Who needs innovation when you’ve got art, aggression, intelligence and melody?
How does an act get tagged ‘the metal Radiohead’? Innovate and challenge at every turn? Inspire a generation with songs that appear to have been given their titles by a cat walking across a caps-locked keyboard? Ditch the tunes? Besides the last – and tunes are still something of an eccentricity in some metal circles – Sacramento’s Deftones live up to the billing.
Over 20 years and eight albums, Chino Moreno and his fellow Deftones have forged new paths
in experimental hardcore, embracing trip hop, electronica, gothic and dream pop. The question is: how much innovation can metal take? This is a genre whose fundamental tenets of brutal riffs, animalistic wailing and chunder-singing have been writ in stone for nigh on 45 years. With ‘Gore’, Deftones seem to have reached the outer borders of the form and stopped pushing – bassist Sergio Vega claims that their major attempt at sonic evolution this time around was him playing a six-string bass. Hardly a rulebook bonfire.
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There are touches of heady atmospherics on the entrancing ‘Hearts/Wires’ and ‘Prayers/Triangles’, and the otherwise pleasant trip of ‘Acid Hologram’ features the Babadook grunting the middle eight. But on the whole, ‘Gore’ finds Deftones sticking to the relatively safe ground of mathsy metal full of supernatural imagery and obtuse, howl-veiled anti-establishment rhetoric.
It’s the sort of loosely structured experimentalism they’re masters of and Moreno is in his element: ‘Doomed User’, ‘Pittura Infamante’ and ‘Geometric Headdress’ find him exploring dislocated vocal lines like a metal Morrissey, singing along to the riffs his band aren’t playing. There are also screaming episodes in the title track where you’re surprised no one took him down with a tranquiliser gun as he tried to chew his way out through the studio walls.
Largely flirting with conformity from a distance, ‘Gore’ really comes into its own in the latter half, when Deftones open the silo doors on their buried missiles of epic melody. ‘Xenon’ has Moreno singing about “lions at the gate” with an arena-rock sensibility; ‘(L)MIRL’ sounds like a U2 canyon ballad crossed with something depressing by The Cure; and the plush ‘Phantom Bride’ features Alice In Chains’ Jerry Cantrell giving it his best widdling-into-the-wind-machine solo.
Art, aggression, intelligence and melody – they might have final found their limits, but Deftones continue to refine.