Sacramento alt-metal act Deftones have tried their best to distance themselves from the nu-metal scene that saw their ascent, and have largely succeeded as evidenced by their unparalleled longevity, influence, and sustained relevance in the broader rock and metal conversation over the last thirty years. Beyond that, Deftones are remarkably consistent in terms of their quality of output, and it can be argued that the group never really dropped a bad album.
There are fan and critic favorites, of course. White Pony (2000) served as the band’s magnum opus and grand statement of intent in transcending nu-metal, incorporating keyboards and imbuing the atmosphere with shoegaze influence. Later, Diamond Eyes (2010) became a comeback album of sorts after the death of founding bassist Chi Cheng and coming back from the brink of disbandment and the still-shelved record Eros. They’re both wildly different records, but they both have in common the air of a band that is hungry to prove their depth and longevity. Deftones seemingly have a way of dropping a career-defining album at the top of every decade, and Deftones have an opportunity to follow through a third time with Ohms.
In recent years, it’s been no secret that guitarist Stephen Carpenter hasn’t been satisfied with the band’s decidedly less-riffy direction; since frontman Chino Moreno first picked up a guitar on White Pony and asserted his songwriting voice favoring an ambiance of nostalgia and romanticism, Carpenter sporadically voiced his displeasure with the decreased metal influence publicly, and during the Gore release cycle reported feeling “uninspired” by the material, going as far to say, “my band is going one direction and I am going another one currently.”
Moreno batted away any speculation of tensions in the band time and time again, this time saying that Carpenter was much more engaged with Ohms, adding that the skeleton of the record came from remaining founding members Moreno, Carpenter, and drummer Abe Cunningham jamming as a three piece. This renewed synergy, compounded by incredible contributions from bassist Sergio Vega and keyboardist and sampler Frank Delgado, lend to what is perhaps the band’s most cohesive and sonically consistent album since White Pony. It’s also their least immediately hooky record, which may be a point in favor of its replayability and longevity.
The Ohms finale, title track, and lead single sports some real movement on the fretboard for Deftones standards, with a massive angular riff providing some forward momentum along with what could otherwise be a massive stoner rock metal in any other context driving the song’s verses. This first taste of the record, as well as the dark and grooving second single “Genesis,” provides an adequate representation of Ohms at large. Of course, the songs have choruses, but they aren’t as gripping as, say, anything from Diamond Eyes.
In fact, Ohms is perhaps best consumed with the same ear and mindset one would have when listening to a post-metal or sludge record in order to better absorb some of the nuance and subtleties Ohms has to offer. No, this isn’t actually a sludge record, but Deftones and producer Terry Date (who also helmed White Pony) have conjured quite the atmosphere and aesthetic that is so specific and idiosyncratic to Ohms that making comparisons to past works is a difficult task. Sure, there are shades of familiarity as the Deftones sound is so peculiarly particular given the band’s broad array of influences and diverse sonic palette, but to be sure, Ohms is in a league of its own.
Across Ohms, that apparently renewed synergistic effort at band unity has paid off. As reported, Carpenter is as engaged as he’s been in decades, providing a more present low-end through extended range guitars, now expanded to nine strings, serving as an anchor for the band’s ever-expanding exploration of space. “Headless” serves as a late example of the band perfecting their shared space in unison, with Carpenter and Vega going low against Delgado’s front-and-center keyboards and Moreno’s evocative crooning, all while Cunningham plays much larger than whatever room he’s recording in. “Urantia” flirts with a thrashy riff that comes and goes and morphs to anchor synth melodies in the verse and chorus, and features a truly inspired transitional moment of samples and keys from Delgado in its halfway point. Delgado is perhaps as present and engaged as Carpenter on Ohms, providing atmospheric depth and a variety of different textures that allow the album to transcend.
Shoegaze and noise rock have long been a portion of the Deftones anatomy in some form or fashion, and tracks like “Error” and “This Link Is Dead” borrows walls of searing and wailing guitars from pioneers like Sonic Youth, the former track featuring Moreno adopt a snarling scream through its runtime. Vega kicks off “Radiant City” with a scratchy bass groove that would feel at home on an early hardcore or crossover thrash record, mirrored with some chunky galloping from Carpenter before being flipped into space rock for its chorus.
Early highlight “Ceremony” is an explosive track that rides its crescendo of atmospheric pads and progressions into a haunting transition. The most compelling moment on Ohms, at least for this listener, is the dichotomous “The Spell Of Mathematics,” which features a second half which brings to mind the hypnotic instrumental “U,U,D,D…” from Saturday Night Wrist, albeit with some added heft via a massive counterpoint. The seagull-sampling “Pompeji” bridges the gap between floaty shoegaze and lumbering sludge riffs, sort of a cross between “Sextape” and “Royal” in terms of its blending of ideas.
And if Ohms proves anything, it’s that Deftones are adept at blending disparate ideas, achieving balance through thick low-end groove and ethereal beauty, which places Deftones closer to the works of Isis (remember that Isis / Moreno band Palms?!) than anything within the nu-metal scene that they were so desperate to detach from. It’s a testament to their legacy in rock and metal alike and their ability to stay relevant and inventive in the greater scope of the genre. We’re a quarter of a century removed from Moreno rapping Ice Cube verses on Korn records (as fun as it was at the time), and they want you to know it. It’s yet another grand statement of intent from Deftones, and while the heightened metallic influence compared to recent works will be exciting for longtime fans, Ohms may not immediately reveal itself as captivating. But rest assured, it will.
Deftones’ Ohms sees release on September 25th, 2020 on Reprise Records and can be purchased at this location or wherever you buy your music.