Deftones – ‘Ohms’ review: filthy metal anthems packing serious emotional clout

The band's reunion with producer Terry Date results in an album that's as thrilling – and as emotional – as they have ever sounded

The last time Deftones worked with producer Terry Date – the man who helmed the desk for the Sacramento band’s classic first four albums – was in 2008. That record was called ‘Eros’. You’ve never heard it. Work was aborted on the record in November that year, following a car accident that left bassist Chi Cheng in a coma – one from which he never woke. He died of cardiac arrest in April 2013, aged 42.

It’s likely that entering Date’s studio once more was both painful and cathartic for the Deftones surviving members. While it’s not explicit at all – lyricist Chino Moreno has rarely signposted what on earth it is he’s singing about – you can feel both pain and catharsis all through Deftones’ ninth studio album. It’s heavy stuff, both sonically and in emotional clout. There’s something many forget about heavy music. Sabbath, Metallica, Slayer and beyond; it’s all heavy fucking metal. But sometimes emotions – we’re thinking New York synth punk pioneers Suicide or the tinnitus-inducing My Bloody Valentine – can be heavier than any barre chord.

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That said, it’s been a while since Deftones have leant into the latter word within the descriptor ‘alternative metal’. As long ago as 2017, Moreno said that – after the no wave of 2016’s excellent ‘Gore’, a record as pretty as it was noisy – this time around he’d be stepping back from the songwriting to give guitarist Stephen Carpenter and drummer Abe Cunningham more room in which to create. It’s true that much of Deftones’ magic comes from the friction of Moreno and Carpenter’s creative minds butting up together. Someone once described the singer as the Morrissey to the guitarist’s Meshuggah. And yet it is wonderful to once again hear a Deftones record as heavy as molten lead, as furious as an enraged honey badger.

There’s still grace here; sequenced mid-album, ‘Pompeji’, wafts as much as it roars and features a crooned Moreno vocal that ranks among his very best (as well as, bizarrely, a sample of squawking seagulls atop glacial synths). But there is a significant quota of filth here too. Atop a guitar line that could only be transcribed by a certified lunatic, ‘This Link Is Dead’ features the kind of vocal that lozenges were invented for. As well as hosting the sort of central melodic refrain any band would kneecap a grandparent for, ‘Ceremony’ has a guitar part that is pneumatically pulverizing.

All of this means ‘Ohms’ is a very 2020 sort of album. This isn’t a year in which beauty makes all that much sense. These songs are as ugly as the news. As disfigured as the environment. As barren as the hope felt by the majority of the world’s inhabitants. Again, Moreno might as well be singing about what breed of guinea pig is the best, such is the obliqueness of the record’s words, but there’s truth here, amplified louder than perhaps ever before. ‘Error’ sounds much like the Sonic Youth songs explicitly created to upset people. Elsewhere, ‘Radiant City’, its stuttering riff as dirty as a bus station toilet, could have ignited a rock club’s dancefloor back in 1997.

And yet, for the largest part, 20 years on from the nu-metal boom which blasted Deftones to prominence, their categorisation within that scene seems more and more befuddling. This is music that would send the members of Papa Roach into an aneurysm. These are sounds that Limp Bizkit’s Wes Borland – a man who has been held hostage in the aforementioned band for decades now – has been searching for all his career. All credit has to go to the band for always looking forward, never dwelling in the present, rarely looking to the past. There’s a reason the skeletal form of ‘Eros’ has never had flesh hung upon it, and it’s not just how painful revisitation might be.

One imagines that the first day back in the studio with Terry Date might have been painful. It might have been cathartic. But what it seems to have done is give the band an attuned ear to the world. A platform to express rage they’ve never done before and to further solidify their status as the most interesting heavy metal band in the world.

Details

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  • Release date: September 25
  • Record label: Reprise Records
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