(Andy Synn reviews the new album by Deftones, which was released yesterday on the Reprise label.)
Let’s face it, some bands exist in a genre of one. Despite what imitators they may attract, Deftones are certainly one such band, capably incorporating a countless multitude of influences (there’s a hip-hop, jazzy freedom to much of the material, while the always dramatic vocals have a gothy, new-wave romanticism to their breathless, aching delivery) into a singular ocean of metallic sound.
The Sacramento five-piece find themselves in the enviable, and rare, position of possessing a singular sound – hugely influential, but rarely (successfully) imitated. From the halcyon days of whiny post-hardcore, through to today’s crop of weak-kneed djentiles, the influence of Deftones has been palpable, but rarely well-incorporated. And that’s because these other bands have almost all attempted to use the Deftones influence to soften their sound, to give it a forced romantic edge which blunts their overall impact. And in doing so, they’ve missed the point entirely.
For Deftones those quiet moments, those ethereal melodies, and sparse, shimmering structures, contain just as much power as their down-tuned riffage and tumultuous drumming. There’s heartbreak, there’s angst, there’s even love… but it’s always powerful.
To use an apt metaphor, this album is like a river, beautiful yet powerful, flowing with seamless grace. The shock of immersion of ‘Swerve City’ grabs hold of the listener with its sheer momentum, heaving guitars and seething drums tumbling along at an intense pace, before slowly opening up into a brilliant display of flowing dynamics and gorgeous, floating melodies. Dangerous and dramatic, it leads seamlessly into the grandiose ‘Romantic Dreams’, hearkening back to the Adrenaline days, with its sinuous, slinky guitar work, snappy drum patterns, and soaring vocals.
‘Leathers’ plunges the listener into a cauldron of molten riffage, whose crushing metallic energy is accented by a doomy undercurrent, and some sweeping, uplifting vocal lines. As heavy as it is, the underlying meditative vibe of the track is pure White Pony, a soothing soundtrack of whispering electronica and piercing vocals underpinning the thunderous guitar work.
The snappy opening of ‘Poltergeist’ leads into a sledge-hammer riff and some ear-splitting drumming, continuing the surprisingly heavy direction of the album. The riffs are a force unto themselves, all coiled menace and explosive tension, acting as a perfect counterpoint to the subtle anguish that spills from Moreno’s vocals, splitting their time between a rapid-fire, hip-hop influenced delivery, and a stratospheric, wounded croon.
‘Entombed’ provides a well-placed breather, mixing slow, pulsating electronic beats with a gorgeous tapped guitar melody. When the song reaches crescendo it doesn’t so much explode as it expands, rippling out in all directions, softly, yet irresistibly. ‘Graphic Nature’, a particularly brooding number, allows Abe Cunningham to demonstrate that he is definitely not your typical metal drummer, finding an inventive groove that draws liberally from across the musical landscape. The track pulsates with dark, teasing melodies and a paranoid atmosphere, periodically erupting in slabs of urbanised, doom-laden chords.
The taut tenderness that opens ‘Tempest’ is stretched to the breaking point, eventually shattering into shards of broken, hard-edged percussive beats and slices of cutting guitars. Its blissful chorus is introverted, yet addictive, building from the shimmy and shake of electrified riffs and the ebb and flow of the drums toward a torrential outpouring of storming metallic torment.
Ominous and dramatic, ‘Gauze’ pulls in a more discordant direction, its opening avalanche of crushing guitars transforming into a warped, stop-start chordal rhythm, atop which Chino’s phantom vocal lines drift directionless and disconnected. The guitars and drums lock together in perfect symbiosis, coiled and ready to unleash their tectonic fury, clearing space for a gargantuan chorus.
‘Rosemary’ drifts languidly from moment to moment, moved at the depths by vast currents of low, rumbling guitar, which take a back-seat to the track’s scintillating atmospherics. It’s an absolutely beautiful song, crafting a sumptuous ambience without entirely sacrificing the bruising guitar work that permeates the rest of the album – – its dragging, grasping penultimate bars provide a perfect balance for the final moments of compelling calm.
The opening of ‘Goon Squad’ suggests another track of ambient melancholy, but swiftly disabuses the listeners of this idea, drenching them in a torrent of scalding, low-slung riff work and Chino’s spiky, melodic intonations. It’s a subtly dark song; even the liquid vocal melodies have an uncomfortable, creeping vibe, while the groaning, depth-charge detonations of guitar give it a punishing metallic hook.
The album ends with ‘What Happened To You?’, its stuttering electronica and singing guitars serving as the perfect come-down from the record’s storm of emotions. The cool, restrained drumming keeps the beat loose and lively, allowing Chino the space and time to deliver a truly hypnotic vocal performance, signing off the album with a deft melodic flourish.
From start to finish this album is a breathtaking listen, striking a balance between Adrenaline and White Pony without ever feeling like a re-tread of past glories, cleverly and creatively finding new angles and new approaches to their sound.
The vocals glisten with confidence and control, showcasing precisely why the band’s imitators fail to capture what makes Deftones special. Focussing purely on the superficial elements – attempting to adopt the breezy, ambient vocal lines of Moreno without giving any deeper thought to WHY it sounds so great – they miss out on a simple truth: the waveform of Chino’s voice, his grasp of melody and delivery, only functions in the right context. Removing it removes an important piece of its identity. The sound of the band is one seamless whole – it can’t be broken up.
As such it’s hard to separate out any particular element of the album for extra praise, such is the fluid cohesion of the band’s sonic identity. Delgado’s raindrop electronica washes over each track in subtle shades, while throbbing bass lines flit and flutter, always lingering in the back of the mind. The drumming remains effortlessly phenomenal, nuanced and creative, eschewing directness in favour of a more oblique assault upon the senses. On top of that Stephen Carpenter and Chino Moreno seem determined right from the word go to show everyone that THIS is how you mix heavy, low slung riffs, and ethereal ambience. THIS is the way it’s done.
So here we have it. Seven albums in, Deftones still rule the roost. Often imitated, never bettered.