Deftones need little introduction. Over an illustrious 25-year studio output they have remained one of a handful of artists to balance on top of the thin tightrope separating commercial adoration and critical acclaim. Adorned with the 'nu-metal' label after the brutality and fury of debut album Adrenaline, they helped usher in the teenage zeitgeist across the pond which made Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit household names.
Yet the band showed evolutionary signs on third studio album White Pony wherein they began to distance themselves from the poisoned chalice of nu-metal, which would soon fade into obscurity almost as quickly as it had meteorically risen to the forefront of rock. This period proved a challenge: the fourth and fifth releases provoked mixed reviews, and a sixth was shelved indefinitely after long-term bassist Chi Cheng was seriously injured in a car accident from which he would never recover.
With Ohms, however, (the band’s fourth since the accident and their ninth overall) and continues a run of generally good form which has seen their signature sound refined and the band redecorated as a metal outfit not afraid to borrow from a more unconventional set of influences. Stephen Carpenter’s explosive riffs have kept the band true to their roots while vocalist Chino Moreno’s array of inspirations pulls the music in different directions: a heavy metal undercurrent flowing effortlessly beneath elements of shoegaze, trip hop, dream pop, and more.
A crashing Carpenter and screeching Moreno kick things off on the angsty ‘Genesis’. The tuneful ‘Ceremony’ offers a reassurance they have not lost touch with the more melodic side developed over the last decade, and ‘Urantia’ is phenomenal - a thunderous thrash-esque riff bookends four minutes of tender and moody Moreno croons, and a brief foray into trip hop - an instant classic, and quintessentially Deftones.
Flirting between unrelenting force and airy soundscapes isn’t easy, yet on 2012’s fan favourite Koi No Yokan Deftones demonstrated a polished capability for achieving a balance between the two, seamlessly moving from crushing guitar riffs to dreamy ambient passages throughout the record. Ohms upholds this trend with ease; Deftones have firmly overhauled their sound in such a way that these once-distant musical elements now complement each other. They are not totally unique: of course, there are a host extreme metal bands whose music symbolises this philosophy, but where others sacrifice melody, Deftones embrace it.
Each of the five band members shine individually, and as a unit they’re fantastic throughout. Stephen Carpenter’s chugging guitar remains the engine of the band, while Moreno’s misty vocals fall into place on softer passages just as well as his screams pierce the mix on others. And it’s a mix which is fuller for keyboardist Frank Delgado and bassist Sergio Vega, whose parts are integral here after being periodically overlooked on previous efforts. Not to mention the brilliant Abe Cunningham, whose head-splitting drumming reverberates through the mix as though he’s crashing away in the room with you.
The middle of the album is a true testament to the band’s success. ‘The Spell of Mathematics’ revisits the anger of the opening track, underpinned by swarming synthesisers eventually swallowing it whole, giving way to slow burner ‘Pompeji’ whose soothing verses and eruptive chorus are only a precursor to a zephyr of ambience. Just as your ears relax and you catch your breath, the full force of ‘This Link Is Dead’ barges in - a jarring, noisy, heavy throwback to Deftones’ early years.
The lead single and title track closes the album, marauding with an urgency newer Deftones music often forgoes. It was a good single, and is a great album closer, swelling energetically until it leaves you in silence, desperate to start the whole journey again. Its two predecessors follow in the footsteps of what comes before them, with ‘Radiant City’ featuring more hard-hitting riffs and keyboards sweeping throughout the dense ‘Headless’, but the brilliance of the finale is almost overpowering.
There’s much to be said for the technical side of the record as well. Heavy metal maestro Terry Date, producer of their first four albums, returns to production duties for the first time in 17 years and has catapulted new-era Deftones to the next level the same way he propelled them to fame at the beginning of their career. The vocal effects on ‘Genesis’, the full-throttle drumming on ‘Error’, and the trippy breaks on ‘Urantia’ and ‘Headless’ are all Date/Deftones trademarks dating back to the late 90’s. Date clearly knows how to get the best out of the band and unlock the fullness of their sound, conjuring up a special quality from it no one else can.
Where Koi No Yokan marked the ultimate realisation of the band’s new direction eight years ago, Ohms builds on its success. The exploration, evolution, and experimentation which have characterised their last decade all continue as part of a more focused collection of songs which are both fresh and familiar. This record is as mild as it is malicious, as anxious as it is alluring - their metal roots and atmospheric inclinations don’t operate against each other but are welded together, allowing the listener fleeting moments of rest before destructive disruption. Deftones are a band firing on all cylinders while approaching their 50s, and have taken another remarkable stride forwards.
- 8.4 -
'Urantia', 'This Link Is Dead', 'Ohms'
Anthony Ford is a Maths student, spending every Saturday watching Burnley attempt to avoid relegation. He calms himself down by listening to music, playing guitar, or shouting at people on the TV.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based at the University of Oxford. He is also a Fleet Foxes shill.
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