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Ranking Every Deftones Album From Worst to Best

on June 06, 2019, 4:39pm
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05. Saturday Night Wrist (2006)

Deftones - Saturday Night Wrist

Back to School of Thought: By this point, the friction between Chino Moreno and his bandmates was at an all-time high, thanks to Moreno’s then habit of not finishing things, a tendency that dramatically impeded forward progress on Saturday Night Wrist. Moreno would go as far as to forego working with producer Bob Ezrin, opting instead to record his parts separately from the rest of the band.

Upon the album’s release, Stephen Carpenter and the late Chi Cheng were so open about their residual frustration with Moreno that the public swipes they took at him were nearly as entertaining as the album itself. We also got Moreno’s retort, right there on album opener “Hole in the Earth”, where the dejected singer voices his feelings of betrayal and laments how his bandmates were once his friends.

Strangely, Saturday Night Wrist hardly sounds like a portrait of a band falling apart. In drastic contrast to its far gloomier self-titled predecessor, several of the songs on Saturday Night Wrist have a looser, brighter — even upbeat — disposition, while the band at least sounds unified venturing further from its established sound than it has on any record before or since.

If hearing Deftones push guitars to the background in favor of synths and melodies isn’t your idea of a good time, this isn’t the album for you, but Ezrin’s fresh perspective was arguably just what the doctor ordered: the tribulations behind Saturday Night Wrist would help the band reconcile its internal differences and galvanize Moreno’s follow-through reflex as he entered a prolific period juggling Deftones output with side projects like Crosses and Palms.

In the House of Fly: “Cherry Waves” portrays a band that could be as melodic and dreamy as it wanted to be without compromising its edge. Don’t let the sweet melody or wide-open feel fool you: the mix on “Cherry Waves” overflows with detail, with its walking bassline; its trills of clean guitar echoing as if over a vast valley; and its sound effects drenched in reverb. As accessible as it might be, “Cherry Waves” is precisely the kind of impressionistic work that sets Deftones apart as artists.

Be Quiet for Now: If the pacing of Saturday Night Wrist benefits from an instrumental respite, it’s nevertheless a bit too easy to envision “U,U,D,D,L,R,L,R,A,B,Select,Start” as a Team Sleep throwaway that Moreno didn’t bother to supply with vocals. — Saby Reyes-Kulkarni

04. Deftones (2003)

Deftones - Deftones

Back to School of Thought: Deftones responded to the career-defining impact of White Pony by showcasing their ever-increasing appetite for atmospheres — no surprise given that White Pony had basically shattered the nu metal mold and cemented the band’s place in the new millennium’s alterna-metal zeitgeist. In a number of ways, Deftones’ self-titled fourth album establishes that this was not a band that was going to be content cranking out the same old formula with each offering, and Deftones is undeniably the most lavishly textured work of the band’s catalog up to this point. Tunes like “Deathblow”, “Lucky You”, and “Anniversary of an Uninteresting Event” expand on the spaciousness of the glitchy White Pony love song “Teenager” — only the giddy zest for life is replaced with claustrophobic gloom.

Meanwhile, if he hadn’t already proved it, DJ/sampler/keyboardist Frank Delgado shows here how indispensable his discreet touch had become to the band’s sound, somehow managing to weave a fabric of eerie harmony into the lumbering density of mid-tempo cuts like “Needles and Pins”, “When Girls Telephone Boys”, “Good Morning Beautiful”, and pretty much everything else. Even when the band is as heavy — and heavy-handed — as it can be, Deftones arguably qualifies as gothic in its mood and baroque in its ornate detail.

Simultaneously, though, the album documents the band running head-first into its own limits, signaling that a change would be necessary to sustain the momentum of its winning streak. If Deftones were going to achieve the longevity they were clearly after, they would have to rely less on lead-footed riffs.

