Ranking the output of Deftones feels a bit like herding cats. How to stack the offerings of a band universally agreed to have never dipped below astonishing? How to pick a favourite from a catalogue varied, multifaceted and beloved by millions? And yet, as new album ‘Ohms’ hits, we’ve done just that.
Well, something had to be last. Taking its name from a Japanese phrase translating to ‘a premonition of love’, ironically, Deftones’ seventh album is by some distance the most under appreciated of their catalogue. The album title is a phrase often seen in shoujo manga – comics aimed at teenage girls. But though it’s true to say that ‘Koi No Yokan’ isn’t loved like the rest of their catalogue, some of the band’s very best songs are contained within. This is an extremely dynamic record. It’s often very loud, or very quiet, then very loud again. Opener ‘Swerve City’ and mid-sequence stomper ‘Graphic Nature’ provide perfect case studies.
Saturday Night Wrist (2006)
Trouble was brewing from the off. Their first album away from mainstay producer Terry Date. A singer in the clutches of a speed and alcohol addiction. Who was also going through a divorce, and whose record label – Madonna’s Maverick – were insistent the band get in the studio (where they would bounce around producers until they’d finally settle on their friend, Far guitarist Shaun Lopez) and make something that would sell better than the band’s last outing, 2003’s self-titled, poor selling classic. Unsurprisingly, for a record attached to so many painful memories, singer Chino Moreno isn’t keen on it. “That record is so unconfident, that’s why I hate it,” he’s said. “I don’t feel like it’s me, it’s this unconfident version of myself that doesn’t know what he’s doing.” It’s a shame he feels that way; the album breaks much new ground; the brilliant ‘Cherry Waves’ might be labelled shoegaze if it wasn’t so achingly raw, while ‘U,U,D,D,L,R,L,R,A,B,Select,Start’ – named after the cheat code used in many Konami videogames – is post-rock at its most interesting and energised.
Though the Sacramento band would spend the early years of their career sucked into the vacuum of nu metal, even on Deftones’ fledgling work you knew the band had more to offer than the majority of their peers. The music was spatial. There was sensitivity married with the fury. It owed as much to The Cure and Pixies as the lineage of heavy metal. And, in ‘7 Words’, they’d written the song that launched a thousand rock nights. 1995’s debut studio album was the moment an alternative rock great was born.
Chino Moreno cites Deftones’ second album as his favourite of all the band’s creations even though he’s also described the record’s sleeve – a photo taken by photographer and sometime ‘Jackass’ member Rick Kosick at a party that took place while the band were recording in Seattle – as “horrible”. It’s a record that’s as synonymous with the nu metal area as red baseball caps and men in clown masks banging oil drums. And yet, like its predecessor, there’s so much more here. Much of Deftones’ unique spark comes from the creative friction that exists between singer Chino and guitarist Stephen Carpenter. One is a softly spoken poet who loves Depeche Mode and New Order. The other just wants to rock, dude. The magic that happens when the two butt heads is present throughout album number two.
Speaking of friction, it’s been said that Moreno and Carpenter’s respective creative visions were further apart than ever on album eight. Arguably the band’s furthest excursion from anything that you might call metal, the songs on ‘Gore’ suggest that ultimately Chino won – indeed, the singer has described the guitarist as “the odd man out” during recording. Carpenter has also stated he initially struggled to find inspiration within the music presented to him. And yet here’s the thing. ‘Gore’ features songs that are violently beautiful (‘Acid Hologram’), unsettling (‘Hearts / Wires’) and often quite unlike anything the band have done before – there’s a space rock influence throughout that adds a brand new colour to the band’s palate. ‘Gore’ is astonishing and presents a band reborn.
Deftones are a band so revered, that for most of their 25 year career, music critics have danced across the pages of thesauruses, trying to articulate their secret. Essentially it comes down to a primary goal; a refusal to stay still, as well as the frankly unfeasible prospect they’ll ever stop being profoundly interested in the possibilities of sound. New album ‘Ohms’ is testament to this. Pay heed to the bubbling synth of opener ‘Genesis’. Let the moody croon of ‘Pompeji’ wash over you. Be crushed by the heavy sludge of ‘Headless’.
By 2003, nu metal was on its arse, pushed aside by an incoming generation of well dressed and well coiffured guitar led acts who took their cues from classic New York punk, seventies rock ‘n’ roll and didn’t own a wallet chain between them. Deftones, never ones to do anything expected of them, responded by releasing the heaviest, most primal record they’d ever made. There’s a moment, on opener ‘Hexagram’, where Chino’s scream sounds so painful – both in terms of physical delivery, and the emotions it taps into – the song is nigh on impossible to listen to without your knees buckling. “We’ve proven that we can musically go in any direction we want,” said bassist Chi Cheng of the album’s tone and tenor. “And we want to get kind of heavy on this one”.
The album we were supposed to get was called ‘Eros’. Then, returning from his brother’s memorial service on November 3, 2008, Chi Cheng was involved in a serious car incident, resulting in a coma. After much soul searching the band pressed pause on said record and re-entered the studio with placeholder bassist Sergio Vega, formally of Quicksand. Moreno policed his lyric writing for any hint of angst or anger – standard topics in the Deftones lyric book since the word go. His friend was lying in hospital. It would be obscene not to embrace life and all the wonder it held. “I don’t like listening to people’s problems,” said the singer. “Music has been smothered with that complaining since the early-’90s. It gets old.” The results were extraordinary. No Deftones album surfs a vibe like ‘Diamond Eyes’, its title track is dreamy and cosmic. ‘You’ve Seen The Butcher’ is groovy and sexy. Chi tragically died on April 13, 2013 of heart failure. ‘Eros’ remains unfinished and unreleased, its legacy almost mythological.
The undisputed masterpiece. A fever dream of colossal creativity, grace and heavy metal crunch. Listening to Deftones’ third album is an aural adventure, like riding atop a fast-moving cloud. “I basically didn’t sing about myself on this record,” said Chino upon release. “I made up a lot of story lines and some dialogue, even. I took myself completely out of it and wrote about other things… It’s not me. I’m writing a story here.” For this the band won the Grammy for Best Metal Performance, for the song ‘Elite’, which owes much to turntablist Frank Delgado as a full-time member. It’s far from the band’s only triumph; ‘Change (In The House Of Flies), ‘Back To School (Mini Maggit)’, ‘Digital Bath’. You know these songs. They will always be known. They are immortal.