On Friday night, darlings of the experimental heavy metal community, Deafheaven, took the stage at Fort Lauderdale's Revolution Live as direct support for progressive metal heavyweights, Between the Buried And Me.
The buzz surrounding Deafheaven since the release of its critically acclaimed album, Sunbather, last June has been absolutely astounding -- particularly considering the record's extreme sonics and the band's black metal lineage.
We arrived in time to catch the final throes of Intronaut's trippy, polyrhythmic prog, which included a fleet fingered bass guitar solo and a chunky breakdown that had the early crowd in a unison head bang.
Clouds of fog billowed out from behind Deafheaven's amps as the band prepared the stage for its set. A wave of ambient sound soon mingled with the fog, delivering the crowd from Intronaut's prog explorations to Deafheaven's domain, an environment with a ceremonial calm that betrayed the audience's tense anticipation.
Frontman, George Clarke, appeared as a daunting silhouette in the dim blue light, inciting a riotous cheer from the crowd. The band stabbed into the jarring opening chords of "Dream House." The singer's shadowy figure burst into motion as he unleashed the demonic calls of the song upon the crowd. Donning a pair of black, leather gloves, the singer grasped a mic stand tightly as he screeched and caterwauled over the delay-soaked din of the music.
Throughout the song's exasperating 9 minutes, Clarke morphed from a lanky specter into an enigmatic force, reaching for the outstretched hands of audience members and seemingly conducting the band with his movements. The crashing chords of the song's mid-section sent Clarke falling onto the hands of audience members, upheld as an idol over their heads. As Clarke screeched emotional reports from atop the limbs of his congregation, an audience member that had been crowd-surfing reached out for the singer's hand. The two held each other's grasp in a memorable moment completely unexpected in an opening act. During the atmospheric end of the song, Clarke screamed without a mic from the front row. Every lyric was bolstered by the calls of the crowd as he exercised an unbridled command over the audience.
The set carried on through the epic "Sunbather," a triumphant, 10-minute long exploration of texture and abrasion. The band spent the majority of its set bathed in a dark, shadowy lighting, casting figures as amorphous as the band's overwhelming sound. Throughout the set, Clarke's conducting motions grew steadily more aggressive, more martial in a way. What sometimes appeared to be a reach for the sky or a mimed opening of some proverbial gate eventually developed into something uncomfortably close to a Nazi salute.
While the band has not represented anything even remotely fascist within its music, merchandise, or in interviews, those artists that directly influence them -- namely Joy Division and early black metal bands -- have more than just flirted with fascist imagery and ideas in the past. However, Clarke's slightly stylized salute appeared several more times throughout Deafheaven's absolutely jaw-dropping set, and while we're not convinced the band are fascists or Nazis, we do believe there is a responsibility to own what you represent, and that George Clarke has demonstrated himself to be far too aware to play coy or excuse the motion as something other than what we saw.
As fans of ugly art and outsider artists, we have a responsibility to separate ourselves from such connotations. Clarke, in particular -- as the mouthpiece of a band that has unarguably progressed the periphery of extreme music, one sonically linked to a genre with an astoundingly ugly past -- should be most aware that he is under the microscope right now.
The fact of the matter is that Clarke's pseudo-salutes were not so much offensive as simply disappointing. To derive some perverted power from such an easy, immature taboo, seems beneath someone who has provided such an incredible musical statement. Furthermore, it has been done to death by artists like Boyd Rice and Death in June -- artists that have at the very least spent time owning and explaining their appropriations of fascist imagery.
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