Thursday, February 06, 2014


Listening to the Deafheaven album got me thinking about another band starting with "D" that mixed elements of metal and shoe gaze: Sacramento's Deftones. They were originally lumped along the rap-rock Nu-metal acts of the late 1990s, but they were a much different beast than Limp Bizkit.

My first exposure to them was their video for "Back to School (Mini Maggit)," which features Chino Moreno rapping like a Chicano Beastie Boy. It's a good song, but one that really isn't indicative of their sound. Their 2000 release White Pony got a lot of buzz, but I didn't get around to listening to it until I was stuck in Bulgaria in 2003 with nothing to listen to. Deftones were one of the few "alternative" acts whose music I could find in the bootleg record stalls of Sofia, so I picked up White Pony and their 2003 self-titled release.

While Deftones definitely had some of the aggression of their contemporary nu-metal bands, they also had other sonic elements. The band has stated that the Cure and the Smiths were big influences on them, and there is a softness and complexity to their music that you wouldn't expect from a metal band. I don't mean a softness in terms of having ballads, but in terms of exploring different sounds and emotions. They are sometimes called the Radiohead of metal, and I think that fits. Like Radiohead, they aren't afraid to experiment with different song structures and textures while still delivering solid hooks and melodies.

The result is music that often manages to combine the best parts of shoe gaze and metal without getting too cheesy or emo. It's a fine line to walk, and the Deftones do it well. I can't help but think that the fact that they are a multi-ethnic band from Sacramento,  a city that is not exactly the epicenter of culture, contributes to their ability to mix different influences and still sound unique. By all rights they should be another bro band, but they rarely delve into bro aggression.

One of my favorite songs of theirs is "Feiticeira," which opens White Pony. It's a driving song that alternates between heavy and pretty, and tells a creepy tale of being kidnapped. "My jaw and my teeth hurt," Chino sings, "I'm choking from gnawing on the ball." That's what I like about Deftones, at least in their White Pony and later incarnation. It's not music about fucking shit up and raging, brah. It's more complicated than that. They take that aggressive energy and feelings of depression and frustration and channel it in more creative and interesting ways than many of their contemporaries. 

They went even farther in that direction with 2003's self-titled follow up. That album was much more about swirling guitars and atmosphere. Partially because they were falling apart as a band due to a combination of drugs (White Pony was named after cocaine, their drug of choice until Chino discovered speed) and ennui. The end result is a powerful album, the sound of a band falling apart.

Which is why listening to Deafheaven and Liturgy made me dig up my Deftones albums. Like Deafheaven, Deftones make pretty metal. Unlike Deafheaven and their black metal brethren, Deftones music isn't as alienating blatantly off-putting. Which makes for better music.

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