George Clarke (Deafheaven) Talks Jucifer’s There Is No Land Beyond the Volga

Jucifer has managed to accomplish something that few bands surviving 20 years do, and that's to slowly build on their sound with each release...

Jucifer has managed to accomplish something that few bands surviving 20 years do, and that’s to slowly build on their sound with each release rather than water it down or change direction altogether. Their longevity seems especially difficult to have attained, given how unconventionally they operate. Singer-guitarist Gazelle Amber Valentine and drummer Edgar Livengood are originally from Athens, Georgia, but the husband-and-wife duo subscribe to a completely nomadic existence of everlasting touring and living out of their vehicle. I imagine the wear and tear of this life has lead to thoughts of giving up on occasion, but maybe that’s the secret. Perhaps one needs that level of grit to create an entire catalogue of unrelenting music.  Perhaps this is why their albums have continued their march toward textured, tortured, chaotic monoliths. Material this hostile could never come from stagnation and docility.

A lot of their latest record За Волгой для нас земли нет (translation: There Is No Land Beyond the Volga, which is a quotation from a Russian soldier about the importance of the Battle of Stalingrad) is a further exploration into what drives Jucifer’s massive being: suffocating, guitar-driven soundscapes. They’re a great example of a two-piece that sonically shames groups with twice as many members. The tones on this record, their seventh, are painfully heavy. But listening to this record, my first thought was Yeah… they’re good at that, but they know they’re good at that. This is a band that has been perfecting their style for so long that the element of volume and tone is so second nature that they don’t need those aspects of their sound to be their creative focus. It’s the focus on the other elements of their music that makes this record so interesting, and that’s what ends up being what I enjoy most about it.

Given the climate of metal-derived music and the multitude of new bands emerging constantly, it’s really easy to write something off as just being “heavy.” Whether you’re damning said record or praising it, “heavy” is boring. Jucifer, however, works in influences in a way that you almost forget how crushingly heavy their record actually is. I like to think that was their intent. I like that, as a listener, I’m able to pull away and lose myself in the additional noises going on, but always have a riff to come back to.

Droning, field recording-laden passages, ’90s guitar-rock layering, Sabbath worship, and psychedelic elements are all very present throughout. Take, for example, “Evolution II-Soviet Motherland Calls.” While we’re zoning out in Jucifer’s dystopian atmosphere, a grooving Sabbath-style riff interrupts in a way that — if sped up a bit — is catchy enough to fit into a classic NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) song. The interruption is refreshing and short; the song then returns to the murky atmosphere from which it came. It all intertwines in a way that doesn’t feel unnatural or discomforting.  And the vocals! They could be the greatest strength of this record. Songs like “Queen of Antlers” and “Evolution 1-Nomads” really show off Gazelle’s vocal range and versatility. Dreamy at times and hellish at others, it’s an extremely admirable range.

Thematically, the record centers around the military history of the Russian city Volgograd, which I found interesting and very appropriate. Deafheaven toured in Russia in May of this year and upon arriving, I remember immediately realizing a thick, uncertain aura surrounding the country and its people, with their faces that have hardened over time but still beam with optimism. To me, they resonate with self awareness. In fact, most residents I encountered are very objective and understanding of where they stand in the world — economically, socially, and otherwise. There is a great sense of pride with the Russian people, as if they’ve paid their dues through the country’s previous hardships. Jucifer conveys these contrasting aspects in their record with their portrayals of military hardships and grief, while also recognizing the people’s personal struggles and accomplishments. За… displays both the darkness and light that accompanies a military campaign and Russia’s history as a whole.

Like the majestic Russia that the record pays homage to, Jucifer have managed to create a painful yet moving journey. It’s beautiful and smart, but never waters down and never wavers from absolute intensity. Staying a band for 20 years is an accomplishment in itself, but continually growing and putting out records of this caliber is something to be proud of.

George Clarke is a San Francisco resident. He sings in Deafheaven.