The froth levels were ridiculously high when the recent news dropped that Mudvayne and Coal …
The semantics of labeling music as artistic or intellectual is problematically ambiguous, so as to make the exercise a reductive one at best (not to mention entirely pretentious).
MORE: NOFX: Fat Mike Chats Double Albums, Being Ghosted By Blink-182 & The Emotional Journey For The Last Ever NOFX Shows // DUNE RATS: Dance Lessons and Thinking Outside The Box REVIEWS: SLEEPING WITH SIRENS: Complete Collapse // blink-182: EDGING // FREEDOM OF FEAR: Carpathia // ARCHITECTS: the classic symptoms of a broken spirit // SLIPKNOT: The End, So Far // THE GLOOM IN THE CORNER: Trinity // THE COMFORT: Experience Everything. Live And Die.
Regrettably, it also happens to be a befitting way to characterise the otherwise indefinable music of one of heavy music’s most transcendent stars. Deftones entered into the picture of metal’s history in the early 90’s, a time that marked a pivotal juncture in the trajectory of the genre. The salad days of ‘Thrash’, which had carried on the momentum generated by the ‘New Wave of British Heavy Metal’, were well and truly in the rearview, and the scene was evolving to find its next prominent sound. Metal splintered off into countless offshoots, and for a time there it felt like the consensus amongst new bands was to compete on who could play the fastest and / or loudest (and surprisingly, rap the hardest). Somewhere brewing amongst this disarray of noise was a blip of musical clarity in the form of California natives Deftones, who had the ingenuity and conviction to experiment with the concept of ‘heaviness’ in a whole new way. They embraced the notion that true heaviness was not solely dictated by the volume that you played at, nor by the overdrive and distortion you applied to your instruments. Over the course of their stellar career, the band has produced some of the most thought-provoking and evocative music to ever grace the ears of metal enthusiasts, and in doing so, amassed themselves a devoted fan base rivaled only by the very greats.
In preparation for their headline set at Good Things Festival in December 2022, we count down their impeccable full-length discography from their (non-existent) lows, to their very best highs.
Let us preface this by unequivocally stating that there are no weak Deftones records. But, the reality is that one of their exceptional works has to appear last on this list. Adrenaline is Deftones at their most raw and visceral, filled with the unbridled angst that only youth can conjure. Bored is metal’s answer to the dissociation and indifference felt by those who gravitated towards the grunge movement in the 90’s, and Deftones were undeniably influenced by this music as well; notably exhibited by the loud / quiet dynamics utilised throughout the album. The groove on 7 Words avoids being one-dimensional like the other nu-metal releases at the time, in large part to the clinical drumming of Abe Cunningham and the artful aggression in Chino Moreno’s vocal performance. The highlight of the record arrives during the flurry of sonic power on Engine No. 9, spearheaded by the otherworldly low-end tones produced by late bassist Chi Cheng.
The placement of their self-titled record at this position on the list may be unconscious bias seeping in from the knowledge that it followed White Pony; an impossible standard to hold anything to (for reasons elaborated on later). The sophistication of the songwriting may have come a long way since Adrenaline, but their somewhat subdued boldness to innovate felt like a slight regression, particularly in light of their preceding masterpiece. In saying this, the album boasts a stunning collection of songs. The layered complexity of the instrumentation in Hexagram hits your eardrums like a tidal wave, washing over the consciousness like a sound bath, whilst the textured arrangement and contrasting dynamics in Minerva are as thrilling as any material Deftones have ever released.
Never had Deftones tempered the aggression of their playing to the extent that they did on Gore. Yet even by doing so, they relinquished none of the underlying intensity. In fact, the transition into more dulcet territory only served to enhance the music’s innate vulnerability. Through an intricate tapestry of traditional rock instrumentation and electronic influences, the band curated a beautiful auditory dreamscape that both embellished as well as concealed the darker connotations behind the music’s lyrics. The fragility of songs like Prayers / Triangle and Phantom Bride was expertly balanced by their emotional gravity, in just another example of how Deftones were able to continue pushing the limits of what was achievable in heavy metal.
