June 18, 2014 at 1:00 am

Metal band Deafheaven leaps into the hard rock spotlight

Deafheaven's 'Sunbather' is its sophomore album, following 2011's 'Roads to Judah.' (Reid Haithcock)

Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the release of Bay Area metal outfit Deafheaven’s “Sunbather,” one of 2013’s most acclaimed albums.

“Sunbather,” a masterful mix of heavy and heady, brutal and beautiful, catapulted Deafheaven from the trenches of black metal to higher ground, and the five-member group has spent the last year soaking up its unexpected success and capitalizing on the opportunities it afforded them. Earlier this month, the group played New York’s Governor’s Ball festival, and last week it played a high-profile late night set at Bonnaroo. Deafheaven plays Detroit’s Magic Stick Saturday night.

“We’ve made the most of it,” says lead singer George Clarke, on the phone last week from Richmond, Va., where the group played a show the night before. “I didn’t really know what to expect, and everything that has happened far exceeded my expectations.”

“Sunbather” is Deafheaven’s second album, following 2011’s “Roads to Judah.” It was recorded during a very stressful time for the group; Clarke and songwriter Kerry McCoy were in between band members, working unfulfilling day jobs and strapped for assets. Those circumstances made them laser-focused when it came to recording.

“We knew we didn’t have a lot of time, and we didn’t have a lot of resources. And that sense of urgency pushed us to stay motivated and keep writing,” says Clarke, who grew up in Modesto, Calif. “Everything came together when it needed to, thankfully, and we continued on.”

The album has seven tracks, made up of four nine minute-plus songs broken up by three moody instrumental compositions. The band mixes elements of shoegazey post-rock into its sound, and the effect is like Explosions in the Sky wrapped in a cloak of darkness.

Live, Clarke strikes theatrical poses and waves his arms like a conductor over the crowd, mainly out of necessity.

“We have a lot of large instrumental passages, and it’s always been hard for me to figure out how to fill that, when you’re singing and there’s two minutes of music going on and you don’t have anything to do,” he says. “So just knowing the songs as well as we do, I started cuing them with my hands, and that grew from there. And when people really started responding to the band, it was easy to reach out to the audience and have them be excited.”

Right now, people are more excited than ever about the band, who will begin work on “Sunbather’s” follow-up when their tour ends later this year.

Clarke doesn’t expect Deafheaven’s moment in the sun to last forever.

“When the public started picking up on the record more, and we started getting this praise out of nowhere, we sat down and said, ‘It looks like, for the time being, people are interested in us,’ ” he says. “I think we’re all pretty level-headed people, and I think no one really anticipates for this to go forever. So we were like, this is a pretty unique opportunity, so let’s make the most of it. We continue to do so and we’ll continue to do so, until we all feel accomplished.”


with Pallbearer and Wreck & Reference

8 p.m. Friday

Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward, Detroit

Tickets $13 advance/$15 day of show

(313) 833-9700



George Clarke keeps fans engaged during instrumental passages by ... (Paul Zimmerman / Getty Images)