In the House of Fly: Appearances to the contrary, it isn’t always accurate to attribute the band’s metallic edge to Stephen Carpenter and its eccentricities to Chino Moreno. Either way, on “Battle-Axe”, Carpenter and Moreno meet right smack in the middle ground between those two poles, with both contributing to a symphony of guitar parts so enormous and majestic the song practically engulfs your ears in a lashing sea of distortion as mournful harmonics ring out like ocean spray. Listen closely and you can hear Delgado lurking, an unseen yet powerful presence 20,000 leagues below the raging surface.

Be Quiet for Now: Although this album contains several elements that recall ideas from White Pony, the band adds just enough new flavor to avoid repeating itself outright — except, perhaps, on ”Bloody Cape”, which falls uncomfortably close to the White Pony cut “Knife Prty.” Because “Bloody Cape” more than adequately captures the band’s primary attributes, it would make for a fitting introduction to the uninitiated if not for the fact that “Knife Prty” was already out there. — Saby Reyes-Kulkarni

03. Diamond Eyes (2010)

Deftones - Diamond Eyes

Back to School of Thought: Deftones turned tragedy into triumph when they made 2010’s Diamond Eyes. The band had been fragmented since the tumultuous recording of White Pony, recording parts at a distance for a planned sixth album, Eros. That all changed when bassist Chi Cheng was involved in a severe car accident on November 4, 2008, which left him semi-comatose. He would never recover and passed away in 2013.

The band shelved Eros and, rather than fading away, recruited former Quicksand bassist Sergio Vega to take Cheng’s stead. The group rallied, writing as a unit for the first time in years, and produced Diamond Eyes, possibly their tightest and most immediate collection of songs, not to mention their most optimistic.

Revitalized by working in a room together, the band worked on the album over two months in Los Angeles with producer Nick Raskulinecz, then catching fire after recording Alice in Chains’ comeback triumph Black Gives Way to Blue. Even without the use of ProTools, Raskulinecz captured a clean, almost antiseptic performance from the band, who heretofore had been thicker and hazier than their peers.

The results speak for themselves: Diamond Eyes sounds like a Greatest Hits record compiled from albums we’ve never heard. It’s a collection of powerful singles, from the almost operatic title track to live staple “Rocket Skates”, Vega immediately proved himself indispensable to the group — his fat bass riff in “You’ve Seen the Butcher” is a particular highlight.

In the House of Fly: After years of finding ways to bury Stephen Carpenter’s more metallic tendencies, Deftones based live staple “Rocket Skates” entirely around a riff that sounds like a revving engine. Overtop the groove, Chino uses every vocal tool at his disposal with charismatic aplomb: sexual crooning, a little rapping braggadocio, and throat-splitting Frye screams during the chorus. It’s everything right in the Deftones discography delivered in four minutes.

Be Quiet for Now: Clocking in at just over 40 minutes, Diamond Eyes is the shortest Deftones LP, and, accordingly, there’s not a lot of fat on it. Still, closing track “This Place is Death” could have been left as a B-side. Musically, it explores many of the same ideas as the remainder of the album — churning grooves offset with jubilant vocals — without adding a twist. It’s a good song by a consistent band, but its direct predecessor, “967-EVIL” does the sexual-climax-as-album-climax thing with more drama. — Joseph Schafer

02. Around the Fur (1997)

Deftones - Around the Fur

Back to School of Thought: Coming off the release of their debut LP, Around the Fur stands out as one of the strongest records by Deftones. While the band continued to play to a heavy-leaning style, Around the Fur contained much more diversity in style and song structure. The record also represents one of the band’s first steps in establishing their identity.

In “Lhabia”, Chino’s ghostly singing offers an ethereal touch to the instrumental intensity during the chorus; the energetic drum beat captures a grungier approach to his muted vocal work. The record also displays the band exploring more areas of sound, such as the chilling minimalism in “Mascara” and the slower drawl in that of “Dai the Flu”.

“My Own Summer (Shove It)” showcases of the earliest examples of the band’s iconic sound. Other than when Chino is screaming, it’s fascinating to hear how well his voice works with the shifting tone and style; when he’s whispering, his voice never gets lost in the instrumentals, and his singing works wonderfully with the rising instrumentation.

