If you’re looking for consistent excellence in your bands, there’s very few I can think of who haven’t ever really put out anything even a little disappointing. Progressive death metal veterans Enslaved (13 albums in, and everything they’ve done is still solid at worst), alternative rockers Thrice and The Dear Hunter would probably fit here too – a combined almost 30 years experience between the two, and the least awesome thing either have done was Thrice’s debut full-length, Identity Crisis – which wasn’t even bad, really.
Speaking of Thrice, alternative metal veterans Deftones have much in common. They’re both from California, are well-respected both critically and commercially, and have added new elements to their sound over time – both bands are also considered massive influences on many of today’s current alternative rock, post-hardcore, and metalcore bands – how many vocalists are influenced by Chino Moreno in some way? The answer: many.
Their 8th studio album Gore is now out, and while the mixing is still a little off to me, it’s another great addition to their discography. It even went to #2 on the Billboard Top 200. But where do their 8 studio albums since 1995 rank as a whole? Find out below.
#8: Adrenaline (1995)
Fun fact, frantic highlight track “Engine No. 9” was featured in the music Law Abiding Citizen back in the day. Great movie. Anyway, this is the 1995 debut Deftones full-length. It’s a downtuned, riff-heavy, Stephen Carpenter show here – though the band would show flashes of their abilities here as they progressed (more of the sharp, frenetic Carpenter riffs, Chino’s growing vocal ability), it’s their weakest release in most respects. That’s not a bad thing, though. The aggressiveness on display here was only a prelude to what they would do in their career. There’s still some highlights here, though – singles “Bored” and “7 Words” are solid, but it’s slightly experimental and atmospheric tracks like “Fireal” and “Minus Blindfold” that would foreshadow their material 2 years later on Around The Fur. A product of the nu-metal era, sure, but Deftones were (and are!) so much more than that label.
#7: Deftones (2003)
The follow-up to career milestone White Pony was underwhelming, sure. It’s one of their 3 weakest albums to most people. The closer, “Moana”, is pretty mediocre. There’s many tracks here that are seemingly lesser versions of songs on White Pony – “Minerva”, while a good single, falls short of potential great heights, while “Needles And Pins” and “Battle-Axe” are 2 of the weakest tracks here – the latter is a slow burner with some nice crunchy riffage, however.
All that being said, this is nowhere near a bad album. Most bands would kill to have an album of this much quality – the trip-hop influenced “Lucky You” and the atmospheric-turned-metal onslaught of “Bloody Cape” are 2 of the best tracks that band has ever made. “When Girls Telephone Boys” contains some of the most visceral vocals of Chino Moreno’s career. That’s to say nothing about the album’s opening track, “Hexagram” – Chino Moreno’s display of vocal prowess here is, again, some of his best work.
#6: Gore (2016)
Gore is a further evolution in the accomplished career of Deftones, who continue to show new colors and textures 20+ years into their career. It’s another solid at worst album that contains more standouts, including (and especially) “Phantom Bride”, a progressive rock-influenced track that features a haunting guitar solo from Alice In Chains’ hero Jerry Cantrell. In many ways, though, it’s the logical follow up to 2012’s Koi No Yokan, which saw the band expand their post-metal influences in melodic (“Tempest”) and aggressive (“Poltergeist”, “Gauze”) ways. Though Gore is one of the most melodic albums in their catalogue, don’t think they’re not heavy anymore – the technical metal riffing in “Pittura Infamante” mixed with Chino Moreno’s sublime vocals over the top make it an easy choice for one of the best songs on the album.
Having listened to Gore 10 times in full so far, I can say that while the mixing/production is a bit off for my taste, it’s still an album that’s worth revisiting over and over again. It’s one of the more straightforward affairs the band has ever released, but there’s still plenty to explore, and plenty of time for this rating to change.
#5: Around The Fur (1997)
Around The Fur is basically the midpoint between the raw Adrenaline and the textural masterpiece White Pony. After its release, many bands began to mimic their atmospheric style, especially tracks like “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)”. Any album with tracks like the aforementioned one and short bursts of metal attack like “Rickets” is going to be worth checking out, but the slight problem with Around The Fur is a lack of other highlight tracks. “Lotion”? Good, aggressive, metallic track. “Lhabia” and “Mascara”? Other than Chino ringing in the chorus in the former, the two songs don’t really go anywhere – they’re by no means bad, though.
Still, any album with two HUGE tracks like “Be Quiet And Drive” and “Lotion”, as well as the track “Headup” (which ex-Sepultura/Soulfly frontman Max Cavalera does guest vocals on – actually, it’s more like trading off with Chino here), is worth jamming again and again. It’s an important stepping stone for what was to come.
#4: Saturday Night Wrist (2006)
My reaction to “Pink Cellphone”, an ill-fated track on Saturday Night Wrist, was something like this:
That unnecessary and weird track aside, Saturday Night Wrist is some truly BOMB material. It was one of, if arguably the most difficult recording period the band ever experienced – but there is almost no filler here, save “Pink Cellphone” and maybe the average “Rapture”. It starts and ends great, though. “Hole In The Earth” and “Riviere” bookend the album with excellent, atmospheric tracks, while the 6 minute long “Beware” shows the sludge metal styling they would be influenced by later in their career. There’s even more highlights in the fairly standard but actually really good “Kimdracula”, and the beautifully sublime “Cherry Waves”. And out of all the band’s more metallic tracks, “Combat” is one that’s often overlooked, but it shouldn’t be. It’s a track that, like “Beware The Water”, foreshadows the more expansive direction the band would later go.
