Welcome to yet another installment of Half Life, where we at Heavy Blog dissect a current band’s (i.e. a band that is still making music) discography. For previous articles in this column, please click here.
Deftones are somewhat of an oddity in the rock/metal community. Their sound has an undefinable quality, wherein no single genre encapsulates the band’s music perfectly; although Stephen Carpenter’s guitar work is heavy, and Chino Moreno’s vocals can include screaming, their forays into dream pop/shoegaze territory put them in a place outside both colloquial rock and metal. They are one of the few bands to survive the Nü Metal movement (though it’s debatable that they were even part of it) with both critical and commercial acclaim that continues to this day. And, they are a group with no real “bad” album, in my opinion. Many acts in metal, like Metallica and Morbid Angel, have distinct, poorly received albums (St. Anger and Illud Divinu Insanus, respectively), yet Deftones have been pretty much immune to massive backlash.
Adrenaline (1995, Maverick/Warner Bros.)
Adrenaline is probably the most “nü-metal” the band ever got in the 28 years they’ve existed. The guitars hit harder than the lead pipe does in a game of Clue, and it’s all played with a nice groove. Chino employs a lot of spoken word style that almost borders on rapping in tracks like “7 Words.”
Overall, the band’s songwriting borders on mediocre with its relatively simple sound, and Chino’s lyrics are a little a repetitive, with constant references to boredom popping up throughout the album.
However, there are some great tracks on Adrenaline. “Bored” and “Engine No. 9” remain fan favorites, and I still consider “Minus Blindfold” and “7 Words” to be some great work by a band that was incredibly young at the time.
Altogether, Adrenaline adds up to be just okay. When considering the work that Deftones are capable of, their debut is perhaps the weakest, but it’s still not horrible by any means.
Around the Fur (1997, Maverick/Warner Bros.)
This is, arguably, where the band really hits their signature sound for the first time—that is, a combination of incredibly heavy and deliciously soft instrumentation and vocals that seem to defy both traditional metal and rock styles. There are hints and pieces of this style on Adrenaline with tracks like “Bored,” but for the most part that album lurks in the shadows over some basic nü-metal.
The album features samples and sound manipulation by Frank Delgado, who, by White Pony, was officially inducted as a member of the band. Stephen Carpenter’s contributions, while simple, manage to add a sad tinge to a very, very heavy guitar, and Chino’s vocals complete the entire ensemble, crooning with the most delicate of vocals on parts of “Dai the Flu” and “Be Quiet and Drive” and screaming with incredible fury on the choruses of “My Own Summer” and “Lotion.” To top it all off, the album features contributions from ex-Sepultura singer Max Cavalera on “Headup,” and drummer Abe Cunningham’s (now ex-) wife Annalynn on “MX.”
White Pony (2000, Maverick)
A majority of fans consider this to be the band’s magnum opus, as it seems that the sweet spot between heavy and soft and between progressive and standard songwriting had been reached in White Pony. Either way, this album brought Deftones into the forefront of rock and metal music. With their expansion into more dream pop- and shoegaze-inspired material, the band had a sound that was unstoppable at the time. Chino’s contributions on guitar, and Frank Delgado’s induction helped create an album that was more lush than its predecessors, yet hit harder than previous efforts as well, using not only Stephen Carpenter’s heavy riffs, but also some dark imagery in Chino’s lyrics. “Knife Prty” refers to freebasing cocaine, and “Elite” is possibly the band’s heaviest song to date. Of course, there are stripped-back moments, like “Digital Bath” where the guitars seem mixed down in favor of dreamy soundscapes, or “Passenger,” which features Tool’s Maynard James Keenan sharing vocal duties with Chino. Moreno even raps in the verses of the intro track “Back to School (Mini Maggit).”
Most notable in White Pony, though, are the softer songs. “Change (In the House of Flies)” is one of the more melodic songs in the band’s catalog, and “Pink Maggit” uses Carpenter’s guitars in a way that feels delicate rather than brutal.
