Review Summary: Diamond Eyes? More like keylime pies!
Four years after the release of their last album – a period marked by heartbreak and an in-the-works record that was abandoned – Deftones have returned with Diamond Eyes, a stirring effort that perfectly captures this ace alt-metal band in all its guises. Combining bruising hard rock with intricate, gorgeous ballads, Diamond Eyes is the group’s first effort since longtime bassist Chi Cheng slipped into a coma in 2008, but Deftones’ sadness over their fallen comrade has resulted in one of the group’s most vital albums.
A Way to Channel Difficult Emotions
Deftones were in the midst of completing their follow-up to 2006’s Saturday Night Wrist, which was to be called Eros, when Cheng was involved in an automobile accident in the fall of 2008, winding up in a coma. The rest of the band elected to set aside the Eros material and start from scratch, bringing aboard former Quicksand bassist Sergio Vega to fill in for Cheng. Prior to the release of Diamond Eyes, Deftones frontman Chino Moreno insisted that his lyrics wouldn’t explicitly address Cheng, and indeed one of the album’s strengths is that it doesn’t seem in any way to be exploiting Cheng’s uncertain situation. To be sure, Diamond Eyes boasts a fiery, seething vibrancy, but rather than directly confronting their feelings about Cheng, Deftones seem to have channeled those emotions into music that practically sizzles with tension and feeling.
Alt-Metal Done Right
As a genre, alt-metal encompasses a lot of different bands of widely varying quality. But as an example of how it’s done properly, Deftones are near the head of the pack. Diamond Eyes demonstrates not only the band’s musical dexterity but also their adventurousness. The crushing riffs of “Diamond Eyes” and “Royal” will delight mosh-pit fans, but what’s remarkable about the album is that even the ballads have a punishing, muscular quality to them, proof that an alt-metal band can access their softer side without resorting to power-ballad formula. Like their forefathers in Tool and Faith No More, Deftones are producing challenging rock music whose twists and turns may at first seem confusing but which ultimately result in hypnotic, galvanizing tunes. Even the least immediately accessible songs off Diamond Eyes slowly start to assert themselves, their hooks drilling into your subconscious until it’s hard to separate the album’s high and low points.
Moody, Memorable Songs
Always known for their moody, atmospheric metal, Deftones outdo themselves with Diamond Eyes, particularly on songs that are a lot more poignant than their titles might suggest. “Sextape” has nothing salacious going on – in fact, it’s a moving lament about spiritual isolation set against the backdrop of the ocean’s rolling waves. The track’s spare guitars and despondent vocals build beautifully until it feels like the listener is being enveloped by those same waves. Later, on “976-Evil,” Moreno addresses a friend or lover he can’t let go of. It’s easy to assume that the song’s vague mentions of death and separation are allusions to Cheng’s accident and coma, but the track’s exquisite agony is presented in such a way that its meanings are wide open to interpretation. Unlike other singers who deal in non-specifics, Moreno makes his sentiments palpable and urgent – we don’t always know what he’s talking about, but we never doubt the depth of feeling in his lyrics.
'Diamond Eyes' - Bottom Line
Diamond Eyes is an endlessly captivating record, one that rewards repeat spins with extra layers of sonic texture and meaning. But perhaps the person who can best sing its praises is the band’s frontman. A few months before its release, Moreno said this: “There are a few heavy songs … and there are also experimental tunes, but there’s not a minute on this record that feels like it doesn’t need to be there.” Then he added one other thing: “I’ll straight-up say it: it’s definitely one of our best albums.” Often, such pre-release talk is just empty hyperbole. But in the case of Diamond Eyes, he’s absolutely right.