The Deftones are one of the most consistently innovative bands in modern rock and metal. The band originally formed in 1988 but for 21 years (of official studio recordings), they have succeeded in navigating between metal, hardcore (vocals), dream pop/shoegaze, rap, trip-hop, and other genres to create albums that are still as vital now as they were when fans first went nuts over them, including 1995 major label (Maverick) debut Adrenaline, commercial 1997 breakthrough LP Around the Fur, and hit 2000 release White Pony. (The band put out a limited release of demos and other early rough-sounding recordings in 1993, (Like) Linus, but it doesn’t count as an official release.)
Since White Pony, the Deftones have released five more studio albums, including Gore this past April. All of them continued the group’s penchant for heavy rock surrounded by experimentation, and all of them are either pretty damn good to outright fantastic through and through. 2012’s Koi No Yokan is my favorite of that period, with 2010’s Diamond Eyes and the 2003 self-titled release not far behind – 2006’s Saturday Night Wrist is my least fav but has its moments, including the scary-sick stomper, “Rats! Rats! Rats!”
It’s difficult and nearly impossible to encapsulate a great band’s career in one song but Gore’s opener (and the album’s first single) “Prayers/Triangles” comes relatively close to doing so. With ethereal guitar lines (by the always artful and innovative guitarist Stephen Carpenter) to start, somewhat complex time signature changes (a la Tool) throughout, and desperate screams by vocalist Chino Moreno during the expected (ultra heavy) metal sections, this song highlights some of the main ingredients of the last 16 years of the Deftones sound – from White Pony-on – in under four minutes. To put it another way, it’s an ace opener.
Sludge metal number “Acid Hologram” follows and has the distinction of carrying within it deep, chugging riffs in the vein of Godflesh. “Doomed User,” however, may be the heaviest-tuned track on Gore – for you fellow guitarists out there, Carpenter seemingly tuned down his 8-string guitar by a half-note on all strings, making the lowest string, F sharp, now just F. If you’re looking for the heaviest music on the planet, it doesn’t get much heavier than that! (Well, it actually does, as he drops that same F sharp string down one whole step to E while keeping the rest of his 8-string in standard tuning on Koi No Yokan standout track, “Romantic Dreams.”)
The tender but super heavy “Hearts/Wires” could qualify as a “ballad” for a Deftones song, and though it’s not my favorite, it deserves its place as the chill tune of the record. The only tune I didn’t really care for among the 11 tracks is “Xenon” – for a group that likes to spice up songs with sudden twists, this one is too formulaic and doesn’t change its focus much from beginning to end.
Speaking of surprise shifts, “(L)MIRL” starts out with White Pony-ish dark and watery guitar, moves on to full band rock, complete with soaring Moreno vocal harmonies, then gets a ferocious ending courtesy of the singer’s trademark screeching. Lyrically, this one is pretty cold (“I don’t miss you/I don’t care where you are now/You’re a ghost to me”). But it was pretty hot on my playlist for a good while.
If you’re really looking for the Deftones to go back to the sick metal feel of their early stuff, the title track will no doubt be your favorite. (Live, it already is a hit with the fans, if the Boston concert I attended over the summer is any indication.) Bassist Sergio Vega highlights the start of “Gore” with a menacing one-note riff, then the whole band explodes your ear drums with the heaviest of metal and Moreno screaming and growling his bloody head off, especially at the end.
It isn’t often that Deftones bring in rock stars to make a guest appearance on their albums, but some of those cameos have been truly mindblowing highlights not just of the album they appear on but of the group’s overall discography. First there was Max Cavalera (Sepultura/Soulfly) delivering his familiar scorched-earth vocals to the explosive Around the Fur cut “Head Up.”
Two years later in 2000, Maynard James Keenan (Tool/A Perfect Circle) traded vocals with Moreno on White Pony standout “Passenger” – a fan favorite that the Deftones still play live to this day. (Less effective were System of a Down’s Serj Tankian’s low-toned guest vocals on “Mein” from Saturday Night Wrist and Scott Weiland’s barely traceable background voices on “RX Queen” from WP.)
On Gore, the Sacramento legends brought in Jerry Cantrell, the main songwriter of Seattle legends Alice in Chains, to bring some six-string licks onto “Phantom Bride.” The tune starts off with Carpenter’s crafty, palm-muted riffs alongside The Cure-ish dreamy melodies. Cantrell comes in with his guitar solo not long after the two-minute-mark, and even though his trademark tone is thinner-sounding by comparison to Carpenter’s thick wall of sound, his methodically played solos and riffs fit in naturally.
The big payoff comes in after the four-minute-mark when Cantrell’s riffs get trippy reverse effect treatment. Then Carpenter suddenly shifts to the deepest/heaviest parts of his 8-string while Cantrell adds his signature moody, harmonized notes over Carpenter’s slow but menacing metal riffs. In other words, this collaboration is as awesome as you’d hope it would be.
Bottom line: Simply put, Gore is one of the top rock albums of 2016.