This might come off kind of harsh to start this review, but it's really surprising that Deftones are still as relevant as they are 25 years into their career. Over that time, they've gained a huge cult fanbase that will always be there to bring awesome vibes to their shows and buy their albums whenever they drop. Me personally, I haven't been a fan of the band for too long and my first impression of them wasn't all that great. In 2018, I went to ACL Fest for the first time and these guys were the subheadliners, playing right before Metallica. The first half of the set was quite honestly a disaster. Terrible sound plagued the first 25 minutes or so of their set, so much so that the band walked off stage after performing the song Rosemary. However, after about 10 minutes or so, the band came back on stage with lead singer Chino Moreno apologizing for the issues before they ripped into the song Diamond Eyes. From then on, the set was incredible. Even with the sound issues, the band had this incredible energy on stage, Chino was running around in front of the barricade and even jumping into the crowd at times, and their performance of Engine No. 9 caused probably the biggest mosh pit I've seen not only at ACL, but in my life.
So going into this, I was interested to hear what a Deftones album in 2020 would sound like. In my opinion, which, seems to be kind of popular, the band peaked a while ago with their incredible album White Pony. It's one of those albums that, since they made it, every album after is going to be compared to it. Also, part of me has to consider their last two projects, Koi No Yokan and Gore. Both albums were very hit or miss for me. The good songs were great, and the bad songs were pretty rough. But the teaser tracks to this album gave me some hope. The title track is loud, energetic, it almost sounded like something out of The Smashing Pumpkins catalog. It was a breath of fresh air for me and proved that we might be seeing a return to form for the band. Then there was the song Genesis which blew me away upon first listen, and a few more listens in, I'm genuinely convinced that it might be one of the best Deftones songs, ever. The intro to the track is slow with an eerie synth line and some haunting guitar notes that make you think the song is gonna be slow, heavy, kind of drawn-out, but no. The second the drums kick in you're hit with a cymbal crash and loud guitar and bass hitting you in the face and Chino does not hold back on the song. Starting the song off by screaming his head off before some smoother singing in the choruses. The outro of the song shows everyone in the band in top form and everybody shines. Hearing this song made me realize, "This album could be really really good." and even that was setting my bar too low.
Which is a crazy thing to even think about? A Deftones album in 2020 should not be as good as this album is. I'm still getting more out of it each time I start it over again. The album is a trim 10 songs, runs about 45 minutes long, and features some of the best production Deftones have had on any album in a long time, which might be attributed to the fact that Terry Date, producer for Deftones first 3 albums, is back behind the board for this album. And if I'm being quite honest, I won't be upset if he stays behind the board for every album after this. The album's sound is super dense and heavy while also being super dreamy at the same time. The album also flows super well with all of the songs blending into the next one.
Deftones pictured in a promotional image for their previous album, Gore. (From L to R: Deftones are Sergio Vega, Stephen Carpenter, Chino Moreno, Abe Cunningham, Frank Delgado)
Genesis kicks off the album and once again, an absolute beast of a song to start with. The song Ceremony is the perfect blend of dreamy and heavy I mentioned earlier. Going from these super toned down verses with Chino coming through with some breathy singing. There's a delayed guitar lick that hangs around in the background before the chorus kicks in, and when it does, it is incredible. There's super heavy, shoegazy guitars blaring throughout, shotgun snare drums, and Chino is harmonizing with himself super well. There's also this really psychedelic break at around the 2:15 mark with Chino voice covered in reverb. It's a really nice touch, it almost reminds me of the song Digital Bath from White Pony. Immediately after this, we get the song Urantia which starts off almost like a Metallica song with some fast guitar chugging and drummer Abe Cunningham hit some Lars Ulrich type drum fills in the intro too. Even though the intro starts off super fast, the song is mid-tempo, heavy, and really lets Chino show off his range. His performance on the song is really good and while it's obvious he does have a little trouble hitting some of the notes in the chorus, it still fits in perfectly. Then there's the song Error which might be the best song on this album. It honestly almost sounds like the band tried to write their own version of Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin, except, this is obviously much heavier and Chino isn't screaming "OOOAAAAAAAHHHHHAAAAAA" over the intro. I really really love the progression of this song. Going from verses with just Chino singing over drums and a really weird guitar line to these huge pre-choruses where the guitar and bass are just booming. Hearing makes me want to jump into a mosh pit right now. They kind of bring it back a little bit for the choruses but it's still such a beastly sound. I also love the outro of the song there's a nice contrast between these super loud down-tuned guitars and the sweet-sounding synth line. I could do without Chino moaning over it but I don't care, it still slaps.
