#18. Deftones – Diamond Eyes
Deftones made their best album since White Pony this year and no one really seemed to care. I’m guessing I know why…
Okay, so this one’s sure to get some eyebrow raises, but probably from those people who have always assumed Deftones were just another nu-metal band that they could file away into the “Wish they’d never existed” category. Even if they’re just not your “thing”, to pigeonhole them as such is still a big mistake, and a disrespect to a band who has soldiered through years of trying to stay ahead of and stand apart from a genre they inadvertently played a part in spawning.
I’m not trying to win over any converts here, since ultimately, that would only really happen if you truly gave the music a chance to make you a fan. What I would hope, however, is that if even after reading this, you still have no desire to listen to Deftones, you’ll at least know to not make the egregious mistake of lumping them in with Staind, Disturbed, Godsmack, Drowning Pool, et al. They are infinitely better than any of those bands on so many levels. Allow me to make my case in list form (a list within a list!):
- 2001’s White Pony was to “metal” as OK Computer was to “modern rock”, unless you ask Pitchfork’s Andrew Bryant, who scoffed at the comparison in his 4.7 review of the band’s self-titled 2003 album, later replacing the review with the hate mail he received afterward. Disagree if you want – the records may not comparable themselves, but it was parallel genre groundbreaking. It was a total brainscramble for most fans who at that point counted the band as just another of their favorite alt-metal bands. For starters, the packaging was quite a departure from Around The Fur’s top-down, chick-in-undies shot – it was a clean, gray fill with the white silhouette of a horse parked subtlety in the corner, and a classy, contemporary, sans serif typeface. It could have just as easily been a Spiritualized album cover. And then there’s the sound of the album itself, which oscillated gracefully from slick, crunching bombast to a pastiche of digital atmospherics and intimate whispers. It transcended a genre in 48 minutes.
- Yeah, sure, Chino Moreno has done a little rapping throughout the band’s catalog, but it’s always come from that Zach De La Rocha, West Coast latino-style that doesn’t conjure the instant douche-chills the way that the white-boy rap-rock of Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park always did.
- Chino is just effortlessly cool. His singing voice is plaintive and vulnerable, never whiny or bleating, and always unmistakeable. It has a lightness and air that gives even the heaviest songs a celestial buoyancy. On a dime, he can unleash a blistering scream that often rockets up into a squeal of distorted feedback. His style has never given way to the over-the-top, rock-caricature preening of some of his contemporaries. Nope, in addition to his indefensible chin tuft, it’s just a collared shirt, Dickies pants and some Vans skate shoes. That’s it. He’s always looked more like a skater than the frontman for an alt-metal band.
- Speaking of style, if there’s one guy who seemed to try and mine White Pony’s new sound for his own material, it was Jared Leto and his trainwreck of a band, 30 Seconds To Mars. Back in 2002, before he jumped onto the spacier side of “emo”, the actor-turned-singer embarrassingly tried to co-opt what was in all likelihood his favorite new record. Just as a reminder of how much cooler Chino is than Jared Leto, here’s this:
- Lastly, but most importantly, the songs are so good. Chino’s melodies often take unexpected, almost coy turns, but it’s inherently attractive, in a playing-hard-to-get sort of way. His lyrics are indirect but visceral, painting vivid imagery on a torn canvas. Even if you’re not a fan of the screaming and the crunchy metal guitars, there are enough melodies here that congeal into hooks, it could keep you coming back for more without even knowing why. Plus, everyone needs some music to listen to when they’re really pissed off, right?
So that’s my reasoning. But beyond just trying to sell you on the band, I should probably spend at least a little bit of time trying to sell you on Diamond Eyes. Honestly, moments of this album sell themselves. There’s more of the anthemic sunset-glow choruses (a la 2003’s hit single “Minerva”) like on the album-opening title-track, and then later on “Beauty School”, and “Sextape”. “Prince” is a direct descendant of White Pony’s “Change (In The House Of Flies)”, and the verse of “CMND/CTRL” has all the swagger of the band’s early records. “You’ve Seen The Butcher” churns along to a thick, syrupy swing beat, with Chino creeping along, confessing “Don’t wanna take it slow / I wanna take you home / And watch the world explode / From underneath your glow”. Look, admittedly, it’s not White Pony, but it’s a step up from 2006’s restless and shifting Saturday Night Wrist.
In the end, maybe you will give this band a chance (or perhaps another chance) and maybe you’ll really find that you’ve been missing out. Or, maybe you’ll play five seconds of a song off of this album and remember why you avoided them all along. That’s totally fine. My goal here isn’t so much to make the band more fans, as it is to make less haters. Don’t hate Deftones – they’re the good guys.