Deafheaven and No Spill Blood at Whelan’s, Tuesday 19 August 2014

Tonight’s show could be seen as something of a prelude.

With Sargent House making a more official visit to our shores with six stunning acts shortly, two of their affiliated acts is the perfect warm up.

Locals No Spill Blood are no pushovers, either. With the monstrous clatter and equally monstrous hair of Ror Conaty stepping in as a (temporary) new drummer for this trip, the Dubliners hammer through a tight, abrasive set of moody metal blended in to juddering synth backdrops and swirling guitar trickery. It lays down a marker powerful for the visitors.

No Spill Blood have a just about a full house for the moment, too, and rightly so: the whole act is remarkable, but the intensity of Matt Hedigan’s snarling bass content is worth the entry fee alone.

Deafheaven can be the most phenomenally intense of live acts. Their Button Factory show back in 2012 (in support of Russian Circles) was glass-shatteringly intense, and fell just the right side of the intricacy/ misdirected racket divide. It was memorable to say the least.

For us, tonight’s show falls just the other side of said divide. The main issue is the way George Clarke’s screeching, pitchy vocal is layered. It is way too high in the sound mix, and sends a sharp shiver down the spine every time the gnashing vocalist lobbed another sweaty spit of gouging abuse into the mic. What had worked so well two years ago required some slightly more intense listening, and frankly Clarke was making that a touch difficult.

What the San Fran act do exceptionally well, though, is deal in contrast. The delicate breaks in their jagged melodies see charming cuttings of indie pop thrown down as interludes, as intelligently jarring in their contrast as Clarke’s vocal is in its ear-bothering persistence. This is what has lifted Deafheaven to realms greater than that of a typical act that even nudges the boundaries of the notorious ‘black metal’ scene.

Sunbather, their sharp, battering debut, is out in force here, though Whelan’s tight walls fade out a lot of the nuance that makes it so wonderful. At times we’re on a powerful journey, mesmerized by the frantic guitar plucking of the title track, or on Unrequited, a rare moment from that compelling early EP, during which Clarke is almost over-animated, whipping up darkened corners of the room and hanging intrusively over the front rows.

It’s a pointed assault, but rendered poetic by the occasional inkling of sharp prose snatched from the growling depths. Lines like ‘Memories fly through the mask of your life/ shielding you from time,’ hint at an emotional resonance that peek through in the mild mannered corners of a cluttered set.

This is not what it could be, though, and that’s a shame.

This particular band more than justified the hype last time, but tonight falls a touch short on energy and intricacy. With a less than ideal sound balance, the nuance becomes a blur, and what made the act special in the first place fades. Perhaps we just chose our viewing point in a wedged to the rafters Whelan’s badly. Deafheaven have been perfectly heavenly before; tonight they’re outdone by their support, and the ‘Deaf’ part of the name, unfortunately, is the more apt.