The last several years have been tough for Deftones to say the least. The sessions for their last album, “Saturday Night Wrist,” were fraught with tension as the relationship between band members became fractious. To make things worse, bassist Chi Cheng was seriously injured in a car accident in 2008 and has been in a semi-conscious state since, leaving the band’s future up in the air.
After shelving an album written with Cheng titled “Eros,” Deftones went back to the grind and conjured “Diamond Eyes.” Recruiting Sergio Vega to fill in Cheng’s bass spot, Deftones re-energizes itself on “Diamond Eyes,” which blends some “Around the Fur”-era heaviness and the atmospheric palette found on “Saturday Night Wrist.”
From Stephen Carpenter’s bludgeoning riff on the opening title track, Deftones go into assault mode, unleashing a wall of distortion. The thick meatiness of the intro leads into an intricate, ethereal chorus buoyed by Chino Moreno’s signature airy, calming voice. It’s simultaneously menacing and soothing – a distinguishing characteristic that puts Deftones in the upper echelon of hard rock.
What could best be described as the evil brother of “Hexagram” from Deftones’ self-titled album, “Royal” is a barrage of punishing guitar, high-pitched squeals, and Abe Cunningham’s relentless drumming. Upping the ante with its pummeling riffs and raging vocals, “Royal” is certain to generate a massive mosh pit.
Going for sheer rawness doesn’t always work out though. For instance, “CMND/CTRL” comes off as an undeveloped piecing together of hard sound bites. Meanwhile, “You’ve Seen the Butcher” finds itself stuck in a gray zone where it’s not charging enough to create much excitement or pack enough melody to carry emotional weight. The desire to be all encompassing occasionally results in a muddled sound when the band tries to find an ideal middle ground within its hard/soft yin and yang.
After laying it down thick in the beginning, Deftones tone it down a notch on the mid-tempo “Beauty School.” Here, Moreno weaves his whispery voice between cymbal crashes and a cascade of reverb while Frank Delgado overlays ambient effects. It’s a wistful, softer side of Deftones that makes your mind float away.
But sticking true to their aggressive roots, Deftones boosts the intensity once more and bursts back to life. The band deals a crushing blow on the rousing “Rocket Skates,” complete with head-banging chugging riffs as Moreno unabashedly screams “Guns! Razors! Knives!” as if his voice is ready to give out. The brutal nature of “Rocket Skates” makes past heavy-hitters like “My Own Summer (Shove It)” nearly gutless.
Unlike most of his peers, Moreno injects a form of abstraction into Deftones, lining songs with sparse lyrics. This is clearly evident in “Sextape,” where his stream of consciousness lyrical sketches complement the dreamy guitar delay. Moreno isn’t about addressing the obvious. Instead, he finds unconventional avenues to channel his thoughts, imbuing a sexual experience with aqueous imagery: “The sound of the waves collide / Tonight we ride.” It’s more about creating a mood than relaying a message, as if you’re slowly falling from space or drowning in a violent sea, entrenched in a world of uncertainty.
Keeping up with the generally subdued nature of the latter part of the album, “This Place is Death” fittingly closes the album. Despite its misleading dire title, “This Place is Death” enters with a hopeful organ/synth intro akin to U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name” laden with swishing sounds and other soft ambience before the rhythm sections drops in and leads the way with Vega’s throbbing bass. Moreno sings, “We got together / We weaved our web / Tangled in the waves.”
However, the water references are overdone on “Diamond Eyes,” something that has carried on since “Saturday Night Wrist” (remember “Cherry Waves” and “Beware?”). Water works well in creating free flowing imagery, but the infatuation has simply gone a tad too far. It’s time for a new element.
The fact that Deftones never quite fits into one niche without falling off the deep end is the selling point that keeps listeners attuned. One moment Deftones is on power metal overdrive, and the next they turn into a dream pop entity. Yet, the seemingly disparate styles seamlessly fit together, making sense of a complex sound that is both subtle and jagged.
With “Diamond Eyes,” Deftones has pushed its creativity to new levels, bringing out a new visceral edge to the harder cuts and journeying into newfound territory on some of the softer moments. Deftones again mold a heavy landscape where you can get lost in the sound and drift away as Moreno’s expansive voice takes you far away. Except this time, you’ll never want to find your way back.