It has taken five long years for the Deftones to return to full strength. From the band’s stunning high point of the unorthodox dub-like grooves of 2007’s Saturday Night Wrist, the California group suffered the loss of bassist Chi Cheng in a car crash that today finds him trapped in a semi-conscious state.
They shelved an album’s worth of material called Eros shortly afterwards. They parted ways with legendary producer Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd’s The Wall) and called in Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters). They signed former Quicksand bassist Sergio Vega and recorded their unremarkable 2010 rebound album Diamond Eyes. But on Koi No Yakon their old magic returns with a vengeance.
The quintet waste little time pussyfooting around as they get out of the blocks quickly with the thunderous riffs of Swerve City butting up against the double-time drumming of Abe Cunningham. And two minutes 45 seconds later the idiosyncratic metalheads encapsulate their entire back catalogue – balls to the wall rock combining with Chino Moreno’s obtuse lyrics about ponies – while rounding it all off by the woozy, screwed basslines of Vega. But when they slide into Romantic Dreams the lights go down and the tempo falls off as Stephen Carpenter’s brutally economical two-note guitar riff powers the song into a deceptively hypnotic dirge. Martin Hannett eat your heart out.
The Joy Division producer’s mantra of playing slower faster has certainly paid off for the Deftones on their seventh album. They employ the technique to devastating effect on Leathers as Cunningham manages to barrel the tune along at a tense half-speed while Vega and Carpenter lay down the staccato guitar attack to create a hauntingly nostalgic feel. Keep going and Poltergeist gets even spookier with the sparse, hip-hop-like spliced handclap sample from Frank Delgado making way for a buzzsaw bassline and Chino getting shouty in a cloud of echoes. But rather then follow it by unleashing yet another monster of a track they kick back with the placid ballad of Entombed.
What sets the songs of Koi No Yakon (apparently an untranslatable Japanese expression for the moment when two people have a premonition of falling in love) apart from their previous discs is the unflinching cohesion. There are no solos. The intros and outros are minimal, organic and surprisingly effective. And the deadly lockstep that the drum-bass or guitar-bass combos unleash at a moment’s notice make the super-sized riffs just plain sick. But when they want to let it hang out and dirty up the sound they drop a tune like Gauze with its rumbling back-to-basics deathpunk bass and slashing guitar that thumbs its nose at studio trickery.
This increased sophistication and hard-earned maturity of their songwriting helps the album transcend being just 11 good songs. Instead, it’s an adventurous, seductive and plush exploration of the depths of progressive and popular metal. Turning up the volume also helps explore the subtle sonic touches lurking in Delgado’s often oceanic sampled backgrounds. But more than that, it demands anyone interested in the art of building deft riffs and maintaining melodies check out Rosemary for one of the nastiest licks put to wax in 2012. It jumps out of nowhere, lasts less than 40 seconds and uses only four notes – but it will do your head in. Aren’t you glad the boys are back?