Like a dirty rumor spread all over town, Deftones has never been able to live down the moniker of “nu metal”. Yet, beyond the fact that genre categorization makes music filing easier, adding the Chino Moreno fronted group to the typically well-dated assembly of nu metal acts is a compliment issued towards the group. Plainly, few other bands of that period were as interesting, or survived beyond their quick expiration date. Few others would bother claiming Limp Bizkit or Papa Roach as musical visionaries.
“Ohms“, the new album by Deftones, released in the strange year that has been 2020, will no doubt be greeted as a victory by press and fans alike. It only makes sense. It sounds like “White Pony“, the group’s most celebrated work. Just like a dealer forced to change connections, Deftones have been accused of diluting their formula ever since the release of their 2000 opus.
Ironically, it took a couple of years for the group’s fans to move past their initial disappointment with “White Pony“. Once they did, it proved to be the record that helped set up the band for a life. To the band members’ dismay it also put them on a fast track to becoming a nostalgia act forced to churn out the hits.
“Ohms” finds the group aiming for that most rare of balancing acts. Yes, they are finally providing their fan base with what they want, but, Deftones sound energized, and as maniacally inclined to pervert their sound as they did in their glory days.
“Genesis” the album’s opening track begins with moody, atmospheric synths that hearken to 80s arena-goth. It’s a sound that has often found a place in Deftones’ best work. Once the dust of the intro settles, it’s back to belligerent basics for the group, with towering down-tuned riffs fighting their way into the mix with Chino Moreno’s passionate screams. The chorus features the metal-Morrissey melodies that were a hallmark of the band’s earlier days.
The rest of the record continues in a similar vein. Despite this, few times do Deftones sound like they are copying themselves. Rather, if frequent, and generally oblique interviews are to be believed, the group’s biggest problem has always been their shifting interest towards the music. On “Ohms” they finally sound as if they’ve found something to grab their attention.
“Ceremony” breathes the same thick air as the rest of the songs and makes good on the group’s early promise of becoming the best band to use the “loud-soft dynamics” algorithm since the Pixies.
“Urantia” makes use of unexpected sounds and pretty melodies. “Error” is a wave of thick noise smashing against the speakers. “The Spell of Mathematics” has the distinction of being one of the most Deftonesy sounding song titles in the group’s discography.
Throughout the album the band seems to be organizing their songs like giant canvases, with the obliterating instrumentation acting as gallons of paint being poured with deliberate intent. Or, alternately, the tunes resemble carefully crafted objects constructed with the purpose of being dismantled with methodical precision.
“Pompeji” is the perfect historical theme to be covered by band, as Chino Moreno lets loose an eruption of screams that reveals the singer has lost little of his range, or passion for his work.
“This link is dead” is bizzaro-metal by numbers, but “Radiant City”‘s riffage and screams recall the group’s most aggressive “Adrenaline” era songs. “Headless” pulls on expected tricks, beautiful melodies, misty verses, and thundering choruses, but the dread inducing under current might make this a perfect contender for a big budget Hollywood horror.
Finally, the title track concludes the Deftones’ 2020 album and reveals the group to be one of the masters of sonic textures and idea borrowers possessing excellent taste.
Not everything Deftones as ever recorded is unanimously praised. “Ohms” is likely to be one of their few releases to receive good reviews across the board. It’s unlikely the group will return to the same place anytime soon. Twenty years after the release of their best album, Deftones remain one of the most compelling rock bands of their generation. A quick glance over the careers of the band as compared to their peers, will tell you that if any metal group of the late 90s was going to do that, it was always likely to be them.