The Spell of Mathematicians is this slow, kind of droney song with some of Chino's best lyrics on the album. The lyrics tell the story of Chino falling in love with some sort of enchantress, singing about how he's drinking poison straight from her hands and later on singing about how snakes are coming out of her heart. The chorus of the song is really what sells it lyrically though with Chino singing:
I believe your love
Has placed its spell on me
And I believe your love
Is the only thing needed to survive
I believe your love
Creates this space whеre we can breathе
But I believe your love
Beholds this sacred key to life
Even out of the context of the rest of the song, it's still really sweet and cute. This song also features some of Abe Cunningham's best drumming with a moment around the 2:45 mark where he just cuts loose with these not overpowering, but still super sick cymbal heavy drum fills. He goes off again around the 3:30 mark just going all around his kit making for a ton of energy. The song Pompeji honestly reminds me of the song Kalopsia by Queens of the Stone Age with how it goes from soft to something super heavy. I absolutely love the intro of this song. There's a few guitar chords soaked in chorus with a little bit of distortion to give it some bite. It creates a really amazing vibe before a bomb drops on us. Once again, the guitar and bass are just booming on this song. The outro of this song is pure bliss with these swelling synth chords and filtered guitar playing while seagulls chirp in the background. It's a really heavenly vibe.
The hits keep coming in the last portion of the album kicking off with the song This Link is Dead. Everything about this song is angry, dark, super tense. From Abe Cunningham's super fast, sharp drumming in the verses, to Chino's distorted vocals, even the guitar harmonies really make this song kind of haunting instrumentally. The song Radiant City starts off with this incredible distorted bass line paired with loud drums and these really cool vocal harmonies from Chino. This song is the only minor misstep on the album for me. It's kind of hard to keep up with all the changes the song takes instrumentally. Going from that bassline to a screamed chorus full of synth chords back to the bass and guitar riff, back to the chorus, then to a completely different section with just Chino, a few guitar chords, and a few snare drum hits. I also don't enjoy how abruptly the song ends. I feel like if they were going to continue those chord and instrumental changes, we would at least get one more for an epic outro but the song just kinda stops. Headless is another slow, droney cut but Chino's lyrics are the highlight of the song for me, singing in the first verse:
I think it's obvious we are a mess
We cut against the grain
It's contagious how we live
If you're curious of the valiance I can show you, wait
This is the closest we get to a softer song on this album with the song slowing down at points letting Chino deliver some lyrics almost whispering. I know it sounds strange on paper but it fits really well into the song. The title track closes the album and in the album form, it bangs even harder than it does on it's own. I don't know if it's because of the perfect transition from Headless or because we needed one more rager before the album ended but it hype's me up to hear that opening riff every time.
So aside from a few lackluster songs on the back half of the album, I really don't have anything to complain about on this album. 2020 has been such a weird year that I guess it shouldn't really shock me that Deftones would drop an incredible "return to form" album but given that we've gotten that from The Strokes and The Killers this year too, why shouldn't Deftones drop something amazing too. I'm still in awe that the band could pull this off because it's been a while since we've gotten something this solid from them. I really hope concerts come back soon rather than later because these songs are absolutely going to destroy venues when they're played live.
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