A Skeptic’s Guide to Deftones
If you haven’t given the Deftones a minute of your time in the past 15 years, that’s understandable. Their name is a tremendous liability, still invoking the bored and angsty nu-metal of their debut Adrenaline. That “nu” misspelling does them as much a disservice as the “Def” one – Deftones are truly a new metal band, one that’s always sought to grow with their fanbase, maintaining their brutality while incorporating the influence of shoegaze, electronic pop and IDM into a heady and heavy whole. White Pony is their clear pinnacle, and the latest in the collection is Koi No Yokan, but every one of their records is worth a listen and their discography boasts more than enough examples of a band being at the forefront of artful and melodic metal in the 21st century. These are 10 of them – our Skeptic’s Guide to Deftones.
Deftones were awfully fond of namedropping the Cure as an influence and this is perhaps the one time they really nailed it. The chord clusters of the verse recall the inky despondence of Faith or Seventeen Seconds before a typically pummeling chorus conveys a sensuality and lust that was as foreign to rock radio then as it is now.
“U, U, D, D, L, R, L, R, A, B, Select, Start”
One of the many instances of the Deftones' impeccable taste in song titles, "Contra Code" bisects Saturday Night Wrist with dubbed-out ambience and jazzy interplay that invokes Tortoise's TNT. It's the only instrumental in their discography and one that makes you wish they made more.
“You’ve Seen The Butcher”
Diamond Eyes was the first Deftones record made without Chi Cheng and while his presence is clearly missed, it forced the band to relearn their approach to rhythm. "You've Seen The Butcher" is an example of this, a total outlier that resembles the fractured jazz-punk of Jawbox's "Cruel Swing," the title of which is an apt descriptor of what Deftones do here.
“Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away)”
The first true sign of greatness from Deftones comes courtesy of the second single from Around The Fur. They'd attempt to emphasize its prettiness with acoustic versions and a post-OK Computer remix, but this is the definitive one, essentially "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" for alt-metal kids.
“Change (In The House Of Flies)”
A debauched Sophie Muller video underlined the narcotic bliss that courses through throughout Deftones' finest song, whether in the pulverizing wall of guitars or Chino Moreno's striking harmonies during the transcendent bridge. Hands down one of the greatest singles of the 2000's, and the embodiment of White Pony's merging of sex, drugs and metal without devolving into Sunset Strip parody or groupie-bating mythology.
Deftones followed up their commercial and critical breakthrough by making a logical sequel to "Change," distilling the loud/soft dynamics of the former into a consuming tidal wave of slow-motion, churning distortion somewhere between the obliterating metal-gaze of Jesu and Hum's saturated alt-rock.
“Hole In The Earth”
Saturday Night Wrist is Deftones' murkiest and most difficult record, one that anticipated a much-needed break that would span nearly four years. "Hole In The Earth" is reflective of their state of mind, the single that exaggerates both the Cocteau Twins influence on their guitars (check that chorus riff) and the abrasiveness.
There's always been a bit of Bono's emotive stridency in Chino Moreno's voice, but Deftones never aspired to retrace U2's steps until this intriguing experiment in unapologetic prettiness. The guitars glisten and peal without slamming on the distortion pedals, the tempo remains elegiac throughout and when Moreno belts "the sound of the waves collide tonight," the last word is cooed in a feminized harmony.
If you needed any more proof of Deftones making their own lane in a time where "Nookie" and Puddle of Mudd's "Control" were what passed for sexualized rock, here's their alluring and rhythmically daring tribute to complicit bloodsport in the bedroom. If you listened to any Jane's Addiction record after Ritual De Lo Habitual, this is what you were looking for.
Typically, the most "ambitious" Deftones songs are signified by longer song lengths or softer textures. "Poltergeist" is an exception, three and a half minutes of coil-and-strike math-rock dynamics punctuated by drum machine claps that suggest the Sacramento band might just be keeping their ear titled north towards the Bay Area's hip-hop scene.