Review Summary: Detailed textures, hidden beauty, and an overall gigantic sound make this one of the band’s finest records.
White Pony was a hard act to follow. Even the most die-hard of Deftones fans would admit that they were as nervous as they were eager to hear just where the band would take their sound. Their self-titled album, fourth in a so-far respectable line, was met with a whole lot of confusion.
Deftones is the first of the band’s records to fully break from the bass-popping, white-man dreadlocked, California-bred mess of nu-metal that they were unfairly associated with (and, to some extent, still are). Even so, the record is remarkably heavy. Guitarist Stephen Carpenter wrote many of the songs here, and his love of heavy metal, especially Swedish groundbreakers Meshuggah, really cuts through. Despite the headbanging appeal, listeners were off-put by the simplicity of the song structures and the seemingly lazy songwriting. However, there is more than meets the eye.
To say the least, this is one of the biggest albums ever recorded. Sonically, that is, Deftones is huge enough to start an earthquake. The mostly-9/8 “Hexagram” and the sinister “Battle-Axe” not only feature some of Carpenter’s heaviest riffing, but they are ready to tear through your walls with their gigantic sounds. Centerpiece “Deathblow” takes its time before its mushroom cloud of a chorus reveals itself to be as beautiful as it is brutal. And “Minerva” (holy cow, probably the most massive song ever) is just about ready to lift off into space, in all it’s shoegazer, textured glory. Credit the band’s strong musicianship and producer Terry Date’s knack for explosive audio mixing for this immense album. Every one of the heavy cuts here, except for the lifeless closer “Moana”, absolutely roar.
But it isn’t just the metal that propels them. Chino Moreno, whose admiration of bands like The Smiths and My Bloody Valentine makes him a surprisingly complex part of the band, is just as important. His tortured, drugged-out vocals pack enough punch to embellish the lurching metal songs and are sensual enough to scare frat boys away. The gorgeous “Anniversary of an Uninteresting Event”, a mournful, piano-based dirge with a Cure-like beat presents Chino in all of his quivering vulnerability. On “Deathblow”, he sounds like he sings with the urgency of a man about to be swallowed by the sea. The passion and drama in his voice, as well as the startling poetry of his lyrics, are the band’s best asset.
Still, not all of their subtle experiments work. “Lucky You” is a boring trip-piece that feels hopelessly lost on the album. “Needles and Pins” starts out strong, especially in the case of always-reliable drummer Abe Cunningham’s furious groove, but finds nowhere to go. But these minor asides only detract minimally from an album that is really much deeper than most casual listeners give it credit for. Equal parts rage and beauty, Deftones is a difficult-to-categorize effort made by a band with innumerable influences and peerless creativity. The simple song structures found here are easily forgivable when there’s so much to offer in subtlety.