Deftones (2003, Maverick)
The band’s self-titled album found Chino and company throwing their previous balance of dynamics out in favor of something with a heavier and darker tone, along with a clearer distinction between genres. Instead of the blend of shoe gaze and alternative metal that White Pony had, most of the tracks on Deftones are either the standard “heavy” fare or experimentation into something else. “Hexagram,” “Pins and Needles,” and “When Girls Telephone Boys” add to the band’s roster of crunchy, dense songs, while “Lucky You” is more of a trip-hop song than a normal Deftones song.
When all is said and done, though, this album still has the band’s sound all over it. Amazon’s description of the album depicts it to be “as erotic as it is beautiful, [and] as relentless as it is gentle.” However, the reception for Deftones was mixed, as there is no way to really follow up an album like White Pony.
Saturday Night Wrist (2006, Maverick)
The late naughties was a rough time for the Deftones. Chino Moreno was in the middle of battling drug addiction, and songwriting for the album became such a problem for the band that they actually went on a brief hiatus before writing and recording the rest of it.
The finished product, however, is possibly the darkest Deftones album to date. The band’s sound generally follows what was developed in White Pony, but with a more morbid edge to it. Chino was quoted in an interview in Beat Magazine that the title refers to “when you’re alone on Saturday nights and your only friend is your shaking wrist [caused by falling asleep on one’s arm, usually when intoxicated].” “Hole in the Earth” and “Kimdracula” sound wholly apocalyptic in their sound, as if the band is mourning the loss of the world. There are, as in every Deftones album, moments of earth-shaking metal (“Rats!Rats!Rats!,” “Rapture”) and times of serene—but morose—beauty (“Cherry Waves,” Xerces”). Again, reception was divided commercially, while critics lauded the darkness and the evil atmosphere the band explores on the album.
Diamond Eyes (2010, Reprise/Warner Bros.)
In 2008, Deftones bassist Chi Cheng was involved in a car accident that put him in a coma until 2012 and eventually led to his death the following year. The band had hoped for him to rejoin once his condition improved, but when that hope seemed completely lost, they inducted substitute bassist Sergio Vega (ex-Quicksand) as Cheng’s permanent replacement.
With Cheng’s accident, the band indefinitely shelved what was to be their sixth album, Eros, and began work one what would become Diamond Eyes, which, now, is regarded by many as the band’s second coming. Chino’s vocals are at their strongest ever in this album, and Stephen Carpenter replaces his usual 7-string setup for 8-string guitars, offering an even heavier sound than previous releases, although tracks like “Beauty School” and “Sextape” set a new precedent for the band’s more lush material as well.
Koi No Yokan (2012, Reprise/Warner Bros.)
The band’s most recent output has continued in the same vein that Diamond Eyes had put in place, albeit with more of a fixation on electronic rock elements, with more digital drums and samples—courtesy of Frank Delgado—being used. The album’s title is a Japanese phrase with no real English counterpart, roughly referring not to the idea of love at first sight, but rather the feeling upon first seeing someone that one might fall in love with said person.
While not as critically well-received as their previous effort, Koi No Yokan is still a strong album, with great tracks like “Leathers” and “Tempest” serving as the leading singles. “Rosemary” extends on the effects used in Diamond Eyes’s track “Sextape” with a mystical-sounding echo effect, while “Entombed” has one of the most interesting riffs in the band’s entire catalog.
Deftones are a band that give it their all, no matter what number album they are on. With the release of the first single, “Prayers/Triangles” off their eighth album, Gore, in April, we can expect something along the lines of Koi No Yokan—no-holds-barred electronic rock, and, as always, a meeting of the heavy and the soft. Like I have previously stated on this blog, this is a band that has both the bludgeoning effect of a sledgehammer and the precision of a scalpel, that use both to their advantage in surprising ways.