Dear potential future employers: I have no interest in writing about music professionally. This post is a rare deviation from my devotion to political writing. It’s less an album review and more of a reaction to my favorite band’s new album.
I believe strongly in the notion that you can learn a lot about an album and a band by its song titles and album covers. How do Deftones come up with theirs? They write the instrumentals to a song, Chino listens to those and starts singing over them with words that come to his mind as hears the music, and then picks a title based on the vibe of the combination of the lyrics and instrumentals. On Gore, Deftones’ eighth album, you won’t hear most of the song titles as lyrics in the songs themselves. That might sound a bit pretentious, but it’s so goddamn perfect for Deftones and for this record – because they pull it off so well.
Why Gore’s album cover? While Chino was listening to the album, a bunch of colors came to mind. “I think it sits somewhere between pink, red and purple. Sometimes when I hear music, I see color, and when it came time to work on the artwork for this batch of songs, I knew exactly what I wanted,” he told Kerrang!. The idea was to juxtapose the beauty of nature with a brutal, provocative sounding album title. It worked: The song titles and the album cover and title are perfect representations of the actual music, “to paint what’s inside the songs,” as Chino told Noisey. Although each new Deftones album is always fresh, they do indeed have a loose formula: contrasting between Steph’s fierce guitar riffs and Chino’s alluring vocals that “weave through the chaos” as the Boston Globe put it. Gore accomplishes this form of seduction without seeming repetitive. Cue me referring to Deftones as “the Aston Martin of music” from now on.
A lot of old-school Deftones fans – the alt-metal lovers for whom experimentation, a la 2006’s Saturday Night Wrist, isn’t very inspiring – aren’t digging the new shit. But I’d argue that Gore is the most Deftones thing ever. They always push the boundaries of what can be popular. And that’s precisely why I adore them so much. Sure, as some bands get older, they tend to lose their spark or repeat what they’ve already done. The result is really boring, overproduced (in a bad way), uninspiring music. Deftones has done the opposite. As shown by their last three albums, their seemingly limitless creativity and innovation are still operating at peak levels, now even 21 years after their first album. Their live shows are still fucking amazing. In a genre that many people think is dying, Gore, described by Pitchfork as “the most texturally luscious Deftones record yet” due to sound manipulator Frank Delgado, is one piece of evidence to the contrary.
The accurately dubbed “Geometic Headdress,” with exciting screams and “bugged out” time signatures, “Pittura Infamante,” whose bridge and “liquid-mercury riffs” are some of my favorite parts of the album, and “Rubicon,” undoubtedly the strongest finish to a Deftones record and a fun addition to their live sets, are the best representatives of the complexity and depth of Gore. It’s interesting to note – because I would never expect this – that “Rubicon” is the second song in Deftones’ catalogue in which Chino sings, “and the crowd goes wild” (see 2003’s “Hexagram“). One could say that this shows repetition and lack of creativity, but that strikes me as nitpicky considering how well the lyric fits the song.
The straight-to-the-point brutal second single, “Doomed User,” is the only track to which you’ll respond, “This is metal as fuck,” and I fucking love everything about it. Similarly the title track, “Gore,” has the brooding riffs and the ominous sounding verses. The never-ending ending is a real punch. While it took me a while to get into the lead track and first single, “Prayers/Triangles,” I’ve really come to appreciate it as it accurately sets the tone for the record, contrasting between Chino’s deft vocals and Steph’s brooding riffs in the chorus while showcasing Sergio’s “gorey” basslines. Metal Injection‘s solid review put it best: “The piece’s radio rock pandering pace at first appeared lackluster, but with further listens, I found the luminous verse and chorus structure to be catchy and understandable towards why the track was met with open arms.”
Gore is the first Deftones album with a traditional guitar solo, and it’s not even performed by their own guitarist. They had a gap in “Phantom Bride,” so they hit up Alice In Chains legend Jerry Cantrell to fill the void. Frankly the solo is a bit awkward at first simply because it’s Deftones, but Jerry’s work fits really well with the rest of the track and offers a brilliant contrast (see a pattern here?) to Steph’s heavy guitars in the final minute. It’s perhaps the most beautiful track on the album.
The intros to “Hearts/Wires” and “(L)MIRL” are all post-metal dreamy. Sit with ‘em for a while. While the former displays the band’s songwriting ability and its brighter and cleaner tones, the latter delves into the darker, heavier elements with Steph’s deep riffs and Sergio’s shoegazey bass. “Xenon,” a slow, catchy jam, opens with some cool guitar work that sounds like a modern take on a classic metal riff, an influence unheard in previous Deftones albums. For a reason I can’t yet identify, “Acid Hologram,” the second track, has been the most difficult to get into. While its verses don’t do a whole lot for me, I’ve definitely been seduced by the chorus and the techy transition to “Doomer User.” It’s like the Derek Jeter to your Alex Rodriguez. (I actually spend a lot of time thinking about how bands organize songs on a record in a way that’s not too different from how baseball managers create a batting order.)
I spent the first quarter of 2016 awaiting Gore like a dog at the dinner table. After listening to almost nothing else – I like Filter’s new album – since it came out last Friday, Gore has officially sunk in with me. Deftones, perhaps “the most interesting and esoteric thing the radio-festival circuit might dare touch” as Spin put it, does this thing with each new album of challenging your musical interests and ever so seductively pulling you out of your comfort zone of what you like. Gore has stimulated my thoughts and my emotions and my feelings in ways that only better writers than I could articulate. The best example of which is Metal Injection‘s review:
The mid-tempo pace and soft edge that encompasses the almost entirety of Gore provides for a less instant gratification. Instead, we see a focus shift to nuance and detail. In the end, the space rock atmospheres and subtle melodies are evidence of the group’s ongoing admirable evolution.
Gore captures the inimitable essence of the band: the thing that makes people reference them when discussing Deafheaven, Sigur Ros’ Kveikur or basically any heavy rock album that strives to be prettier than its peers or vice versa, a truly new metal that’s sensual without resorting to shoegaze tropes, aggressive and unconventionally freaky in a way that never suggests predation or regressive machismo. Synaesthetically speaking, it’s a smear of pink, purple and black, a kiss that bites down on your lip to draw blood. By no means did Deftones invent the idea of combining brutality and beauty in metal, although they were definitely at least a decade ahead of the curve on covering Sade. Nothing short of a name change will likely convince skeptics at this point, but Gore proves that Deftones can remain vital as they are relevant, if they don’t kill each other first.
Update: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that none of song titles are lyrics in the songs themselves. Of course, Chino does sing the word “gore” on “Gore” and the words, though separately, “prayers” and “triangles” on “Prayers/Triangles” and the words, though separately, “heart” and “wire” on “Hearts/Wires.” Thanks to commenter d1sposition for the note.