Review Summary: The best Deftones album yet
Long have Deftones been the subject of adoration in the world of metal. White Pony
and Diamond Eyes
were particularly impressive feats, blending seductive croons and towering melodies with blistering riffs and spellbinding atmospheres. One could argue that Deftones have never even crafted so much as an average
record, with 2016’s Gore
marking their closest brush with disappointment even though it still eclipsed what most other artists in the scene are capable of. This is a band that operates in its own sphere; they compete only with themselves because nobody else is on their level. This makes what I’m about to allege all the more significant: Ohms
, an album created twenty-five years into the band’s illustrious career, is the best thing they’ve ever done. Better than Diamond Eyes
, and yes, even better than White Pony
is a quarter century high-water mark the likes of which we could have only dreamt up.
Deftones is clearly inspired by their reunion with producer Terry Date, with whom they last worked on 2008’s Eros
– a project they scrapped after bassist Chi Cheng’s car accident left him in a coma from which he never awoke. The emotional weight of returning to Date’s studio can be felt in every exhaustedly wrought scream and with each impassioned, blazing guitar riff. It almost feels like Cheng was with them in spirit for this one – a collection of tracks that are as passionate, complex, and frightening as we’ve ever heard Deftones.
is a wrecking ball from the moment it arrives. The album’s gnarled atmospheric layers and soaring choruses immediately recall Diamond Eyes
and Koi No Yokan
, although this record is arguably more aggressive than either. All of this is evident in ‘Genesis’, which feels like a re-awakening for the band. The formula hasn’t changed – they still espouse their trademark blend of beauty and chaos – but there’s a new energy from the album’s very inception that is unprecedented. Perhaps it came from working with Date again, or maybe it’s Cheng’s memory haunting the studio, but either way Deftones sound rejuvenated and more creative than they have in over a decade; possibly ever
. As ‘Genesis’ fades into the hypnotic ‘Ceremony’, and then jolts us back into consciousness with the stuttering riffs and romantic chorus of ‘Urantia’, it’s abundantly clear that Ohms
is going to be a juggernaut.
surpasses Deftones’ other iconic releases is in its dense, unpredictable layering and sheer intensity. There aren’t many traits present on Ohms
that we’ve never heard from the band before (the screeching seagulls of ‘Pompeji’ notwithstanding), but they’ve woven all these glimpses of previous albums together and improved upon them in nearly every facet. Even Diamond Eyes
– by any measure a contender for the best metal album of the 2010s – had its moments of simplicity, but Ohms
is so high-powered and unrelenting that it never really affords listeners a ‘Sextape’ to catch their breath (the closest it comes is probably ‘Pompeji’s slow burn). It also boasts Around the Fur
’s aggression (‘This Link Is Dead’ launches into some of the most vitriolic screams of Chino’s career, cushioned only by that downright terrifying bridge), only the hatred is more focused and refined. The tense, sprawling atmosphere draws from the very best moments of Koi No Yokan
, but they’re arguably even more intricate and beautiful – such as the way that ‘Headless’ floats in via stunning ambience and exits to a longing, wistful chorus. It could be argued that the only thing White Pony
has on Ohms
is nostalgia, because otherwise this album matches its ingenuity stride for stride. In a lot of ways, it feels like Deftones’ career is flashing before our eyes – only through the more volatile and unmistakably ugly lens of 2020.
The unsettled, tumultuous nature of Ohms
is best captured by ‘The Spell of Mathematics’, which sees Deftones ramp up the electric guitars to their highest voltage while Chino screams violently, surging to an ear-melting crescendo, before fading out to…finger snapping? If there’s an underrated aspect to Deftones’ songwriting, it’s always been their willingness to allow aesthetics to clash. Whether it’s interjecting with animal sound bites or introducing pop tropes late into one of the heaviest songs of their entire career, Deftones have always had an unparalleled knack for pulling off ideas that sound dubious on paper, but work – brilliantly
– because they are masters of their craft. It’s something that was sorely lacking on Gore
, so the return to fervent experimentalism and an utter lack of predictability helps breathe life into Ohms
. They sound unhinged here – and quite honestly, it’s the sort of instability and mental collapse that fans of Deftones eternally hope for, and then subsequently rejoice in when it finally happens.
Those of us who thought that Deftones might go soft after their eponymous red herring of a lead single – which, for the record, sounds much better in context as Ohms
’ finale – are in for a blunt awakening. Ohms
is indisputably the most dynamic release that the band has put forth since Diamond Eyes
. It’s a labor of both love and anger; we see Chino bring poetry to life (“so we slip into our hopeless sea of regret as I stare through the haunted maze in your eyes”), but even when he’s writing straight from his heart, Ohms
screams from the depths of the band’s soul. It’s a piece that reckons with life’s most poignant and painful moments, from desperate love to devastating loss. There’s a passage on ‘Urantia’ where Chino seems to tip his hat to Eros
and Chi Cheng, a reference to the last time Deftones recorded together in Terry Date’s studio – “With all these erased recordings, I'm rearranging parts” / “There is no one left like you” / “You'll find me somewhere again, I believe”. One can’t help but begin to connect the dots. We may never hear Eros
, but I’d like to think that Ohms
is something of its spiritual counterpart. Heaviness is more than just a decibel level, and that’s an idea that comes through in spades here. This record truly means something to Deftones, and they’ve laid their souls bare for all of us to witness. Ohms
is abrasive, destructive, and alluringly beautiful – but most of all, there’s a profound purpose and longing behind every punch that they throw. After two and a half decades, Deftones are still finding new ways to energize, enrage, and inspire themselves – and with Ohms
, they’re finding new ways to peak.