Funeralbloom – Petals (2014)
Petals is sure to please many Deafheaven fans because the album is structurally similar to many of the Deafheaven records. Funeralbloom bookends this short record with expansive and intense hurricanes of post-rock accompanied by spoken-word passages and crooning black metal vocals. Similarly to the way some fans have called Sunbather a shoegaze record with black metal vocals, calling Petals a post-rock record with black metal vocals is probably a fair assessment.
Make no mistake: these Texans offer an intense and heavy experience with Petals, but the album fluctuates through moments of bliss, calamity, and everything in between with a smoothness that does not typically come to bands this young. The opening track, “Black Shoes”, can lull someone into thinking they are listening to Explosions in the Sky before its dramatic conclusion explodes with a fervor that matches any of Deafheaven’s most exciting moments. Lead singer Austin Curtis wails emphatically about a past love lost while quick tremolo picking lushly washes over the rest of the track. “Naked” closes off the record with the band’s proof that big riffs are not in short supply. Be careful about settling too deeply into Funeralbloom’s ethereal ecstasy because an ardent eruption is more than likely following. Those who enjoy Deafheaven’s more theatrical sound will undoubtedly find themselves comfortable with this release.
Weakling – Dead as Dreams (2000)
Probably the most straightforward black metal release on this list, Dead as Dreams has been cited by George Clarke as his heaviest influence vocally. Even the “trve kvlt” black metal snobs cannot dismiss this one. Weakling’s one and only release is arguably the most important American black metal release ever. Vocalist/Guitarist and San Francisco native John Gossard wrote all five of these 10-plus-minute tracks and stuffed them with endless blast beats and screeches, allowing the album to check all the required black metal boxes.
What elevates Dead as Dreams to a classic level is its sonic diversity and vast emotional depth. “This Entire Fucking Battlefield” is a desperate and cathartic 14-minute slog of fury and despair with Gossard sounding like he could collapse after every word he utters. The gutsy performances are delivered with the slightest hints of valiance that Clarke has perfected. Deafheaven fans should gravitate toward the space and dizzying disorientation that this album can create with its ambitious track lengths and roaring chainsaw guitar leads. Dead as Dreams is a black metal album through and through, but it is not too far removed from what Deafheaven are. If a lo-fi, discordant iteration of Deafheaven with even more ambitious song structures is something you’ve been looking for, look no further than the best America has to offer.
Nic – Demo (2011)
The primary responsibility of a black metal vocalist above all else is to convey a feeling. Considering lyrics are almost always indecipherable due to the singing style, a great vocalist will rely on summoning a commanding vocal presence and stagecraft. What’s great about this approach is that bands from all over the world are basically on an even playing field because language barriers have an extremely relegated influence. Czech black metal act Nic (also known as ██████) certainly have that in lead singer Michal (who only goes by one name).
The opening track off Nic’s Demo opens with a very soft guitar lead that begins to delay and layer into a dense succession of waves before a wailing black metal guitar lead comes rushing over the once soothing track. “IV” also opens with an cleaner, more melodic passage that by this point in the release feels ominous. All four of these tracks are bolstered by rabid vocal performances that tear through the mirage of Nic’s hallucinating, initial post-rock charm. This is the release for the minority of contrarian Deafheaven fans who claim Roads to Judah is their best record. If you are looking for a more low-fi version of what Deafheaven offered early on in their career with a lead singer that can match George Clarke’s fervent emotional output, give Demo a chance.
Ulver – Bergtatt (1994)
Ulver have enjoyed a long career releasing unpredictable music with heavy stylistic shifts. The experimental Norwegians’ roots trace back to the second wave of black metal’s explosion in the early ’90s. Their debut album, Bergtatt, reveals the clear influence of the black metal around them at the time as well as a love of Norwegian folk music. This album’s ghastly atmosphere and novel inclusion of folk elements is what makes it so beloved to this day.
Ulver used clean vocals, choral vocals, acoustic guitar passages, flutes, and guitar leads with a clear tone to make a lush record that boldly distinguished itself from the evil-sounding bands that surrounded them. On “Solen Gaaer Bag Aase Need”, Ulver create beautiful arrangements of flutes and acoustic guitar before pummeling blast beats and harsh vocals siege the track’s once peaceful nature. Yes, there are passages on this record with harsh vocals, but they are relatively limited and surrounded by more than enough different elements that someone averse to this vocal style will have something else they can grab on to. Bergtatt is probably the most diverse record on this list, and its intrepid, meticulous arrangements are likely to be appreciated even by non-metal fans.
Planning for Burial – Desideratum (2014)
It’s hard to imagine one person creating as much racket as Deafheaven can, but Planning for Burial manages to do just that. Thom Wasluck is the sole mastermind behind this heavy, droney shoegaze metal act that has perfected a billowing brand of beautiful distortion, programmed drum beats, and piano. Wasluck extracts a huge sound out of his guitar and electronics that rivals any shoegaze or blackgaze band currently active. On his second full length record, Desideratum, Wasluck paired his torrents of noise with lowly mixed vocals. He gives sparse, breathy vocal performances that sew themselves easily into the texture of his music and should be relatively inoffensive to anyone looking for a Deafheaven-like sound without the howls or screeches.
Desideratum is filled with tension, including the album’s closing climax, “Golden”. The track builds slowly by continually adding loops of guitar, piano, and electronic drums. What starts as a track filled with space quickly becomes a dark claustrophobic cavern of echoing inescapable drone. Desideratum is an honest collection of personal tracks paired with guitar, piano, feedback, and simple electronic drumbeats, but do not let the sparseness of Wasluck’s approach mislead you into thinking his sound is rudimentary. A Deafheaven fan wishing the band would just slow down a bit and turn down the vocals will happily be able to lose themselves in Wasluck’s slightly more laid-back approach to shimmering guitars and compelling barrages of sound.