Def To Nu-Metal
If you were of record buying age in 1994, chances are you were tired of grunge. Sure Transylvanian Hunger came out that year, but I was working in a record store at that time and clearly remember not being asked to special order a single copy of it. The metalheads in the know were buying Acid Bath, Kyuss, and Tiamat. When the first Korn album came out it was clearly something different. The Deftones might have engaged in some of the b-boy foolishness nu-metal quickly gave way to, but over the years that followed, they became the last nu-metal band standing. This was due to the fact they changed in their house of flies enough to remain relevant. But the definition of metal also changed. Today, they are considered thinking mans’ hard rock alongside bands like A Perfect Circle.
Deftones’ new album Gore is filled with a sense of nostalgia for the days of Adidas pants. The high brow art rock is dialed back for the kind of heaviness that drove frat boys crazy in the pit back in 1999. In short, I’m more convinced by their brand of heavy than I was by anything on the new Killswitch Engage. Sergio Vega from Quicksand continues to fill in on bass, making this his 3rd album with the band. The influence of his former band can be felt on some of the groove here. The time machine doesn’t take you right back to 1996, though; instead the album picks up where they left off on Koi No Yokan, with smooth, moody melodies that you’ve either signed on for already or not. Then, you have to make it through some very hypno-sexual trip-hop tinged atmospherics that drone like Mogwai at best, and at worst find Chino lost in a fey croon that sounds like something more fitting of My Chemical Romance or Coheed & Cambria. If you ever found yourself high on ecstasy in the mid 90’s and questioning your sexuality, then this might be reasonably tolerable to you.
Now we begin to get into the meat of the metal as the album takes a turn for the heavier with “Doomed User,” the second single. There is a riff on this one that has more in common with “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,” than any of Faith No More’s bastard mall metal children. At first “Geometric Headdress” fakes like they are taking a darker turn until the more chugged riff comes. Chino throws in some old screams, but at times if it wasn’t for the way the riff resolves itself that I would think this is an April Fool’s joke and someone slipped some Mudvayne in on me. More synths inhabit this album than I’ve heard the band use on previous albums, with weird Mr. Bungle-like noises bubbling under. When they do crunch in, the distortion is dirtier and rawer than anything since “Adrenaline”.
Drummer Abe Cunnigham has always been solid, but on this album he has lost his mind going at his kit with almost Danny Carey-level playing. This is proggier metal than I have ever heard these guys tackle with dips into noise freak outs before coming back in with a break beat like they are possessed by Aphex Twin for half the song. When it gets to the crunch of “Pittura Infamante,” you assume the Deftones have figured out that middle ground in metal no longer exists and it’s go harder or go home, even though the chorus makes use of more melodic vocals. This is done with grit that doesn’t come across as a stab to joining the second string of nu-metal offspring on the radio waves of white suburbia. Chino and the boys are off their meds as the album’s bi-polar streak finds them playing with alt-rock bordering on pop-punk when it comes to the song “Xenon.” I guess they are trying to prove to all the Myspace metal kids that have now grown up and got jobs at the mall that they can keep up. It wasn’t until the vocal melody in the final minute that I considered this could even be Chino singing.
On “(l)mirl” they impress me once again by bringing it heavier, even if it does have some of the glue sniffing nu-metal like aggression, but if it is going to happen this is the way to do it. I guess when they said this album was going to be more influenced by Morrissey they were joking, despite the more introspective vocals mixed into the title track’s more volatile turns.
Older and wiser, there is not the same youthful explosion in how the songs are propelled. Sometimes this album makes me feel like they are circling wagons of bands they influenced. A good example of this is how they close the album as “Rubicon” which sounds like a long lost System of a Down song mixed with some Candle Box. This necromantic attempt to resurrect nu-metal is done with convincing vigor leaving me a little mixed about the direction at times; if you were ever a fan of the band before and you traded your Coal Chamber shirt for a Behemoth hoodie, then this is worth a few minutes of your life. I get a little more conflicted with each listen, but the fact I’ve played more than once says something.