6. Saturday Night Wrist:
In their next evolutionary step, Deftones continued the departure away from their nu-metal roots, and leaned further into their blossoming alt-rock sensibilities. The result was both a consolidation of what had come before, and a glimpse into the direction the band was now heading; a transformation made inevitable following the release of the seminal White Pony. The record featured the band’s trademark undulation between beauty and brutality, whilst delivering well-structured songwriting with a heightened focus on incorporating melody. The opening to Hole In The Earth is a blistering introduction to the record, which mellows out progressively as the album develops. The sprawling arrangement on Cherry Waves makes it feel like the music is floating suspended in mid-air, not unlike the effect of the synthesisers of Frank Delgado on Xerces. The album finds resolution on the soft acoustic blend of Drive, which has a cinematic quality to its resonance.
It is remarkable to think that 25 years on from their debut record, Deftones were still capable of writing an album as impactful as Ohms. The musical concepts explored may have been better executed on earlier releases, but the songs nevertheless succeed in encapsulating the essential elements that make Deftones so inimitable. There is no lack of potency in the lyrical prose of Moreno, nor when it comes to the band’s gift of juxtaposing the beauty in their songs with the harrowing darkness that inevitably encircles them. There is a weight behind the musicianship in Genesis that replicates the sensation of having something heavy pressed onto your chest, before the tension is released in moments reminiscent to the intro on Pompeji. This continuous push-and-pull motion elicited by the album’s devised oscillations creates an unnerving sense of anxious energy, which is counteracted by the uplifting euphoric state aroused by songs such as the title track. It is here that Stephen Carpenter delivers a virtuosic performance that lifts the record into another stratosphere on the back of spiraling lead guitar passages. The song Ohms may be one of the group’s finest compositions from any period of their career, which is a fitting way to end such a spectacular record.
4. Koi No Yokan:
The legacy of Koi No Yokan in Deftones’ canon will be defined by exceptional songwriting, and an effortless harmony between the ‘black’ and ‘white’ dichotomy central to their sound. On this album, the band paints in long, fluid brushstrokes, sweeping across the diverse musical shapes and colours that trace the equally broad emotional spectrum evoked by the music. There is a spaciousness to songs like Swerve City and Romantic Dream that allows them to soar unrestrained and move fluidly to occupy every inch of the audible experience. The transition from the docile intros in Leathers and Tempest to their more pronounced and rhythmically diverse later passages mimics the surge of an adrenaline rush, whereas the ethereal Entombed and Rosemary caress you within their tender grasps of warm guitar tones, delicate drum hits and soothing vocals.
We have now reached the point in our list where the albums become a ‘must-have’ for all fans of heavy music.
3. Around The Fur:
Around The Fur achieved more than simply embedding Deftones into the mainstream consciousness; it quite literally defined an entire generation of heavy music fans. By facilitating the convergence of alternative rock and heavy metal, Deftones were a catalyst that opened the metaphoric floodgates, allowing other artists to cross pollinate with influences that had previously existed worlds apart. Historical and cultural significance aside, Around The Fur has distinct merit as an isolated piece of art. There is an intoxicating allure to the record, derived from the fact that the uninhibited juvenile vigor of their early years had not completely given way to the art-rock visionaries that the band would one day grow to become. It was as if Deftones had all the pieces to the puzzle, and they were in the process of putting them together. The unhinged energy this created was channeled directly into songs like My Own Summer (Shove It), which practically tears a hole in your speakers when played at full volume. They were far from a one-trick act however, demonstrating an ability to control their delivery on cult-favourites Mascara and the self-titled masterstroke. Further down the tracklist, the band displayed an early propensity to craft songs that lended themselves to greater sensitivity and introspection. There is no better example than Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away), which sounds and feels like a cathartic release of repressed emotion.
