Aesthetics are often the most noted aspect of black metal, an image that reflects the imagery and atmosphere of the music. The grainy black-and-white silhouette of Transilvanian Hunger - itself an homage to Mayhem, or the selective obscurity of the LLN - imitated often, but to little effect. These images paired with the sound, Darkthrone's being a bare, stripped-down shadow, and the LLN having a very rough sound with a very strong ideology and foundation beneath it. Here we have a band from San Francisco with a Peptobismol-colored cover bearing only a title of a ritual of darkening that is nearly foreign to black metal, California's favorite way of getting skin cancer. "It's different!" it exclaims, espousing an alleged virtue that sets it apart from the other records in the store - or, let's be realistic, the other thumbnails on YouTube.
Deafheaven collide headfirst with the predicament of imitation in black metal, and keep going. When black metal was first commercialized in the mid 90s, there was quickly a flood of second-rate bands who softened it up with a friendlier formula - a bit of blasting fury stretched out into long, wandering songs with acoustic interludes - back then it was sugared up with keyboards, now it's sweetened with major scales and the folky interludes are now post-rock. Despite the superficial updates to the aesthetic appeal, it still follows the same failures - overlong songs that go nowhere for no reason and only hope that the listener follows the trail of candy. Grim gothic/black metal may be a thing of the past, but the same follies are found here without facepaint. A new shade of gloss over the same poor construction, an hour with four songs and interludes. A bitter man once told me that this album was just a repackaging of Orchid's "Gatefold" - at two and a half times the length, this album takes that title at face value. That style of minute-long busts of fury becomes horribly deformed when stretched to 10-15 minutes, like trying to perfectly straighten a paper clip then reshape it to its original form. Dip it in sugar to make rock candy and someone will eat it up.
Same old shortcomings, new superficial gimmick. Yay, Peptobismol!