this to be a proper live album, with the spill of the crowd noise filling any gaps in the audio spectrum.
'10 Years Gone' is a worthy attempt to solve a problem; to give fans something in a year where they’ve had so little, and to allay some lost income without resorting to a lazily packaged greatest hits compilation. Credit to Deafheaven for putting in the effort, and for both fans and newcomers alike, this is an interesting and well crafted journey through the band’s first decade. But, as with everything else in 2020, it would just have been so much better with a crowd.
Words: David Weaver
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