Review Summary: The Deftones can't make anything less than stellar music, but this album shows them taking a step forward. Unfortunately they're walking on an inclined treadmill, so one step isn't nearly enough to summit the greatness they've shown they're so capable of.
The first time I ever heard the Deftones, I was in middle school. Riding in my cousins' car on our way home from school, I was genuinely taken aback by the pure brute strength and harshness the music seemed to be able to harness. It scared the *** out of me. A twelve year old kid, trying his best to 'look cool' to his elder relative, would never have admitted this though, and so I pretended that I loved it. It wasn't until a couple weeks later that I realized I hadn't been pretending at all.
This album was White Pony. Up until this album came out, having grown up in an incredibly Christian household, I was completely unaware of any notions of violence or sadism in music. Sexuality, sure, Blink 182 was many a Christian skater kids' forbidden fruit, but I had never heard music that was so purely enticing and obviously quite contrary to much of what I'd grown up being taught and forced to listen to. It would very quickly come to re-define my entire musical taste, and, as trite as it may seem, even force me to reconsider a lot of parts of my upbringing.
The intrigue of this world of music I'd never been privy to before became overwhelming. It segued me to bands like Children of Bodom, Godsmack, Opeth, System of a Down, Static X and I'll admit, even a bit of Slipknot. Some of it was much better than others, I genuinely hated Opeth at the time and had only picked up Blackwater Park because the counter worker at the record store down the street from my house had offered it up when I'd asked for something metal. The bands themselves weren't really important though, it was the overall change in musical taste that a single album had helped give rise to. It was amazing and for it I'll always remember when and where I bought White Pony, my first listen, the look I'm sure was on my face the first time I heard Knife Party, all of it. It was truly a transcending experience.
10 Years and 2 LP's later, I was incredibly excited to get my hands on Diamond Eyes, the Deftones latest offering. Having only heard Rocket Skates, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the album. Rocket Skates had a very heavy feel to it, in the vein of Around the Fur, but seemed to lack a lot of the underlying mood previous singles like My Own Summer and Change (In the House of Flies) had developed so efficiently. The musicianship was there, the vocals were there, but it just seemed to be missing something. It was a single, though, so my expectations remained very high.
When I finally got the album in it's entirety, I had it on repeat the entire day. My first time through it I was amazed to find myself bored. The second time through, it seemed to hook me a bit more, but the line still broke and I found myself swaying again, though this time at an entirely different part of the album (right after Rocket Skates). It just didn't seem to have the power I had come into the album expecting. The power, not just in an 0mgr00tal sense, but also in the way that White Pony grabbed me by the balls and refused to let go.
Diamond Eyes and Royal are a great duo of songs to start the album off, and upon hearing them, my expectations seemed to have been fully met. Diamond Eyes' slow and brooding verse giving way to an uplifting chorus was something I hadn't quite heard from the Deftones, and I was quite surprised. Sure, Saturday Night Wrist had hinted at it and even dabbled a bit, but this song truly captures the effort. The heaviness is there still, the production does a phenomenal job of accentuating the depth of the guitar, but the release into the chorus melded much better than I could've hoped.
Royal is probably my favorite song on the album, though it probably has something to do with the nostalgia it brings up. It sounds like the old Deftones. Chino's voice is dead on at every point in the song, which has always been such a defining factor in the Deftones' sound. He is a scary, haunting mother***er. His pitch always makes or breaks (usually makes) the song. His screams contrast his clean highs and lows incredibly well, and this song demonstrates it perfectly.
After Royal, the album sort of loses me until Beauty School. CMND/CTRL is one of my least favorite Deftones songs of all time and just annoys me, to be quite honest. It feels out of place and the generic, slide progression verse isn't made any better by his (seeming) immense use of a bass synth and more Boss pedals than I can even pick out of the sound. You've Seen the Butcher only has the slow aspect of the slow/fast pacing that makes the Deftones so great. It never really picks up, it just stays at a meandering pace the entire song and so any potential brilliance is squandered, though the vocals are great at times.
Prince and Rocket Skates are both good, solid Deftones songs but they, and the rest of the album, still just lack the 'je ne sais q'uoi' that the Deftones have always seemed to embody so well. A hopeful darkness, plagued by violence, pain, sex and anguish, but with hints of light through an otherwise blood spattered windshield. It's like someone turned on the windshield wipers and only hints of the previous carnage is visible anymore, and it's all slowly sinking to the bottom, leaking into the engine.
This album has moments of brilliance, as anyone would expect from the Deftones, but it just doesn't do them justice. It's almost too light heart-ed at times. That's not to say that uplifting music is less tolerable (or that this is uplifting really), by any means, but when it comes to the 'Deftones sound', this new feel just doesn't seem to fit quite as well. The limb trembling creepiness or speaker blowing brutality only peaks it's head out every now and then, to make sure listeners know that the sound is still in there somewhere, but it never sticks around for long. The pull of an album haunting you even after you stop listening to it that White Pony and, at times, Around the Fur, their self-titled and Saturday Night Wrist, pulled off so eloquently just isn't here. The album as a whole works incredibly well, but the individual songs fall short.
As a whole album, this is a great album, there's no doubt about it. The vocals, as one would expect, are nothing short of fantastic, the instrumentation follows suit a very short distance behind. There's just a lack of fear and tension present to truly make the listening experience as incredibly engrossing as some of their previous efforts. I wasn't expecting to get that same 'holy ***, I might piss myself' feel that I first associated with this band, I'm not 12 years old anymore after all, but the lack of standout songs, or the fact that they don't all stand out (as is the case with White Pony) just allows this album to fall short of the greatness the Deftones have always been so capable of.