As Deftones embark on a European tour, Getintothis’ Janaya Pickett reflects on the Californian post-metal band who transcended nu metal.
What do you get when you mix heavy metal with hip-hop, throw in a jazz drummer and soak it all in new wave? Sacramento titans Deftones, that’s what.
For the past 20 something years they’ve enjoyed success as one of rocks most unique bands and rightly so.
On revisiting the Deftones‘ back catalogue we were surprised by how much and how little they’ve changed since their 1995 debut Adrenaline. They’ve very clearly progressed but that authentic Deftones sound is there right from the beginning. And that is what makes for the most interesting music in our opinion: authenticity. Initially though Deftones were grouped with their musical peers under one umbrella term.
Nu metal. There, we said it.
As in all times, cultural movements evolve in response to grander situations. The cultural language of the mid to late 90s was pretty grim. As the century drew to a close a dark sense of foreboding permeated everything from economic and scientific theory to Hollywood blockbusters and fashion. Music, of course, followed suit.
Inspired by late 80s/early 90s rock bands such as Faith No More and Pantera and hip hop groups such as Public Enemy, nu metal emerged seemingly from nowhere around 1998.
Korn, System of a Down, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Papa Roach, the list of nu metal bands goes on and on (as do the chances of bursting blood vessels from all that cringing); each charged with narcissistic lyrics and an aggressive sound which catered especially to teenage sensibilities – and the millennials lapped that shit up.
Then somewhere around 2003 nu metal chugged it’s last chugs and demand ground to an abrupt halt. Within five short years the movement had snowballed into parody: bands repeated the same formula and very quickly it became profoundly uncool. You could argue that nu metal’s successor was emo, but lets not even go there.
Deftones are the last band standing of that purposefully forgotten era.
During promotion of their 2003 album Deftones, Chino Moreno vocally distanced them from the genre, not wanting to go down with the ship. Although there’s no doubt that Adrenaline is a nu metal album since that point they’ve continuously played with their approach to their own sound.
The lid really came off on Deftones‘ third album White Pony released mid 2000.
It was at this point that Frank Delgado became a full time member, adding synth and sampling to the line up. The experimentation brought acclaim across the board and it was then they began to be categorised as more than just nu metal. Terms included alt-metal, dream-pop, shoegaze, post-metal – but it was all part of the quintessential Deftones sound.
In Deftones they matured again, graduating to seven string guitars and solidifying themselves as a heavy metal band first and foremost. Tracks such as When Girls Telephone Boys are absolutely brutal, whereas Hexagram and Minerva are full of shoegaze-y soundscapes and Lucky You is just straight up trip hop. There’s a depth to both the music and lyrics that was missing from the vast majority of nu metal and this is what’s helped Deftones transcend any musical styling or pigeonholing.
Saturday Night Wrist, their fifth album, was a struggle to record according to the band, taking two years to make. This disconnection comes through on the album and although there are fantastic tracks SNW is not as cohesive an album as many of their others.
It failed to sell as well as their previous works and in fact to this day none have surpassed the sales success of White Pony. Still, Deftones have continued on their own not-very-radio-friendly mission.
You could argue that although Deftones are a sensitive band in the subjects and emotions they tackle they are also some of the heaviest metal you are ever going to hear. Yes, they’re more melodic these days but the sound itself gets deeper; Carpenter is now using an eight string guitar. The genius lies in their ability to turn that metal into something more than macho aggression.
Deftones are emotionally dark, sensual, mysterious and they have never shied away from that. Stephen Carpenter‘s sharp riffs, the down tuning of both him and bassist Chi Cheng. Abe Cunningham’s cultured drums inspired by jazz greats. Chino‘s fascination with 1980s British and German new wave and Delgado‘s atmospheric sampling – every member of Deftones is present in the sound and they converge to make something pretty spectacular.
During 2008 Deftones were in the process of recording their sixth album Eros when bassist Cheng fell into a coma after a car accident and the album was shelved. The tragedy of the situation inspired productivity and their next two releases Diamond Eyes and Koi No Yokan showcased a band centered and focused on what had brought them together in the first place.
On Diamond Eyes tracks such as You’ve Seen the Butcher, Rocket Skates and Sextape showed that Deftones were still a force to be reckoned with and respected for their steadfast dedication to their own sound. Koi No Yokan continues this thread with Poltergeist in particular being a flag ship of precise almost math type rock and Entombed which comes straight after being opposite end of the scale – showcasing Chino‘s crooning vocals and romantically ambiguous lyrics. A slow jam, if you will.
After Cheng‘s death in 2013, long time friend and ex member of Quicksand, Sergio Vega, filled the role of bassist and Deftones pushed onward. As well as various side projects the band have continuously wrote and recorded music since their inception in 1988 and they’ve consistently released a new album every three years or so since 1995.
This year they released their eighth album Gore, which has all the comfort of the Deftones you know and love and more. In Gore you can hear Chino experimenting more with his voice (in the way of singing rather than screaming) and although Carptenter‘s guitars are still gnarly it feels like overall album was been turned down a notch from, say, eleven to ten.
As you can probably tell after all that gushing they’re one of our all time favourites and it’s with the news of Deftones returning to the UK that we, giddy, pour over their output.
Amid the colossal rain and mud of this years Download Festival the group, now galloping into their 40s, put on an energetic performance, opening them up to younger generations and cultivating an itch to tour again in May 2017.
The legendary Deftones will take on the Gore tour and yes, you guessed it, we’ll be there.