A Deftones album release is always cause for celebration. They just keep getting better and better, even after 24 years. Deftones have perfected their own mix of clean, glassy sounds with hard-hitting riffs and songs full of more explosive power than a barrel of TNT. And anyone who has heard the last release, Diamond Eyes, knows that the Sacramento boys are open to experimentation with texture, structure, and most importantly, Chino’s amazing vocals, ranging from smooth, psychopathic whispers to chaotic screams. Couple that with the amazing guitarwork by Carpenter and you have one band that gets TV and Radio airplay and yet does not suck.
So it did cause a bit of a flutter when it was announced that the new album will be out this year. While Diamond Eyes, the last release, was in Chino’s words “Like bottling lightning” owing to the frantic pace at which the material was recorded, the new one according to him has had much more time to develop and ripen, with more inputs coming in from Sergio Vega who fills in on the bass guitar while Chi recovers from an accident. In Chino’s words, “There’s a lot of aggression in some of the music, but there’s also this very soothing element where there’s a lot of soundscapes rather than attack, attack, attack the whole time. I understand that’s a big part of our sound, but I really feel like we reached a peak on our dynamics on this record with those two qualities — the beauty of something and just straight, ruthless aggression.”
Well, that’s hit home of course. But does it carry through on the album? I was hoping it did, as I listened to the album in a go. This review is being written as I hear it for the second time, song by song, riff by riff. Read on.
1. Swerve City :
The opener to the album begins with a grungy riff and within no time Chino shows us why we love him. Sergio proves himself on the bass yet again, letting us know that he’s here for creative contribution as well. The opener isn’t very hard-hitting or too soft or anything like that, but it does set the mood for the rest of the album.
2. Romantic Dreams:
The guitarwork on this track is more arpeggiated than the usual Deftones but hey, I’m not complaining. Couple that with compressed vocals from Chino and you have a smooth, beautiful track with generous hits of the ride cymbal punctuating the verse. There’s just a hint of the ‘seductive’ (!) Chino on the chorus, with his laziness creeping in every now and then. Interesting guitarwork, you can see what they mean when they claim that the album has them going out of their comfort zones.
This was the first single off the album, this is what Deftones wanted us to hear. There is a spaced-out, ominous riff and then then the song FUCKING EXPLODES. And then it goes into a great, smooth chorus with Chino straining himself beautifully. And then the explosive riff again, and before you’re done recovering, the epic sounding chorus. Wow. This song will kill to watch live, was my first thought as I heard it. Carpenter moves seamlessly between a riff meant for headbanging to into the wonderfully laid out, uplifting chorus. And then it ends suddenly, the silence hitting you as hard as the first hit of the opening chords. Phew.
The fourth track opens with clapping into an angsty, grungy riff playing throughout the song with the same emotion reflected in the vocals. The guitar assault is sludgy and constant, and there is no respite, and no, I didn’t need one either. Chino does touch high notes for good measure and the mellow ones too, near the end. And then we’re back to the assault. Fuck yes. The hard hitting one.
Clean riff with a single chord played over it! And really smooth, ballad-y vocals to begin with. Not heard much of that from Deftones have we? The drumming on this one’s smooth and subdued, just like the rest of the song, which moves forward at a relaxed pace. There is no frantic energy to be found here, but there’s something about the very smoothness of this after the first four tracks that takes you by surprise. The positioning in the album sets the mood for this one, with the synth adding a dreamy texture. Beautiful, but if I may add, much is due to the way it’s laid out in the album itself.
6. Graphic Nature :
A tense guitar intro gives way to compressed vocals for this one, and while it is not very fast or loud, the tension on this track is great. The notes played are rather ‘unexpected’ in a way, especially in the chorus, where Chino goes soft again, for this is one song that can be ‘heavy’ without being hard. There’s a sort of ‘wall of sound’ at play in the album that I just notice, reminding me slightly of Diamond Eyes and Around the Fur. But at this point it’s missing the ‘one track’ if you know what I mean.