The only consideration that keeps Around The Fur from one of the top two spots is the fact that it is very much dated in the 90’s. This is not necessarily a negative thing, but we are truly splitting hairs at this point.
2. Diamond Eyes:
Eloquently paired vocal and instrumental melodies, deeply provocative lyricism, and cataclysmic arrangements so grand as to be orchestral in nature; these are just some of the qualities that distinguish Diamond Eyes beyond adequate description. From the moment the seamless harmonic phrasing on the title-track enters, right through to when This Place Is Death fades into obscurity, there is not a discernible spot where the album lapses in excellence. The calculated precision of You’ve Seen The Butcher hits with an aural assault that is palpable to the senses, just as Beauty School induces an indescribable state of intimacy with the music. The dimensions of these connections are not fully realised until the album single, Sextape resonates suspending in time, and all there is left to do is revel in the celestial aura that ensues.
Even after tragedy struck the band with the passing of bassist Chi Cheng, Deftones did not miss a beat. The bass guitar of Sergio Vega fitted squarely into the mold and provided the deep tonal foundation for one of their finest accomplishments to date.
1. White Pony:
There was no precedent for what Deftones unearthed on their seminal record, White Pony. It is one of those singular events in music history that is irreducible, and has an indomitable effect on all things that come after it. In the space of 50 short minutes, the band had broken free from the limitations of their contemporaries, and etched the blueprint for alternative-metal into the future. The paradigm of heavy music would never be the same again at the turn of the millennium, and for this reason (amongst nameless others), there is no other choice for the No.1 spot.
Deftones were operating at the peak of their abilities during the White Pony sessions. The songwriting was refined to the point of near perfection, animated by the studio production and inspired by the band’s proclivity to innovate. There was an immediacy to the finished product that did not exist before, nor has it since (and very likely never will again). The elegant ferocity of Feiticeira, and ominous presence of Digital Bath ascend into a discordant wall of sound that reverberates harshly, yet remains equally enticing. The lyrical concepts explored are purposefully confronting, dabbling in tales of sadistic ultra violence and disturbing depravity, attempting to bait an authentic response from those who are game enough to dive down the rabbit hole and experience it. The chaotic volatility in the dynamic range of Rx Queen destabilises and contorts the mix, whilst the haunting Knife Prty recalibrates the dense soundscape through an exquisite concoction of sustained dissonance and shapely melodies. The impassioned vocal performances of Moreno and Maynard James Keenan on Passenger carry the momentum forwards towards the pinnacle of Deftones’ entire body of work; the austere masterpiece that is Change (In The House Of Flies). Words are scarce to describe the sheer immensity of this song, and it has to be endured to understand its importance.
The fact that another Deftones fan could compile this same list and come up with an entirely different outcome, is precisely what makes this band so special; their music means something unique to everyone.
GOOD THINGS FESTIVAL LINE UP:
Bring Me The Horizon | Deftones | NOFX (performing ‘Punk In Drublic’ in full + all your favourites) | TISM (Exclusive: First shows in 19 years!) | The Amity Affliction | Gojira
ONE OK ROCK | Sabaton | Polaris | Millencolin
In Alphabetical Order:
Blood Command | Chasing Ghosts | Cosmic Psychos | Electric Callboy
Jinjer | Kisschasy (Performing ‘United Paper People’ In Full) | Lacuna Coil
Nova Twins | Ocean Grove | Paledusk | RedHook | Regurgitator | Sleeping With Sirens
Soulfly | Teenage Joans | The Gloom In The Corner | The Story So Far | Thornhill
THOSE WHO DREAM | To The Grave* | YOU AM I
*To The Grave not appearing in Sydney
DATES AND VENUES:
Friday 2nd December – Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne (LIC AA 15+)
Saturday 3 December- Centennial Park, Sydney (18+)
Sunday 4 December – Brisbane Showgrounds, Brisbane (LIC AA 15+)