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Classic Album Review: Deftones | Deftones

Chino Moreno and co. drop 11 massively heavy, challengingly inventive tracks that showcase a band pushing their musical boundaries further than they have before.

This came out in 2003 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):


Most of the time, I have no idea what the hell Chino Moreno is talking about. It’s not that I can’t hear him — the Deftones singer-guitarist can unleash a scream that would send shivers up Charlie Manson’s spine. And it’s not that I can’t understand him — even as he weeps, wails, gnashes his teeth and shreds his vocal cords like so much string cheese, his enunciation is a whole lot better than, say, Joe Strummer. And hell, even if it wasn’t, there’s the lyric sheet.

So  it’s not that I don’t know what Moreno’s saying. It’s that most of the time, I don’t know what he means. This is not an insult. In fact, it’s a compliment. To put it simply, Moreno, also the band’s chief lyricist, has a way with words. Next to all the nü-metal and rap-rock lunkheads urging their fans to break stuff, Moreno’s lyrics are practically poetry — abstract, intelligent, subtle and sometimes confoundingly enigmatic. For instance: “Paint the streets in white,” he howls to open the band’s new self-titled album. “Death is the standard breach for a complex prize / I think it’s sweet of you and your parents are proud / But I would expect it from anyone now to protect life’s indigenous sound … ”

Clearly, this is a guy with more on his mind than scoring drugs and nailing supermodels. Which is probably a big part of the reason why the California quintet — Moreno, guitarist Stephen Carpenter, drummer Abe Cunningham, bassist Chi Cheng and turntablist/keyboard player Frank Delgado — have amassed such a fervent following with just four albums under their belt (including the 2000 breakthrough disc White Pony). But there is also another basis for that bond: The fact that Deftones’ lyrical passion and intelligence are matched by their music.

Bands will always tell you that their latest record is their most adventurous and exciting creation yet. But in this case, that sentiment isn’t just hype. These 11 massively heavy, challengingly inventive tracks showcase a band pushing their musical boundaries further than they ever have before. Hexagram, the song I quoted above, moves from a pummelling metal waltz into a chorus of grinding staccato guitars and tug-of-war vocals barking “Worship / Play / Worship / Play.” Needles And Pins constructs a circular wall of churning, overdriven axes and offers an invitation to “fall in love with sound.” Minerva is a passionate nuclear-powered ballad whose melodic layers, soaring vocals and dynamic tension wouldn’t have been out of place on an early Smashing Pumpkins disc.

Those are just the first three cuts. Others find the band arc-welding together elements from virtually the entire spectrum of heavy music — punk, hardcore, metal, thrash, goth, hip-hop, nü-metal, funk, what have you — to use as the foundation for their artful and ambitiously hybrid works. Some, like the searing When Girls Telephone Boys, are relentlesly aggressive and blisteringly cathartic, with Carpenter slashing away at his guitar, Cunningham and Cheng laying down poundingly heavy-handed yet intricately supple midtempo rhythms, and Moreno spitting seething hatred and sneering like Captain Beefheart. Others, like Lucky You, are almost ambient dreamscapes, with minimalist grooves, electronic scribbles and vocals more than gloomy enough to get the job done. Virtually all of them eschew the detuned rubber-legged guitars, overused hip-hop beats, depth-charge bases and monotonous vocals that have become the cliche sounds of a million nü-metal and rap-rock soundalikes.

And even if I don’t know what the hell Moreno means by lines like, “No more gold lights for the queen earth to keep you warm in your kingdoms,” so what? I know he means every word of it. Which is more than you can say for most of the competition.