by Andy Lyons
Following a year and a half of touring in support of the platinum-selling album “White Pony,” Deftones took a two-month break before heading into the studio to produce their eponymous fourth album released 11 years ago.
“Deftones” was the last album produced by Terry Date, who had worked with the band since their first album, because of the ridiculous amount of time spent in the studio. They took considerable amounts of time to write and record music, and lacked material when they entered the studio. A few of the songs on the album were written while the group was in the studio.
Despite a total production time of 12 months and a bill of roughly $2.5 million (because the band was fined by label Maverick Records for missing deadlines), the group put together one of their heaviest and most memorable albums. The album, released May 20, 2003, entered the Billboard 200 at No. 2, sold 167,000 copies in its first week and remained in the Billboard top 100 for nine weeks supported by the first single, “Minerva.”
Reviews for the record were mainly positive, the heavy sound garnering praise for the originality while most of the “nu-metal” scene was dying out. Album reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote that “Hexagram,” the album’s first track, “hits hard – harder than they ever have, revealing how mushy Staind is, or how toothless Linkin Park is.”
Chino Moreno’s lyrics are some of the best on this album, even standing up against newer releases. He is rather well-known for the duality of a lot of the lyrics, and most songs on this album allow for multiple interpretations by the listener. He truly shows his range with his singing as well – the growls, high-pitched screams, and melodies are carried by the fact he had vocal lessons after damaging his vocal chords during the band’s 2001 summer tour.
Musically, the album is a lot heavier than “White Pony.” From the opening riff of “Hexagram,” the album is a heavy metal journey. The song sets the tone for the rest of the album with thundering bass hits to soft melodies. The song was the second single off the album, and the video was well received and had significant rotation on MTV’s “Headbanger’s Ball” and Fuse’s “Uranium.”
There is an abundance of distortion with guitarist Stephen Carpenter’s sound, with late bassist Chi Cheng picking up the role of the rhythm, most notably on the album’s fifth track, the mournful “Deathblow.” It doesn’t take away from the music; in fact, it makes it that much easier to get involved with. Cheng and drummer Abe Cunningham really bring the thunder with this bass-heavy album, especially with the visceral “When Girls Telephone Boys.”
The track features heavy distortion on Moreno’s vocals, which come off as an almost guttural scream. The drum work and guitars glue together what is probably the heaviest song in Deftones’ entire repertoire.
Band DJ Frank Delgado comes off the turntable and plays both the synthesizer and keyboards on the album, making synth-heavy “Lucky You” a song that gives listeners a brief reprieve from the assaulting sound of the rest of the album.
The group also used a grand piano and a toy piano with “Anniversary of an Uninteresting Event,” which is the slowest and most melodic on the album. The opening chords with thundering bass crashes give listeners an instant lump in the throat, and Moreno’s mournful tone brings the song home. It’s easily one of the most melancholy yet beautiful songs, and of course with large duality in the lyrics listeners can interpret the meaning of the song in a way that really personifies it.
Most of the songs on the album have a heavy feel, yet Moreno’s melodies make them songs any music lover can enjoy. Most notably is “Minerva,” the first single of the album. The soft touch of vocals and guitar slow the song down, yet the droning bass work keeps it feeling like it belongs on the album.
The album’s final track, “Moana,” has become the go-to “driving home from an awesome day” track in my musical library. From the opening guitar riff it’s a song that builds and builds until finally releasing with Moreno’s vocals into a masterpiece of a song that encompasses the entirety of the album.
Overall, “Deftones” is a really eclectic album. The songs span across a range of emotions and genres, giving testament to the band’s range. The musicianship and Moreno’s vocals are tuned together into a beautiful album. In an age where artists slap together junk songs around two or three singles, it’s refreshing to pick up an album like this one where every song could be one of those singles. Being the follow-up to their most commercially successful album, Deftones put on a masterful display of a band that would stand the test of time and still be producing albums 11 years later.