Released in 2000, White Pony is still a landmark in popular hard rock, often showing up in various places as one of the best albums of its respective year and even all time. Still, nearly five years later it is considered to be Deftones' masterpiece and the height of their artistic and commercial success. As I type this, Deftones are preparing to release their fifth album, so the future of White Pony's title is unsure, and I think I speak for all Deftones fans when I say that I hope it gets knocked down by the new release.
It's hard to swallow White Pony at points, and it definitely takes time to grow on you, but subsequent listens of the record in its entirety open up its true brilliance. The way White Pony is constructed is confusing, but after breaking it down, it becomes a little more manageable. Basically, it's not a full-blown concept album, but it does have a very conceptual and almost progressive feel throughout, as indicated by the many shifts in styling and song structure, yet retaining a consistent feel. The way I see it, the album can best be described as one piece, with twelve different movements that send it in different directions while managing to keep it all tied together to common thematic elements and various motifs. In its raw instrumentation, this album may not be as complex as a Dream Theater album, but the way it is put together can be just as brilliant if you listen to it in the right way and with an open mind.
The journey of White Pony is like traveling through a nightmare. It opens the listener up to explore the psyche of a sleeping human mind, the time when little makes sense in the human brain and its functions. In this way, it can best be described as an album that almost makes little sense on the surface, but in a slightly schizophrenic wave of emotion it can take you to places you never thought you could go, and this is illustrated beautifully with Chino's amazing singing and intriguing lyrics.
Back To School
opens the album with an offset interpretation of the album's closer. It's important to note the full title, BTS (mini maggit) as will later be described. Though a lot of Deftones fans and otherwise were a little put off by the addition of a radio-friendly, rap-laden song that they felt interrupted the mood of the album, I think it actually adds to the flow and the message of White Pony as a whole. More on this later.
Next is where the nightmare really begins, with the dark Feiticeira
, a hectic, free-flowing piece. With a lack of real song structure and a sketchy guitar line, this song builds up to an almost frightening conclusion as Chino whisper/screams "Soon I'll let you go" over a frantic background of scorching guitars and heavy bass. Frank Delgado makes his grand entrance here as well, with a great complement of wind noises and atmospheric texture that will come to be very prominent on this release. This song is brilliantly able to paint a picture in your mind through Chino's amazing lyrics along with his vocal delivery. The instrumental music is very important as well, as we can feel Chino's interpretation of what's going on in his own mind. This is the famous kidnapping song, and it is a daunting tale.
The final dissonant chord of Feiticeira fades out into a trippy drumbeat of Digital Bath
, one of the more popular singles Deftones have released. Despite its apparent radio-friendliness (which is actually not so friendly at all) this is simply an amazing song. On it's own, it's just one of the greatest songs Deftones have ever released. With Chino's soaring vocal lines over heavy two-guitar trade-offs and more atmospheric texture from Delgado, the song is so powerful it leaves me in awe. However, on a scale of White Pony's context, it is merely the next step in the nightmare. This story is that of someone who kills his girlfriend as she bathes by way of electrocution. It's a terrifying premise, but is almost masked by the great delivery of the song. The song has two climactic points, one at around 2:30 when the music drops off and the electronic bubble effect (ah, the beauty of motifs) rains down on a bleak guitar line before Chino whispers the haunting "You breathed and then you stopped. I breathed and dried you off..." at which point the guitar takes over with a screeching harmonic, almost as if the character is screaming on the inside but--just like a nightmare--cannot force it out himself.
blasts through the speakers next with a very heavy backdrop of spiraling guitars and bass with crashing cymbals laced throughout. This song may seem unlistenable the first time, but after awhile the screaming just melds into the background and you realize what it's there for. It's almost a robotic song (check the breakdown with Chino's voice effects), which solidifies with a later guitar riff that is very syncopated and almost machine-like that ends the song. This song lacks the 'usual Deftones dynamic,' but it still rocks and is important as a flowing piece of the ever-growing nightmare. As to how it fits in, I think it's open for interpretation.
Immediately following Elite is the more laid-back and moody Rx Queen
, which is an extremely bizarre song with heavy percussive effects and stuttering bass. Possibly the simplest guitar song Deftones have written, it is still effective and manages to convey a haunting atmosphere. In short, this song is again almost a frantic plea for help from someone ["You're my girl and that's alright, if you sting me I won't mind"].
slides in with a brief guitar intro before the band crashes in full force. It's a hard-rock smash similar to Lhabia from Around The Fur. It's a great song, despite the fact that it might at first seem to lack any defining or interesting qualities. It's like a rush of adrenaline in the midst of a calm atmosphere. This is where the beauty of White Pony's construction shines as well, because it almost doesn't make sense being on the album, yet it manages to mold in perfectly with the other songs. Just like a nightmare makes no sense unless you're actually experiencing it. Starting to make sense?