And as a whole, rather than the record primarily offering aggression like the previous LP, there’s a lot more emotion to take away throughout Around the Fur. Even as a sophomore record, one can pick up on the maturity in the band’s craft, and the album has remained one of the most innovative and memorable works by Deftones.

In the House of Fly: Looking at how Deftones have continued to push their sound, “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away) is a stunning example of why the band is so fascinating. There’s this fantastic emotional result with the vocal’s playing off the harshness of the instrumentation; the chemistry here isn’t that they are necessarily working together, but that by contrasting one another they exude emotion. The balance in somber feeling and heaviness makes “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)” the record’s standout track.

Be Quiet for Now: To be clear, by no means is the title track “Around the Fur” bad, but among the other songs, it is the least memorable. Where other tracks offer more of a range in substance, either drastically playing around with structure or tempo, the song keeps the momentum somewhat to the point. Other than a brief haunting sequence towards the end, the track never expands into anything that offers the listener something new. — Michael Pementel

01. White Pony (2000)

Deftones - White Pony

Back to School of Thought: When the four writers of this list got together to determine these rankings, White Pony received unanimous first-place votes. Deftones have yet to release anything less than a good record, but this one transcends time and place. Perhaps no other album from the nu metal canon embraced the style’s wild fusion of genres while discarding what does not work.

Nu metal long harbored a not-so-secret affinity for the sophisticated pop music of the ’80s, but Deftones solidified that link in 2000. On White Pony, Deftones tossed out most of the overt references to hip hop while maintaining boom-bap drum patterns. Instead, the band reaches back through the chrome-plated grunge of Failure and Hum and embraces the melancholic art rock spirit of Talk Talk and The Cure. Songs like “Digital Bath” moan with the same romance and desperation as songs from Crowded House.

With that added melody came a more mature emotional bent. White Pony dismisses nu metal’s adolescent angst in favor of sexual yearning and existential dread. In these songs, Moreno touches on the human condition with poetic lyrics and a focus on singing.

Deftones composed White Pony once again with producer Terry Date over the better part of a year, fine-tuning every aspect of its sound. The addition of Frank Delgado as full-time keyboardist, as well as Moreno’s first shoegaze-ish guitar compositions further diversified the band’s sonic pallet. Moreno and Carpenter often clashed while writing the record, and the compromise between the former’s mellowness and the latter’s heavy chugging guitars form the core of the band’s sound from hereafter.

The result was the band’s most cohesive record, one which sets a tone early, then mutates it in subtle but logical ways. Even Maverick Records’ later addition of “Back to School – Mini Maggit”, against the band’s wishes, created a pair of thematic bookends with closing track “Pink Maggit.” In fact, Chino once called White Pony a “cocaine concept album”, though its narrative is inscrutable.

If all that sounds highfalutin for the turn of the millennium, it was. White Pony moved over 1 million units in the US, remarkable numbers by today’s standards but paltry in the age of Linkin Park. Still, “Change (In the House of Flies)” hit #3 on the Billboard alternative singles chart and #9 on the mainstream singles chart. “Elite” later won the band their sole Grammy for Best Metal Performance.

In the House of Fly: On a record so filled with great and distinct songs it feels disingenuous to call the lead single the best song, but “Change (In the House of Flies)” defines the mood of White Pony and maybe the band’s whole career. The band largely improvised the song before writing the rest of the album — curiously they placed it late — thickening the moody attack of “Be Quiet and Drive”, while sneakily playing in odd time. Moreno’s at his peak on this song, taciturn and cruel while alluding to Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” and David Cronenberg’s The Fly in a song fit for Sacramento strip clubs.

Be Quiet for Now: Most of the songs on White Pony serve a dual purpose  — they function as excellent songs in their own right and also serve the downward trajectory of the record’s drug-binge decomposition. Only “Korea” works better as a standalone song than part of the track listing. Heavier and more atonal than anything else on the record, it’s unquestionably Stephen Carpenter’s big moment, but it doesn’t fit between “Knife Prty” and “Passenger.” B-side “Boys Republic” better suits the album’s melancholy excesses. — Joseph Schafer

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