(Maverick; 2003)

By Scott Reid | 11 June 2003

With their past firmly rooted in the rap/rock genre, Deftones have always tip-toed around guilty pleasure territory, despite always sticking out like a sore thumb amongst their rap/rock "peers" (though,really, they’re about as far from Linkin Park as the Smashing Pumpkins were). They aren’t singing about breaking shit or killing their step-moms and their best material, also unlike nearly every other band that has emerged in the genre since the mid-‘90s, has always been exceptionally strong in one important area: songwriting.

Frontman Chino Moreno has always managed to work in actual melodies, releasing a couple of excellent albums to prove they’re more than just another Korn: the intense Around the Fur and art-rock influenced masterworkWhite Pony (referred to at one point by a friend of mine as nu-metal’s Dark Side of the Moon which might not be as insanely wrong as you might think). These two albums featured enough great songs("Be Quiet and Drive," "Dai the Flu," "My Own Summer,""Rx Queen," "Passenger," "Pink Maggit," "Change,"etc.) to not only elevate the Deftones as one of our best commercial rock-slash-metal bands, but also a band with incredible promise, and certainly not a one trick, uh, pony. Deftones have always had a range of styles to showcase, never painting themselves into a corner.

Since White Pony was released in 2000, we’ve been left to wonder where the band would go next. They could explore their art-rock tendencies, continue to improve their songwriting and release a record of similar form without retreading the ideas entirely, abandon the art-rock angle and return to their metal roots, or, just maybe, surprise everyone and release an album that no one thought Deftones capable of. While part of me was hoping they’d go for the first of those, I’d also held hope that the last might actually come true — hoping that they could have enough up their sleeves to surprise even their biggest fans who thought they’d heard all the band had to offer.

But as news of their new record (for quite a while, it was referred to by the band as Lovers, which definitely would’ve coalesced well with the lyrical content and artwork for the album) started coming out, it became clear that the band felt like they had something to prove.Perhaps similar to the way Around the Fur felt like a record proving the band was more than just another rap/rock outfit, Deftones, in its finished form, seems like a record trying to prove that they aren’t just another band posing as an art-rock group. But rather than proving this by taking another significant leap in creativity, they’ve gone the nostalgic route, releasing an album full of ideas that, for the most part, they’vealready been through.

Much has been made of Chino’s screaming on Deftones, though to these ears, the album offers pretty much the same balance of straight-forward metal and the kind of experimentation that have distanced Deftones from Limp Bizkits over the years. No, the problem with Deftones isn’t the screaming, it’s the quality of songwriting.Chino’s screaming works when the music behind it makes it work: White Pony‘s "Elite," along with countless numbers of tracks from Adrenaline ("Bored") and Around the Fur ("Around the Fur") prove this, and the opening track from the new album,"Hexagram," is no different; the song is a kick in the teeth and, like the relentless "When Girls Telephone Boys," there’s enough substance behind it to make it work.

Elsewhere, the album just wanders from the expected ("Needles and Pins," "Good Morning Beautiful" and "Bloody Cape" all sound like Around the Fur out-takes, while "Deathblow" and "Moana" could’ve easily been on White Pony), the unexpectedly boring ("Battle-axe")and a couple of tracks that only go to show what Deftones could’ve been,had the band wished to explore new territory. First-single "Minerva,"with its incredibly dense melody and wall of sound production (think more shoegazer than Spector, though), and the gorgeous "Anniversary of an Uninteresting Event," which features one of their most interesting arrangements yet.Lastly, there’s the Depeche Mode-ish sexual drawl of "Lucky You," and while it seems a little out of place on Deftones (it doesn’t quite work its way into the flow as well as, say, "Teenager" on White Pony),it’s still good enough of a track to add an interesting variety to the mix— if not just to make us more anxious to hear the supposedly still upcoming Team Sleep album, a collaboration between Deftones frontman Chino Moreno, Todd Wilkinson and "Lucky You" co-writer DJ Crook.

So, like most albums touted as being a return to something or other, Deftones is, at best,a frustrating album that doesn’t return to anything as much as regress past what they’ve already accomplished. There’s nothing here that even comes close to "Pink Maggot," "Be Quiet and Drive" or "Around the Fur," and many of the album’s highlights just remind the listener of what has made Deftones so great in the past. The lyrics, for the most part, have also taken a bit of a dive, though granted that’s never been the focus of whathas made the Deftones a great band anyway. It’s not Chino’s screaming and it’s definitely not the extent of their experimentation; again, what made the Deftones such a good band was their knack for melody and sharp songwriting. Something that, for one reason or another, seems to have taken a backseat to attitude and a production that is loud without urgency and, save "Anniversary," "Lucky You" and "Minerva," disappointingly run of the mill.Still, this remains a Deftones album at heart and that takes it a long way,no matter what type of band they’re trying to prove themselves to be.