Here is where we see the biggest shift for the rest of the album. It doesn't start declining here, by any means, as it is my opinion that tracks 8-12 are the best on the album and the climax of the record also occurs in that space. However, the central theme is shifted from a fervent dream state into a true twisted nightmare.
The nylon-string opening acoustic riff of Teenager
may shock some, given Deftones' track record, but, as has been displayed multiple times both on this album and their previous releases (though in perhaps a more subtle way), Deftones are truly capable of great beauty. This song holds Delgado's most obvious presence, with a scratching line and trip-hop beat that still manages to be more about atmosphere and texture than it does DJ hack-n-slash. Still, it's a mellow trip that makes me think of lying down outside looking at a star-filled sky. It's also a very melancholy ballad of lost love and pensive reflection.
The next song, Knife Prty
is hardly describable by any human words, a masterpiece in and of itself, not to mention in the scope of the entire album. The opening chords lead into a pounding distorted introduction that's just as beautiful as it is heavy. A moving bass line from Chi serves as a great foundation for the chord voicing glory of the guitar riffs and some of Chino's greatest (and most bizarre) lyrics ["My knife is sharp and chrome, come see inside my bones. All the fiends of the block, I'm the new king. I'll take the queen."] This song makes you feel like you are moving in slow motion and floating. The chorus contradicts with the verse as the intensity is picked up, a masterful arrangement technique Deftones have slowly perfected in their songs. The bridge is incredible in its weirdness, with the (again) frantic crooning of guest vocalist Rodleen over the bizarre chord progressions from Carpenter. Musical perfection at its finest as the band crashes into the final chorus over an absolutely terrifying shriek. You must hear this song to find its beauty.
bellows in next as one of the heaviest and most dissonant songs on Deftones' catalogue. It's an extremely vague song, lyric-wise, but the haunting atmosphere created by the swirling DJ sound effects and bleak guitar line is very effective and this is a great song. The bridge is one of the highlights on the album, as the bombastic and sliding guitar line leads into the final moment of heaviness that sets the stage for the next song.
Intensifying sound effects lead up to one of my favorite Deftones guitar riffs ever for the intro of the brilliant Passenger
. The dexterous guitar riff and heavy bass boost the shrouded vocal interplay between Maynard (Tool, A Perfect Circle) and Chino as the story unfolds even further, a doomed car ride. The way I see it, this song tells the story of an unwilling victim who is trapped and forced to drive in the dark without any vision of the outside world, but as they begin to go faster and faster, the exhilaration excites the victim and he begins to enjoy it ["This time won't you please drive faster."]. It's a twisted song. The dissonant and bleak piano line that lead to the final throws of heavy guitar havoc (and the climax of the album) are intense and dark, giving the image of the car driving off a cliff at top speed. The fading piano that ends the song tinges it with the dark atmosphere that leads into Change.
Change (In The House of Flies)
picks up where Passenger left off, a very ghost-like and creepy song. This song was a relatively popular radio hit, but it still is one of the best on the album. Its soaring vocal melodies and metaphorically brilliant lyrics ["I watched you change into a fly, I looked away, you were on fire."] convey a message that encompasses the entire album. As for it's true meaning, there's plenty of room for interpretation. This song is heavy, dark, and dissonant but still floating and beautiful.
is where everything comes together. Back To School, which starts the album, is a spin-off of this song, but it works out nicely as the album starts with it but finishes with Pink Maggit, a more twisted version of it, as displays the course of the album. It's a bleak and moody song with a cool guitar line and a whispered melody from Chino before the band crashes in and allows the album to finish itself with a final explosion.
Overall, this album is one that will stand strong against the test of time. I think the greatness behind it is in its weird and unorthodox structuring, while also delivering great guitar riffs and a good share of heavy rocking. There's a good amount of symbolism in it as well, which lends it to being an effort for which much discovery is necessary. Its ability to transport you to another place is amazing, and is also where the true talent of Deftones lies, as a creative unit rather than individual instrumentalists. Deftones are closer to mastering their sound with this release, employing more guitar, turntable, and vocal interplay that add to the texture and mood, a feat they would later master on the successor, Deftones.