Deftones Continue Their Long-Running Quality Streak with Ohms
The Californian alt-metal legends have given us yet another rich, textured set of songs that largely exemplify the reason they're so revered.
Originally published on 9/30/20.
What can be said about Deftones that hasn’t been said already? The Sacramento-based alternative metal band have achieved and maintained status as one of the best and most consistent outfits in the genre, combining the thrills of heavy music with richly cerebral arrangements and soundscapes. Their dense, detailed, distinctive sound, cryptic lyrics, and one-of-a-kind vocals from frontman Chino Moreno have long since established them as a force to be reckoned with; there’s a reason why they’ve been referred to as “the Radiohead of metal.”
Deftones exploded onto the music scene in 1995 with their debut album Adrenaline, a refreshing, ferocious, and at times genuinely disturbing body of work that expertly fused the then-emerging nu metal sound with much-needed emotion and, gasp, actual honest-to-God musical talent. Moreno in particular dazzled with his vocal performance, weaving back and forth from soft whispers to full-blown demonic shrieks in the blink of an eye. The band would perfect this sound two years later with the even heavier and more terrifying Around the Fur (arguably my personal favorite in their discography). At the turn of the century, though, they began to abandon the god-forsaken land of nu metal in favor of a more layered and mature aesthetic with White Pony, their most celebrated and best-selling album to date. Later, their 2003 self-titled effort, while flawed, contains some of their rawest and heaviest material ever, as well as their finest opening track. Finally, Deftones’ sound evolved into the rich and dense landscape they are best known for with the horribly underrated Saturday Night Wrist, a sound that has largely stayed consistent through the subsequent albums Diamond Eyes, Koi No Yokan, and Gore.
It is very much worth noting that the band has also survived sudden tragedy. In 2008, bassist Chi Cheng’s role in Deftones came to an end when he was involved in a severe car accident that left him in a coma. (The group had been working on an album called Eros, which they decided to shelve not long after the accident – it remains unreleased to this day.) Immediately there was an outpouring of support from fans, including the creation of a website intended to raise money for Cheng’s medical expenses. For more than four years afterwards, Cheng saw considerable improvement in his condition, but tragically he passed away abruptly from a heart attack in 2013. Not even Sergio Vega, the band’s otherwise excellent replacement bassist, has been quite able to fill the hole left by Cheng’s absence; some of the group’s best songs were boosted greatly by Cheng’s talent as a bass player.
Deftones have been releasing albums for the last quarter-century, and they have yet to put out a flop. That streak is kept very much alive with their ninth and latest album Ohms, an electrifying record that feels like an amalgamation of everything that came before. (Deftones fans will have a field day picking out sounds and characteristics from past albums, particularly White Pony.) After the good-but-not-quite-great Gore, the band have returned four years later with more creative arrangements and wider sonic variety. There’s stronger overall lyricism, too; while the lyrics on Ohms are rather typical for Deftones – cryptic lines about love, anger, and traveling to other worlds – very few of them fall flat. As with previous records, the lyrics strongly compliment the instrumentation in a way that only Deftones could pull off.
Deftones continues to amaze with their musicianship on Ohms. Band member Abe Cunningham proves yet again why he is one of the most criminally underrated drummers of all time, banging out technically impressive grooves for the rest of the band to follow without simply showing off like so many others. Meanwhile guitarist Stephen Carpenter frequently swallows up the mix with his blaring, unique, often shoegaze-influenced guitar work that continues to pummel the listener’s eardrums into mush. Moreno’s vocals are as wide-ranging as they’ve always been, winding between excellent clean vocals and throat-shredding screams with all the flair he’s had since day one. And keyboard player Frank Delgado deserves a mention, too; his work is a huge reason why Deftones’ music has sounded one-of-a-kind for all these years, providing synths and sound effects that bring a beautiful yet unsettling atmosphere to the band’s songs.
The production on Ohms is as strong as ever; throughout the album, crushing guitars mix with crisp, punchy drums, rumbling bass, and Moreno’s signature vocals to once again create the sound Deftones is known for. Don’t think this is just paint-by-numbers Deftones, though. For example, this time around, synthesizers play a slightly larger role than before; the first thing you hear on opening track “Genesis” is a lone two-note synth sequence soon joined by a quiet series of guitar notes, all of it awash in reverb. It’s a very nice start to the album that prepares the listener for the blaring, crunching instrumentation that immediately follows. Additionally, the song “Pompeji” closes with one of the most gorgeous moments in the band’s entire discography; a soft, phasing series of synth chords fully envelop the listener in analog warmth, accompanied by sounds of water and birds.
On the other end of the spectrum, Ohms also contains some of the heaviest material Deftones has put out in years. The track “Urantia” contains a fast, machine-gun guitar riff straight out of a Slayer song, a thrilling and welcome addition to the band’s sound. The title track, which is also the closing number and a previously-released single, is in some ways akin to a fusion of stoner metal and pop punk; the triplet guitar notes that open and close the song come off as one of the album’s most satisfying sequences, a worthy curtain call. The opening of “Error” consists of a bizarre, screeching, atonal, and downright ugly series of manipulated guitar notes, providing a thoroughly memorable uneasiness. As more of the band comes in, though, it becomes clear that these notes do in fact contain melodic content that works very effectively in the song. Lastly, the galloping guitars and bass on “Radiant City” sound like something straight out of an unusual hardcore punk song, and they provide the perfect backdrop for the vocals, drums, and synths surrounding them.
Ohms isn’t perfect, though. While you could hardly accuse Deftones of doing the same thing over and over, there are some tracks on Ohms that display over-similarity to past work. “Genesis” has at times an almost identical sound to “Change (In the House of Flies).” “Error” arguably sounds too much like “Risk.” “The Spell of Mathematics” seems like a redo of “Gauze” with muddier guitars (just about the only example of less-than-stellar mixing on this album). There are other passages here and there on Ohms that succumb to this problem, too. While none of these tracks are necessarily weak songs, they can seem a little disillusioning to longtime Deftones fans like myself; one can’t help but wish they had changed it up more this time around. Elsewhere, “This Link Is Dead” is by far the biggest lyrical weak spot on the album; Moreno’s words plainly express seething hatred toward an unnamed individual, and it comes off as too much like the subpar nu metal the group has been avoiding like the plague for the last 25 years. The smattering of profanities on this track doesn’t help; while I rarely have a problem with swearing, here it just seems forced, especially since none of the other songs have any at all.
In spite of these faults, Ohms is yet another wonderful addition to the Deftones catalog, showcasing once again why they have the relevance and staying power they do. Thrilling songs, unconventional song structures, stunning vocals, and instrumentals that pack a wallop are par for the course for Deftones, and while Ohms hardly reinvents the wheel, it’s a definite step up from Gore. It contains some of their gentlest and heaviest music in a while, and I am eager to hear how they capitalize on this a few years from now.
Listen to Ohms on Apple Music or Spotify below.