Friday (Apr. 8) marks the release of Gore, a brand new album from Sacramento alternative metal lifers Deftones and their first since 2012’s Koi No Yokan and the 2013 passing of original bassist Chi Cheng. It is very good, a precarious mix of familiar sounds and avenues we might not have expected the band to pursue, and the eighth consecutive success from a band that seems incapable of making a bad album.
Because Deftones’ on-record batting average is so great, we’re taking on the gargantuan task of ranking each of the proper studio albums (and the serviceable B-Sides & Rarities compilation, but not the Record Store Day Covers one, since it rehashes much of the same material) once and for all. Remember, the rankings don’t mean any of these is a bad album; some are just demonstrably better than others.
The loosies and covers album B-Sides & Rarities is the one where we learn that all the latent romantic vibes and Morrissey-an depressiveness that singer Chino Moreno exudes are not coincidence but veiled tribute. The cover of the Cure’s “If Only Tonight We Can Sleep” was a genius pairing in a night full of them, and of course this band does a killer Duran Duran (“The Chauffeur”). Where B-Sides really shines is in the outliers—a shipwrecked “Ordinary Love,” a reverent “Simple Man.” Not everything is essential: their “Savory” works principally because “Savory” itself is unimpeachable, and the plodding alternate versions of White Pony’s “Digital Bath” and “Teenager” are cautionary tales about leaving well enough alone.
Deftones’ 1995 debut Adrenaline is very much a product of its era: sawtoothed guitars, menacing, circular riffs, a faint hip-hop veneer, and gobs of pained shrieks coalesce to make what is very nearly the archetypal nu-metal album. Adrenaline makes up for what it lacks in range in pure rage and heart, its title an apt descriptor for the music. Things hardly let up after the primal scream therapy of opener “Bored,” but if you crane your neck, you can hear the shoegaze tendencies of later records in the hidden track “Fist.”
Saturday Night Wrist is an odd spot in the Deftones discography: It sounds like the bridge from the moody electronic sounds of White Pony and the rock retrenchment of Deftones, although it was created well after both. Nevertheless, the band’s fifth studio album carefully mines the full spectrum of the band’s capabilities without ever tripping up or sounding too disjointed. Bonus points for the molten, menacing “Beware.”
Koi No Yokan is proof that the enduring chemistry, workmanlike songwriting apparatus and fearless taste for experimentation at the root of Deftones’ bond are valuable and exceedingly rare gifts. That they should still be able to turn in tunes as bright as “Entombed” and as punishing as “Gauze” when many of their early peers have disbanded, decayed or worse is nothing less than legendary. They sounded as fresh in 2012 as they did fifteen years prior.
2003 was the first inkling that nu-metal was on the way out as a commercial music superpower, as many of the bands at the subgenre’s forefront began treading water to diminishing commercial returns. It would’ve been understandable if Deftones used the hard left of White Pony as a launchpad into a totally different sound. Instead, they snapped back from the cold sonics of that album with a self-titled one that let the guitars do most of the talking.
Deftones is the rare mid-career self-titled album that successfully captures the beating heart of the band, from the blissfully heavy “Hexagram,” “Needles and Pins,” and “When Girls Telephone Boys” to dejected slow burners “Deathblow” and “Battle-axe.” For good measure, late album highlight “Anniversary of an Uninteresting Event” wrings pathos out of bells, pianos, and brushed drums, proving this band could still successfully go without the guitars at its core if it pleased.
Deftones bassist Chi Cheng got into a tragic car accident in 2008 that would leave him in a permanent comatose state for the rest of his life. Reeling from the news, the band shelved a now-lost album called Eros and later regrouped to bang out 2010’s Diamond Eyes. While the tragedy doesn’t really come through in the lyric sheet, Diamond Eyes is hard as nails, the closest thing to a conventional metal album in the Deftones discography. The deathly “You’ve Seen the Butcher” channels Black Sabbath, and the groove-heavy “Rocket Skates” and “Diamond Eyes” feel informed by Pantera. “Sextape” is stunning, sunny shoegaze, though, and “Prince” reenacts White Pony’s sex and death tug-of-war. It wouldn’t be a Deftones album without a proper curveball or two.
It’s apparent from Around the Fur opener “My Own Summer (Shove It)” that the band had grown in the two years since Adrenaline and had discovered a new heaviness in the interplay between the beauty of Chino’s clean vocals, Stephen Carpenter’s gossamer guitar parts and the punishing low end from Cheng and drummer Abe Cunningham. The band also began to toy with mood and pace, an experimentation that would land it squarely in radio’s sights: “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)” became an alt-rock staple that had more in common with Hum and Smashing Pumpkins than Korn or System of a Down. Around the Fur set the stage for the critical and commercial achievement the band’s next album, White Pony, would reel in.
History dictates that if a great rock band lives to see a third album, it’s got to be weird (ex: Led Zeppelin III, Fear of Music, OK Computer, Screamadelica, etc.). With 2000’s White Pony, Deftones loosed the shackles of what we believed it was possible for them to sound like, taking advantage of electronics whiz Frank Delgado’s newfound full-time status to bomb their productions out with tense atmospherics. White Pony’s sprawl is tremendous; the bleak pallor of the verses in “Rx Queen” and “Digital Bath” foreground electronic elements, while guitars creep in and out of the fray like afterthoughts.
White Pony rips, but it’s patient and sexy. Upbeat stompers like “Street Carp” and “Korea” are balanced out with the closing trifecta of “Passenger,” “Change (In the House of Flies)” and “Pink Maggit,” three of the longest, most methodical songs in the band’s discography up to that point. White Pony is a precious balancing act, a heavy band finding something every bit as devastating as loud guitars, to dazzling effect.
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