The new Deftones album is good, though I was worried it’d be the opposite. I went in expecting to be disappointed (after hearing their two earlier singles, “Prayers/Triangles” and then “Doomed User”), and disappointed I was on first listen. Hearing those tracks before the release, I went in expecting to hear material whose quality was akin to B-sides that didn’t even make it on their previous two albums, 2010’s “Diamond Eyes” and its near-equally-good-but-derivative-feeling brother, “Koi No Yokan” from 2013. Though those two previously-heard songs felt better in the context of the album, the mindset I had strongly tainted my first listen of the album from this band I’ve loved for years.
I tried the album again that night before bed (while working on the same amount of schoolwork we’re all struggling through). For some reason (maybe the switch from desktop speakers to over-ear headphones?), it felt better immediately. The Deftones cornerstone of contrasting crunchy, metal textures (and not the cheesy, speedy, constantly-noodling kind) with interspersed pretty moments of calm guitars and electronic ambiance is actually apparent on here–perhaps it’s displayed more plainly than ever.
“Prayers/Triangles” starts the album with some good elements: that clean guitar coats the verses in some waterfalling treble, and the very short burst of energy from the choruses sounds like the splash that would come after you follow such a stream down. “Acid Hologram” mostly works with a trudging guitar riff, but there are some special moments where the instrument jumps to include some slides, and frontman Chino Moreno’s vocals move to background to mark these parts with a vocal reminiscent of old cartoon monsters or something. Next track “Doomed User” starts off quite angrily, but the chorus on this song is surprisingly…breezy, for the band. Its reappearance is like going in and out of a car’s sunroof during sunset while driving around the band’s hometown of Sacramento, CA. Sadly, “Geometric Headdress” does nothing to stand out following this. The chorus has a similarly breezy element like the song before, but the track’s occasional build-ups set us up for a part that should be infinitely more exciting.
Luckily, the second half of the album is generally much more impressive. “Xenon” seems like a better version of the songs on side one, even if it does seem of the same ilk as “Prayers/Triangles” and “Doomed User”. The three tracks right after are certainly the best on the album: “(L)Mirl” opens from inside a well of phased guitars and keeps its powerful brooding energy throughout, yet finds a euphoric breakthrough in the chorus. The title track has a great, sweat-inducing build that releases to an equally-sweaty chorus and the de-evolution in the last minute grinds the song (and the listener’s attention) to a halt. The next song (“Phantom Bride”) is gorgeous, and reminds me of some of Deftones’s sexier tracks (like “Sextape” or “Teenager”). That guitar solo in the middle is one hell of a surprising moment–now THAT is a sound I haven’t heard Deftones do in their discography and I’m glad it worked so well! Chino’s vocal melody started the song gorgeously, but that guitar substantially stands out with it (perhaps partly because it’s provided by Alice in Chains’s Jerry Cantrell). The song’s end was also a pleasant surprise, recalling the non-stop dark riffage of their 2003 self-titled album, albeit in a much lighter context than then (which the band refers to as the beginning of their period of “dark days” that came to a head with 2005’s “Saturday Night Wrist”). “Rubicon” is a pretty gnarly closing track, but does seem weaker than the string of greats before it. However, I really love the lyrics Chino sings here–like he’s describing the relationship with the band and their fans. The message seems to be: “No one person can live entirely alone, so we need to band together to face our communal obstacles. We are here because of your shared love for us and what we can do to help anyone is continue getting better as a band, improving so as to continually offer inspiration.” A lovely sentiment.
To be fair, “Gore” reminds me of each of the band’s other albums at various points throughout it, like a cool capstone after years of figuring out the product they’d make. I’d certainly say that you should give this album a listen if you’re ever in its “mood,” which you can probably figure out if you hear any of its songs. However, I cannot say this album adds very much that is new to their sonic canon and some gems on here are found next to a few forgettables. That being said, “practice makes perfect,” and if Deftones haven’t perfected their formula before, then they certainly have it figured out by this album.