Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Deftones: Diamond Eyes (2010) Review

The Deftones released their latest today, Diamond Eyes. I listened to it twice, and formed a mediocre opinion of the album. Then I read another review, which confidently stated it was the best Deftones album yet. I thought I might be missing something. So I went back and listened to their entire catalog in chronological order, ending with a third listen to the new album.

On Adrenaline, they had a simple but elegant approach to nu metal, faintly tinged with industrial influences. But it was aggressive, particularly on songs like “7 Words” and “Engine No. 9”. With Around the Fur, they gave us their first hint of the direction they were ultimately headed, incorporating some more mellow songs (like “Mascara”) and some mellow passages in a few tracks. These mellow passages proved that metal didn’t just have to be aggressive, exciting, depressing, or scary—it could actually be sexy. (No one else has managed to do this, to my knowledge.) But they kept that aggressive streak intact throughout most of the album, and clearly matured as songwriters.

In 2000, they released their masterpiece, White Pony. The album expanded on those hints of sexy metal with excellent tracks like "Digital Bath" and the wildly popular "Change (In the House of Flies)". They were sexy tracks, but there was also a lot of tension, and there were still aggressive tracks like "Elite". White Pony was brilliant because the sound was completely unique, all the songs were varied, they went somewhere, and they evoked a variety of emotions, some of which don’t normally go together.

Their follow-up self-titled album appeared to be an attempt to combine the sound of White Pony with their earlier work, but it generally seems forced and uninspired. They tried to blend the mellow parts with the more aggressive parts instead of alternating, with the result that it seems flat. “Minerva” is a perfect example. There are a few good tracks on it, such as "When Girls Telephone Boys" and "Bloody Cape", but for the most part it’s uninteresting.

Things started looking up again with Saturday Night Wrist. "Beware" and "Kimdracula", for example, seem to capture that White Pony flavor by going back and forth between softer and harder-edged sections before finally building up to a heavy conclusion. It still isn’t a great album, but it’s very good. They tried to follow up on this improvement by beginning work on Eros, which is supposed to be the next White Pony (well, they weren’t going to call it the next Deftones, were they?). But when bassist Chi Cheng fell into a coma, Eros was put on hold indefinitely.

Enter Diamond Eyes, which the band has all-but-officially termed a stopgap release. Superficially, at least, all the elements of the Deftones post-Pony sound are there: Catchy, heavy guitar and bass riffs interspersed with mellow sections, the soulful, off-key singing and (to a much smaller extent) strained screaming of Chino Moreno, and a subtle backdrop of industrial atmospheric elements.

It opens with the title track, which is kind of a sad song--something new for the group--and it’s not too bad. It’s got very heavy parts, but the vocals are sad nearly the whole way through. The bad part is, though, that this sets the tone, vocally, for much of the album.

“You’ve Seen the Butcher” is the highlight of the album, with its extremely catchy riff and overall infectious, sexy groove. “Rocket Skates” is the other top track, with a cool, heavy verse, unusual vocal moves, and a bridge that’s the angriest part of the album. Other offerings, like "CMND/CTRL" and "Risk", have good parts, but seem less than fully realized. Most of the rest is just boring, though--especially "Sextape" and album closer "This Place Is Death".

It’s very difficult to pinpoint what’s not working here. But when you compare it to their earlier material the answer is clear. The Deftones are at their best when the verse has tension, the chorus aggressively releases that tension, and the track builds up to an even more aggressive conclusion. On Diamond Eyes, many of the tracks have good tension in the verses, but the choruses are wimpy, and there is no satisfying conclusion. The anticipation builds up, but there’s no release.

The Verdict: This is definitely a stopgap release. It has some good elements, and even a handful of good tracks, but overall it feels unfinished and way too whiny. Unless you’re an absolutely die-hard Deftones fan, you’d be better off waiting for Eros, if it ever comes out. I give Diamond Eyes 2 out of 5 stars.

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