With the release of their new album, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, Deafheaven have propelled themselves firmly into the indie music world and attained an audience any other metal band debuting this decade would envy. However, while most of modern metal cannot hold a candle to Deafheaven’s crossover success, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other metal bands rock fans should know about.
Ignore the pretentious gatekeepers telling you that listening to Deafheaven, Metallica, or Black Sabbath does not mean you like metal. Every metal fan in existence had a singular band that introduced them to heavy metal, and too many are quick to forget that. If Deafheaven have piqued your interest in metal, now is as good a time as any to take a deeper dive. With the band four albums deep, it’s time to ditch the water wings and swim.
To help out, here are a mix of 10 modern metal albums both old and new that Deafheaven fans should turn to next.
Alcest – Écailles De Lune (2010)
When discussing bands that sound like Deafheaven, Alcest is typically one of the first two bands mentioned. Deafheaven are quick to cite the French shoegaze and black metal project as one of their early influences, and just about any project from Alcest should satisfy a Deafheaven fan. However, Deafheaven faithful should start with Écailles De Lune due to the album’s happy median between black metal and shoegaze. Other Alcest releases are typically more straightforward attempts at those genres, but this record is a beautiful blending of the two and served as one of the blueprints that George Clarke and Kerry McCoy would draw from.
Everything about this record — from the guitar tone to the way vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Neige’s croons are mixed — should feel like familiar territory. The album’s second track, “Écailles De Lune pt. 2”, runs the gamut of black metal, shoegaze, and post-rock in nearly 10 minutes in a similar fashion to how many of the tracks on Sunbather operate. Écailles De Lune features lengthy run times, beautiful transitions between loud and quiet passages, dramatic songwriting, and innovative riffs that run through an infinite chain of immersive delay and distortion pedal. The roots of the “blackgaze” genre begin with Alcest, but Écailles De Lune still feels as fresh as ever despite being the focal point of endless imitators.
King Woman – Doubt (2014)
In the metal universe, shoegaze has been more than just mashed up with black metal. Bay Area native Kristina Esfandiari’s project, King Woman, takes shoegaze’s enveloping noise and sedates it to a steady and plodding pace. It may seem difficult to find many similarities between Doubt and Sunbather on the albums’ surfaces, but what they undoubtedly share is heavy tracks swirling with gorgeous fuzz and fearless heart-wrenching vocal performances. Esfandiari’s guttural howl of “Love Is Gone” on the EP’s second track, “King of Swords”, is a commanding and powerful performance from an evocative vocalist who shares George Clarke’s flair for the dramatic.
Esfandiari’s visceral songwriting and compelling singing over guitarist Colin Gallagher’s whirling crashes of noise fit snugly next to Deafheaven from a conceptual standpoint. Like Sunbather, these tracks ooze somber feelings of longing and personal pain. The galvanizing siren-like chorus of “Burn” crashes into the scene of a previously hypnotizing ballad before Esfandiari’s wail crushes anything daring to stand in her way into a vulnerable hazy stupor. All four of these tracks offer a wide dynamic range that should satisfy the cravings of Deafheaven fans looking for more new acts that mesh swelling shoegaze with a dark, heavy sound.
The Angelic Process – Weighing Our Souls with Sand (2007)
Weighing Our Souls with Sand exists without equal. While not the first to combine hazy shoegaze and titanic metal riffs, no other band has managed to recreate this album’s bleak, muddied atmosphere. There is no singular attribute or instrument that can be singled out off The Angelic Process’ magum opus because the album is so successful as a monolith of sound. The guitars, bass, vocals, drums, and synths all morph into a crushing tidal wave as they have seemingly all been mixed at about the same level. If a rumor circulated that the tape used to record this album was waterlogged, it would have quickly become a widely accepted tall tale.
While this album is very dark, it is also strikingly beautiful in a way that New Bermuda just cannot match. The gorgeous “Dying in A-Minor” hits with wave after wave of ethereal guitar riff as lead vocalist Kris Angylus’ croons are muffed by the rest of the sounds fighting for space. It’s fair to call this record cramped, but it’s hard to call this a detriment because the album so effortlessly engulfs everything into its world. Weighing Our Souls with Sand traversed new territory with unmatched texture and unique production techniques. The map exists, but none have quite found their way back to what The Angelic Process discovered.
Altar of Plagues – Teethed Glory & Injury (2013)
Altar of Plagues are a much deeper dive into the darkness of New Bermuda. This album’s hellishly adventurous atmosphere is a 49-minute inescapable nightmare crafted by the best Irish black metal outfit to ever emerge. Teethed Glory & Injury is so much more than your run-of-the-mill terrifying screams, punishing blast beats, and bleak tone. Altar of Plagues stir clean vocals, industrial noise, and an evil choir into the mix to give their haunted church some welcome extra flair. As the track “God Alone” begins to conclude, the booming, tormented choir gives off a cultish aura that the Ganados of Resident Evil 4 would probably appreciate.
Deafheaven fans looking for an even more vitriolic version of New Bermuda will enjoy this album’s consistently grim atmosphere that slightly morphs as the album progresses. Vocalist/Guitarist James Kelly’s leads contain numerous glinting guitar tones that should remind listeners of Kerry McCoy’s guitar work. Thankfully, Altar of Plagues did not conform to black metal’s typically lo-fi aesthetic for this album because Kelly’s profound roar has never sounded fuller or as decimating as on these high-quality recordings. The noisy aspects of Teethed Glory & Injury should also appeal to fans of Nine Inch Nails or Godflesh who wish those bands were even more feral.
Wolves in the Throne Room- Two Hunters (2007)
The other band most commonly recommended to fans of Deafheaven is Wolves in the Throne Room. The pioneering Olympia, Washington, band were one of the first acts to combine shoegaze and black metal in the way Deafheaven fans recognize it. Unlike Alcest, Wolves in the Throne Room have never wavered from their black metal roots. Most of the band’s discography is considered classic within the blackgaze genre and has gone on to influence just about everyone playing this style today, including Deafheaven. The band’s second record, Two Hunters, was the first album in this style to reach a wide audience and remains as ferocious and awe-inspiring as it did in 2007.
Much like Deafheaven are doing today, Wolves in theThrone Room were rejecting many of the black metal clichés when Two Hunters was released and endured their fair share of criticism in a similar vein to what Deafheven would hear six years later. Rather than growling over a Casio that sounds like it’s being plugged into a Motorola Razr, the band added female vocalists and rich keyboards to tracks like “Clensing” — providing black metal with a dire jolt of creativity after a decade of bands mostly imitating the early ’90s Norwegian black metal scene. This record offers a lush array of ambient and soothing sounds before unleashing the post-rock and black metal fury that Deafheaven fans will immediately gravitate toward.
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.