If music industry maxims are to be believed, metal is a young person’s game. As bands and artists mature, they’re expected to head for softer pastures, sanding down their sonic edges and refusing to venture beyond the middle of the road. History has already proven Deftones to be the definitive exception to the rule, even as the band’s individual members head into their fifties.
Deftones’ longevity is of course largely due to their massively diverse palette of influences, reflected in the lineup selected for their own festival series, Dia De Los Deftones. Inviting an apparently random cast of characters, from Gojira to Chvrches and Megan Thee Stallion of “WAP” fame, proved more than a little controversial – but Deftones fans come from all walks of life. The band’s ability to attract diverse crowds of equally die-hard admirers has also helped them withstand the test of time, even as trends like nu-metal, metalcore, emo and djent ensnared a long list of bandwagon-jumpers.
Like any genuinely timeless band, Deftones have gradually evolved while maintaining an abundance of unique traits. Vocalist Chino Moreno’s moans and heavily obfuscated lyrics remain enigmatic, even a quarter of a century after Deftones’ debut Adrenaline dropped in 1995; guitarist Stephen Carpenter’s carefully woven chord progressions and gritty yet harmonically clear tones are immediately recognisable; and the band’s backline roots everything in bone-breaking grooves and electronic soundscapes. Classic tracks like “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)”, “My Own Summer”, “Diamond Eyes”, “Change (In the House of Flies)” and “Minerva” are almost spiritual experiences, cryptic puzzles to be deciphered through countless hours of dedicated listening.
On top of an already formidable collection of characteristics, Deftones are nothing if not persistent. Although four years have passed since 2016’s Gore, this band have never taken longer to come out with a new set of tracks – not including the still-unreleased Eros, which would have been their sixth album if not for the tragic passing of original bassist Chi Cheng. Deftones have lost a brother and comrade, dealt with interpersonal and creative conflicts, toured the world, experienced everything that has torn the vast majority of bands apart, and yet they still continue to thrive.
Listening to Ohms induces some serious cognitive dissonance. On one hand, this record is frequently as savage, cathartic, and brutally punishing as anything Deftones have released before. On the other hand, Stephen Carpenter, bassist Sergio Vega, and electronic mastermind Frank Delgado are all half a century old – and drummer Abe Cunningham and Chino Moreno aren’t far behind at 47. Musical icons are commonly referred to as “immortal”, but in Deftones’ case, this description might be literally accurate.
As with any Deftones album, Ohms will require considerable time and study to fully appreciate its intricacies – but even from the first listen, it’s clear that Deftones have come out with something special once more. Opener “Genesis” primes listeners to focus on Frank Delgado’s keyboard work, even as his bandmates launch into the first of many neck-twisting riffs. Beneath all the traditional-instrument action, Ohms often feels like Delgado’s album, an effort that will cause many fans to listen to Deftones’ back catalogue with fresh ears. There are some true gems buried in the mixes of Deftones tracks old and new, and Ohms inspires deeper focus right from the start.
That’s not to take away from everything Deftones’ other members contribute to this album. Their parts form the meat and bones of the Deftones sound, and riffs like those present on “Genesis”, “Urantia”, “The Spell of Mathematics”, “This Link Is Dead”, “Radiant City”, and “Headless” are simultaneously hypnotic and devastating. Moreno is on peak form throughout, unleashing his entire vocal arsenal over the course of Ohms’ extensive running time. But still, Delgado’s work on “Pompeji” and all of the aforementioned tracks, especially the Gary Numan-evoking synths on “Urantia”, lend both weight and extra balance to this album as a whole, making it truly complete and cohesive.
Scintillating, uplifting, unfathomably atmospheric, and masterfully detailed. This is, yet again, Deftones at their best.
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