When it comes to that dreaded late ’90s alternative offshoot nu-metal, for every talented, hard working band, there were a dozen scrubs who thought gritty noise and mosh-ready grooves were all it took. Granted, plenty of these lesser bands succeeded in those turbulent days, but where are they now? The few that mattered – that had even the slightest chance at staying relevant after the great hipster shift – fitted only awkwardly into the genre to begin with.
But while nu-metal’s not making a comeback anytime soon, Deftones’ new album Diamond Eyes serves as a fitting bridge between the melodic, groove-heavy past, and today’s more thrashing, post-modern brand of metal. Deftones may have risked releasing a throwback album to a niche audience of now thirty-somethings who used to rock out to White Pony, but they’ve taken a chance with Diamond Eyes and the results are generally pretty damn good.
A bit of back-story is necessary, to understand where Chino Moreno and company are coming from. In November 2008, the band was nearly finished with Eros, their intended follow-up to 2006’s Saturday Night Wrist. But a brutal car accident put bassist Chi Cheng in the hospital (where he remains, comatose). Unwilling to finish the recording without him, and admitting that the music on Eros wasn’t representative of their intentions, Deftones shelved the album, opting to start from scratch with Sergio Vega filling in on bass.
Diamond Eyes is a brutal album, thick with Stephen Carpenter’s stutter-stop guitar crunch, a frantically interlocking rhythm section, and Moreno’s alternating velvet tenor and nails-on-chalkboard screaming. Indeed, in their nearly 20 years together, Deftones have never been heavier or, in contrast, more melodic than they are today.
The album opens with the epic Diamond Eyes, on which Moreno croons, “Time will see us realign. Diamonds rain across the sky. Shower me into the same realm,” over an almost orchestral swell of guitar fuzz. Things saunter along in the standard mid-tempo lope until the shatteringly adept outro groove that leads into the decidedly more biting Royal, and the instant Deftones classic CMND/CTRL.
There’s an unnerving coldness and violence to the album, embodied in tracks like You’ve Seen The Butcher, 976-EVIL, and This Place Is Death. But there are also impressively introspective and sweeping melodic moments that hint at a deeper songwriting ability. Sextape, for instance, opens with delay-heavy guitar and keyboard interplay, and culminates with a celestial hook that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an Incubus album.
The single Rocket Skates provides a picture window into the album as a whole. The riff is edged with sharp teeth, and the verses are enveloped in thick reverb. But it’s the “Guns! Razors! Knives!” refrain that pushes things past the limits, Moreno’s scream reaching larynx-popping levels.
In all, Diamond Eyes is an impressive offering from a mainstay band whose time should have already come and gone. Deftones make a convincing case for their form, but we’ve got to wonder what Eros may have sounded like – and if it’ll ever be completed.