SNW is an album that deserves more credit as being one of the band’s best. It’s consistently underrated, and despite a bad song in the middle of it, you can safely ignore “Pink Cellphone” and listen to the rest.
#3: Koi No Yokan (2012)
When Koi No Yokan was released in 2012, I remember listening to it around twenty times in the course of a week, yet simultaneously feeling like there was still more to soak up. Arguably the band’s most atmospheric and textural album (next to maybe White Pony), it’s also the one that gives the band more freedom to expand. Longer tracks like the atmospheric dream pop track “Entombed” and the pummeling slow burners “Tempest” and “Rosemary” (the latter has some awesome Meshuggah-inspired guitar riffs from Stephen Carpenter) are obvious album highlights, but there’s beauty to be found in simpler, more immediate tracks like “Leathers” and the aggressive “Poltergeist”. “Swerve City” is a cool way to open the album as well – it’s not an “epic” song or even a slow burner – it’s a short 3 minute burst of alternative metal that’s not aggressive vocally but definitely is instrumentally.
Upon its 2012 release, Koi No Yokan was one of the more highly praised Deftones albums, and time hasn’t worn on it at all. In fact, it’s basically on par with the next album on the list…
#2: Diamond Eyes (2010)
How do you deal with your beloved bass player and friend being in a coma? Ask Deftones, who scrapped the finished followup to SNW, Eros, in the wake of the late Chi Cheng’s auto accident. The fact that they were able to release an album as monumental as Diamond Eyes ended up being is remarkable.
The 1-2 punch of the title track and “Royal” are equally punchy metallic riffs as they are shoegaze-influenced, and can we just talk about the “guns, razors, knives, FUCK WITH MEEEEEEEEE” refrain of “Rocket Skates” It was this song that told me Deftones weren’t going to let even tragedy prevent them from making a great album. Bassist Sergio Vega (of Quicksand fame) even gets into the act, laying down some sludgy grooves on “You’ve Seen The Butcher”. It goes without saying that Chino Moreno delivers a memorable performance here, but it’s the performances of drummer Abe Cunningham and DJ Frank Delgado that are felt the most here.
Diamond Eyes is absolutely an album that any fan could call their best, especially given the circumstances it was written under. It would be an untouchable career highlight for most bands. But there’s one album that’s ever so slightly more influential, and that is…
#1: White Pony (2000)
“I could float here forever.”
At the turn of the new millennium, nu-metal was already becoming boring. Limp Bizkit’s 3rd album, Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water, was snapped up by the masses – but eventually revealed for what it was, an overblown mess of an album that was way too long and full of filler tracks. Granted, I grew up on stuff like that, and Limp Bizkit is still one of my favorite bands, but that’s not the point here. The point is that nu-metal was trending out just as fast as it had blown up in the late 90’s, and bands playing that style (much like hair metal in the late 80’s/early 90’s) had to either adapt or perish. Very few survived this purging, let alone remained critically and commercially relevant.
The problem, though, is that Deftones (despite being lumped in with the movement) was never really a nu-metal band, except maybe in their early days. The band continually set themselves apart by attaching hard-hitting metal to increasingly lush soundscapes that had more in common with dream pop and shoegaze than anything else. You can thank the contributions of DJ Frank Delgado for that.
White Pony is Deftones at their best, as well as their most influential. Their first flirtation with Massive Attack-esque trip-hop (“Teenager”) successfully captures the innocence of youth, while “RX Queen” is about obsessing over a girl who can’t fight addiction, specifically drugs. Most of their iconic songs are here, too. Massive single that is almost instantly recognizable? “Change (In The House Of Flies)” has you covered. Fantastic duet that happened totally by chance in the studio? “Passenger” (which features Tool/APC’s Maynard James Keenan) is an absolutely thrilling vocal trade off between Chino Moreno and Maynard that’s an instant classic. In the current landscape of half-baked and boring “guest vocal” spots where the guest vocalist in question spits around 4 lines and adds nothing to the song (obviously a cash grab), Chino and Maynard’s instant chemistry and real emotion make this arguably the best song on the album.
Speaking of emotion, there’s plenty of that here. Lyrics about a dream Chino had where he electrocuted a girl in the bathtub? Unmatched. Hell, the heaviest track here, “Elite”, won the band a Grammy 15 years ago. We haven’t even gotten to the tracks like “Knife Party” and the really long but effective closer, “Pink Maggit”. Many bands since its release have tried to copy it or have been influenced by White Pony (Thrice’s 2005 masterpiece Vheissu is really an effective counterpart to it), but it’s essentially unmatchable.
It’s really difficult to find a band in the rock/metal genres that hasn’t been influenced by it in some way. Whether it’s attention to detail, a mastery of atmosphere and texture, Chino’s versatile vocals, the pounding riffage of Stephen Carpenter’s guitars, or any/all of the above, Deftones are obviously a very influential band. But nowhere was their sound more accomplished or their music more influential and imitated than it was right here in 2000.
What are your favorite Deftones albums and songs? What do you think of Gore so far? Sound off in the comments!