Review Summary: Deftones get dense on their eighth release, continuing to push the boundaries of the genre, and further displaying their emotional depth.
It seems safe to say that recently many of us have been plagued with a lack of certainty in life. Whether it be in the world of sports, politics, film, whatever, it seems increasingly that the things we have to enjoy or at least feel secure about are not constant, and without frequent monitoring the things we value or take pleasure in could be changed. Music fans know this all too well, with countless once beloved bands changing style or message for the worse, permanently alienating their fans, and forever altering their career path. Yet, there are a few bands left that still remain as reliable as the day they first broke out. One such band is Sacramento’s Deftones. You can be sure that whenever Deftones releases a new record, it will provide that special mixture of grandeur and dense, experimental songwriting that makes us fall for them anew every few years.
Such is what is happening now, with the band’s eighth studio release, simply titled Gore. The record feels like a natural continuation of the band’s recent creative path, with an ever fiercer sonic template and harsher arrangements than we have heard from them in a while. One feels like the groundwork for this release was laid way back with 2006’s Saturday Night Wrist, a record which saw the band, more so than they had ever done before, craft a release built primarily around sonic atmosphere and epic compositions. It was a larger album than anything they had put out before, not necessarily because of its length, but because of the soaring arrangements and soundscapes. It sounded huge, which is why at the time it stood as one of the band’s best releases. It is entirely possible that the group were planning to continue to go down that path for the follow up, in which case we might have gotten a record like Gore much sooner. Reports of the Eros recording sessions certainly suggest that something like that was in the works.
But this was not to be the case. Fans of the group will know that longtime bassist Chi Cheng was involved in a serious car accident that would eventually claim his life. After attempting to wait for him to recover, Deftones began recording sessions anew and the ensuing record, 2010’s Diamond Eyes, couldn’t help but sound like a product of the band’s inner turmoil. The focus was redirected to thrashing guitars and pounding drums. Songs were immediate, often bypassing any thought of an intro so that they could just launch into a verse and hit the chorus before the 45 second mark. It was like their St. Anger but, you know, good. Diamond Eyes was exactly the album the band needed to release, and it just so happened to be one of the most focused records of their career. It seems to have served as a sort of therapy, but by the time 2012 rolled around, Deftones clearly felt that it was time for some forward motion again and the resulting album, Koi No Yokan, arrived with a commanding aural presence that made it sound like Diamond Eyes had never even happened. As great as Diamond Eyes was, there was no denying that Deftones songs sounded great when they were allowed to breathe. The creative direction set in motion here is continued on Gore, and the results are quite impressive.
Most Deftones fans will tell you not to listen to their singles before the release of the full album. The music on their records is meant to work as a whole, and as great as some individual numbers are, they always sound better in the context of a full release. This sentiment has never been truer than on Gore. At first, singles like leadoff “Prayers/Triangles” and “Doomed User” can sound underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still miles above what most bands of their vintage are doing right now, but as far is Deftones music goes, they can sound weak, like they were the tunes that didn’t make the cut yet get leaked anyway. They may have even inspired some fear that the album might not live up to expectations, *gasp.* Yet hearing Gore in full should wash away any niggling concerns, but for a different reason than one might expect.
One gets the impression when listening to Gore that it was constructed as one grand composition, more so than any other Deftones album. Songs that might falter on their own serve as pillars upon which are laid a sprawling piece of music that extends, without pause, over the entirety of the record. The segues between songs feel unusually natural and actually help the listener stay interested for a long stretch of time, even in an era where devotion to full releases is falling increasingly out of fashion. Expect to listen to Gore for the first time and struggle to identify which tracks are truly the best on the album. Yet this is a rare case in which that actually isn’t a bad thing. Besides, as far as highlights go, though, there are quite a few to talk about.
Third and final prerelease single “Hearts/Wires,” is a strangely fast paced, yet moody cut that only abandons its repetitive verse to make way for a soaring chorus that marks a fierce contrast to the rest of the song, yet works unexpectedly well. “Xenon” is a somewhat dirtier piece, with a verse that sounds more indebted to Alice In Chains that the shoegazers that Deftones have frequently been associated with. Speaking of Alice In Chains, Jerry Cantrell guests on the penultimate track, “Phantom Blade,” yet the filth commonly associated with his music, (I swear I mean that in the most flattering way possible), is nowhere to be found. Instead Cantrell joins in on a delicate interplay with Deftones’ own six stringer Stephen Carpenter, which plays out in between aching melodies courtesy of the band’s front man, Chino Moreno.
If there is any fault to be found on this record, the blame seems to lay mostly at the feet of producer Matt Hyde. Gore finds Hyde, probably best known for his work with Slayer and Porno for Pyros, struggling to capture the same magic that Deftones found with their previous producer, Nick Raskulinecz. Though Deftones’ music has sounded phenomenal on record in the past, here the guitars sound thin and far too sharp. The drums sound hollow with the symbols overpowering the mix at times, and the bass is clearly struggling to find its proper spot amongst the rest of the chaos. It is a shame to find so much fault with someone who isn’t even a member of the band, but this Deftones release is a clear display of how a producer can make or break a record, and Hyde’s work threatens to undermine an otherwise quality piece of work.
The album ends with “Rubicon,” another stirring piece of music that shows of Chino’s excellent vocals and the epic qualities of the band’s sound. Gore is a dense piece of work, so much so that it actually feels difficult to write this review on the day of release. An album like this certainly benefits from repeated listens and it should be given time to settle in and fully make its impact on the listener. Deftones are still moving forward, that can be assured. With all of the inconsistencies around, what with the recent tragic string of musical deaths, musicians’ changing reputations, and the fact that Coheed & Cambria just released an alternative album for some reason, it is nice to know that a band like Deftones is still around, still knows how to craft a strong listening experience, and can still take their music into bold new directions that challenge both themselves and the people who choose to listen to their music.
Best Tracks: “Hearts/Wires,” “Phantom Blade,” “Rubicon”
Worst Tracks: “Gore”