Deftones – Ohms – Album Review

Deftones are maybe the only band of their scene and era not to be punished by time. Things go out of fashion, and nu-metal took a dive in the early to mid-noughties when everybody collectively got sick of traipsing the same old ground. That’s true of both fan and artist.

Angst was out. As lots of outfits migrated the genre, Deftones, unconcerned with the trends of the day, decided to try and expand perception of what it all could be. Like mad scientists they released record after record, experimenting evermore haphazardly, but never losing touch with what blew up their name. That’s a tightrope of a job, but it looks easier with every fresh (operative word) release. Nu-metal in the mud or not, I think we’d have always arrived here.

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This is why there’s no albatross; Chino Moreno, Abe Cunningham and Stephen Carpenter are just the epitome of that sound at their base level. It just so happens they showed up on cue. The ‘Radiohead of metal’ critics said.. .but they deserve so much more than comparison. They’re completely their own beast. Ohms is the latest of these experiments, and their first in four years.

Though submerged, Chino’s vocals on opening track ‘Genesis’ do not lack power. He wails of rebirth through the watery production, of taking matters into his own hands, of “BALANCE!” (with a hint of Billy Corgan), and the dissonant riffing is stomper material. We’re in for an ugly ride. Just as I make this observation, ‘Ceremony’ plinks into life. My assessment is safe, when it decides to encase itself in a tomb of drums to jump around and scream at walls. The chorus of “It’s an illusion, it’s all an illusion” is tearing its hair out in handfuls.

The vocal melodies of ‘Urantia’s verses owe a sum to goth, but the frankly serrated guitar work keeps it from pastiche. It culminates in this huge refrain, that sounds as  if Fuck’s ‘Laundry Shop’ had been written by a possibly alcoholic, definitely sycophantic, deranged poet type.

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Screeching feedback grinds to a halt as the sludge of ‘Error’ takes hold. It’s at this point in the record that I begin to understand the aesthetic; the melancholic mind, gasping at hope, trying to keep its head above the surge of sonic filth. Somebody who cannot help themselves, but not for lack of trying. This is all but confirmed by self-destructive love song ‘The Spell of Mathematics’: “The snakes come pouring out of your heart, and you know that I can’t deny them / So I sink inside where we writhe and create that feeling that pangs my time with you”.

‘Pompeji’ takes some Pixies in the recipe with the whole loud/quiet/loud dynamic. There’s the caw of seagulls in the verse mix, as if you’re to even slightly forget you’re between the most venomous choruses on the whole LP and sit down for a breather. The final minute, gift-wrapped into follow up ‘This Link Is Dead’ has the air of Angelo Badalamenti’s ‘Laura Palmer’s Theme’… unnervingly sympathetic. This is until Chino starts up after a lozenge or two: “And I feel like fire, but my heart is cold / Open your eyes, you’ll see this shit’s no fun”.

Bassist Sergio Vega sets pace on ‘Radiant City’, and Steph Carpenter’s raucous guitar is hot on his tail. When both parts sync, that groove is merciless. Try escaping without a little head-bang, I dare you. ‘Headless’ beckons you over to see your old friends. Chugging strings that become grisly bends, firecracker snare, stalking vocal – the whole gang’s here. Seriously, come on, here’s Saturday Night Wrist! Koi No Yokan‘s at the bar! I know it’s a lazy angle, but this could well be the most on-brand song they’ve recorded. I imagine some will see it as a weak spot and I get it, but it still works for me.

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It’s title track time, and closer ‘Ohms’ is a shot in the arm. It’s produced beautifully; everything sounds crisp and balanced, and hearing the group do their thing in major key isn’t as bizarre as you’d expect, following nine tracks of doom under the microscope. It might get past you once, but never again. As a single, I liked it. In full context, it blew me away, and that’s because the sequencing of Ohms as an album is phenomenal.

This being said, going track by track was no easy feat. Deftones meticulously explore every nook and cranny of an idea or sound before advancing. It’s like they write albums outright, as opposed to writing songs before compiling into order, and the slick transitions from one song into the next further that theory. I know they aren’t doing that, but Christ is it impressive to believe, even for a second. Here’s something so complete, so cinematic in execution, that you wonder where pen could’ve hit paper first.

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This LP is the perfect intersection of the band’s two fan favourite sounds: the crushing guitar/smooth vocal delivery ‘one-two’ that defined White Pony‘s era, and the more delicate and systematic approach of a project like 2016’s Gore.

It’s measured madness, and I love it. That’s right, as if 2020 wasn’t wild enough, we managed to get a new and interesting sound out of a genre that once championed the backwards cap man, or the scary boiler suit lot (I say this, but the first two Slipknot albums are holy).

Deftones swished it. Again. Expect severity, expect intensity… and in between, an affair with serenity.

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