The second single begins with an almost-solo Chino performance with very subdued and controlled guitars just being atmospheric until the steady riff comes along, and the ‘wall of sound’ is more awesome than ever as we break into the beautifully laid out chorus with Chino being lazy in a way only he can be. The second guitar is quiet and playing free, but sets an amazing tone for the song. And then the song unexpectedly explodes at the 3:50 mark, unexpectedly but not badly at all. This is the refinement and clean-ness while being heavy that we’ve come to love Deftones for, and they do not disappoint here. On the fucking contrary.
8. Gauze :
Heavy and tense from the start! I’m loving this at the ten-second mark already. And again, a clean, smooth chorus to go with it. And a very well blended, almost dreamy bridge section. Ah, good old Deftones. Good to have you back. I’m missing a completely ear-wrecking track at this point in the album though. That might be a cause for concern.
Clean, delayed guitars give way to a ballad-y Chino to begin this one. The distortion comes in at 1:30, but the vocals remain the way they were, Chino singing out some deep emotion, mindless of the riff at play here. The interplay sounds only interesting at first, and it grows. Clean-ness kicks in for the chorus of this one, but it’s not too impressive. Chino’s unsettling calmness at the high notes on the verse with the distorted riffs one does it for me. The chorus in this one strikes me as weaker than the verse, and I miss the verse. Could they have possibly messed up a great verse by adding a rather generic-sounding chorus? I seem to think so. This song could’ve been so, so much more. The outro made me check if another song had started playing. I’m not sure if I like that either.
10. Goon Squad:
The intro is much like a post-rock band. No, it definitely sounds like something GIAA would do. If only it could give way to something heavier … AND IT DOES. A steady riff plays under an angry, angry Chino. Oh and there’s a solo. Something like it. The riff drones out until it gives way to a typical clean-ish chorus with Chino switching to his smooth voice from the angry rant of the verse. And a messed-up bridge section (in the good way). I guess it’s wrong to think of other Nu-Metal bands while listening to this one but the feel’s definitely there.
11. What Happened To You:
Okay, the closer. Begins with something which you’d expect from a street drummer, and Chino’s silk voice over discontinuous bass breaking into a soaring, happy chorus with lazy guitars. Not very expected at this point in the album, I’d have put this in the middle or something. Experimentation isn’t something I’d like to leave the listener with when he or she is done but I guess they wanted it this way. Quite a good song in my opinion, though. There is an economy of voice and instrument here. And with that, the album is over. Stunned silence follows as I finish my second listen of the new Deftones album I’ve been eagerly waiting for.
Okay, deep breaths.
Now, the verdict:
Phew. A Deftones album definitely isn’t popcorn that you can leave playing while you go about your work. It does grab you in some way or the other, whether by softness or sheer hammer-slamming energy. So does this one. It was a risky step for sure. The ‘wall’ in this one is much, much more layered and textured, the structures are tougher, Chino keeps experimenting as he always does, and the drums try hard to subdue themselves at times and freak out on others. And yet, this is a great album. No, wait, this is an amazing album. They have progressed in complexity and do manage to surprise me on quite a few occasions. True, it lacks a track like “Digital Bath”, where everyone is quiet and yet, ready to explode. It lacks a track like “Be Quiet and Drive” which makes you want to be quiet and fucking drive, far away, drowning yourself in endless repeats. But then again the album is much more nuanced and will take more time to grow on you than the others did, being more complex than the others. Deftones know this, it seems, and have planned to let that happen, and it shows in the way the songs have been written. There are a few placement issues I think but that could be just me, I am no one to subtract from the direction a band wishes to take listeners in. The stars here are Chino and Carpenter, pushing their already-unique styles further into the beyond, and succeeding at being awesome. Yet again.
The final word: You’ll love the first listen. But give it a few more and it might go right up there with White Pony, Diamond Eyes and Around The Fur.
You can listen to the album stream HERE.