Review Summary: Deftones remain at the top of their game, but still with room to grow.
Deftones, formed way back in 1988, have stayed strong in a much more palpable way than some of their contemporaries; while Korn, Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit have descended into gimmicks and nostalgia acts, Deftones produced one of the best albums of their career in 2010, with Diamond Eyes, in the difficult aftermath of the car-crash which left their bassist, Chi Cheng, in a coma. The new record, Koi No Yokan, whose name is based on a Japanese proverb describing love at first sight, most definitely continues their trend at making great music that defines the alternative metal genre. While it may not be as strong as their previous offering, and has some structural flaws, it opens some new ground that has the potential to take the band in a very interesting direction.
The opening track, ‘Swerve City’, plunges the listener head-first into a wall of hard-hitting distortion that throbs with energy. This heavier mode that was so well explored in Diamond Eyes is a place where Deftones have really made their home. They own those unconventional chords washed with a wall of distortion, and it really shows in this album. ‘Leathers’ thunders against its atmospheric opening, ‘Tempest’ truly lives up to its name, and the ‘Gauze’ and ‘Goon Squad’ simply require headbanging with their grungy, colossal riffs. This is, to a fair extent, a result of current bassist, Sergio Vega’s increased influence on the album. He has been involved much more in the creative process, and his menacing, distorted bass lines on ‘Poltergeist’and ‘Rosemary’ most definitely add to the sound. Although this isn't anything new, Deftones have a way of keeping the sound fresh, which, to no small extent is down to Chino Moreno’s constantly improving vocals. Having screamed himself through Diamond Eyes, his approach is much more varied on Koi No Yokan, with more inventive phrasing, fantastic intonation and a great tone. That isn't to say that he doesn't let loose at other times, he most definitely does, and the contrast lends these moments so much more power; the Celtic Frost-style scream that crashes in after a quiter passage in ‘Tempest’ sends a wave of shivers down your spine.
However, the album is more complex than some distortion-coated musical gorilla, and it’s interesting to hear how the group have returned to more ambient passages, which are scattered prolifically throughout the album. On the other hand, it is in these sections that the flaws of the album become more visible. Their potential and subtelty, particularly at the beginning of tracks, such as ‘Leathers’ and ‘Goon Squad’, is destroyed almost immediately by a heavy, sudden guitar entry. They are given some more space to develop on ‘Entombed’ and ‘Rosemary’, that latter of which is probably the best thought-out track on the record with regards to structure, but they lack something. You can’t help but feel that they’re waiting for the next crash of guitars, not least due to the fact that Moreno’s vocals sound a little bored in some of the more quiet passages. There’s definitely room to grow here, and some advice from bands like ISIS would be well heeded – ambient or more space-y sections require building, a gentler hand to integrate them into the song, which takes nothing away from heavier, rougher passages, quite the opposite, but here they just feel arbitrary, like they’re tacked on for the sake of an intro to induce some variety.
Variety is clearly an obstacle that the band has tried to deal with on the album; this kind of forceful music requires a great deal of energy in order to maintain the listener’s engagement. However, the usual method to relieve this tension and add variety to the album structure, appears to have been stumbled upon on Koi No Yokan. While some individual songs lack coherency, whether due to the ambience discussed above or the drastic tempo changes of ‘Romantic Dreams’, this is also a problem for the album overall. It is not until track five, ‘Entombed’, that it really pauses for breath, and even then it seems reluctant, resulting in a fairly mushy-sounding slower track that never quite builds to what it promises, when it might have been better to explore the opening of ‘Leather’ a little more, instead of snatching back towards the heavy distortion that has become safe territory. Equally, by the end, although ‘Rosemary’ goes a great way to exploring something different, ‘What happened’ is a thoroughly underwhelming track on which to finish the album. Following such an intense record, its quieter sound severely lacks the energy to cap it off, despite its promising beginning.
Although this review has dwelled fairly extensively on the albums shortcomings, it is still well worth listening to. It’s great music, and I am glad that the band are branching out again from the solid, riff-heavy sound of Diamond Eyes, but they don’t quite pull it off in the manner one might expect from artists of a calibre as high as Deftones. It's not a game changer, not by a long shot, but it is truly exciting that Deftones have proven that they still have places to go.