Nu metal always seemed like a dead end, whether it was the bludgeoning guitar riffs that seemingly never varied or the dark and aggressive lyrics that went anything more than skin deep. The likes of Limp Bizkit, Static-X and Papa Roach have had varying degrees of success and fallout since their breakthrough in the mid ’90s but the genre is more of a joke than a memorable moment in rock music. But the way other nu metal peers have survived is weeding out as much nu metal in their sounds as possible: Linkin Park hooked up with Rick Rubin to dabble in electronica and Korn dipped their toes in dubstep. The band that seems to have advanced their sound (and distanced themselves from nu metal) the most is Deftones. Mixing romanticized lyrics and swirling electronics with the typical pummeling beats and downtuned guitars, Deftones sound has been progressively expanding since 2000’s White Pony and culminating with 2012’s outstanding Koi No Yokan. Four years later, they’re back to business as usual and they’re all the better for it.
Gore is another superb balance where spacey electronics, crushing guitar riffs and frontman Chino Moreno’s towering vocals interweave into some of the heaviest alternative rock released this year. Tracks like “Geometric Headdress,” “Doomed User” and lead single “Prayers/Triangles” are for the head banging crowd with crunching guitar riffs and drummer Abe Cunningham sounding like he’s trying to break through the skins of his kit. The fury and passion the band has for the music comes through in nearly every track, but Deftones are smart enough to space out the breaks between the build and assault of the instruments. “Phantom Bride” has verses with guitars picking strings and Moreno’s aching vocals, but the chorus is when the whole band comes out sounding like they’re trying to put their fists through the wall. But this wouldn’t be a Deftones record without some dips in spacey atmosphere as heard on “Hearts/Wires.” It’s the longest song on the album (five minutes and 21 seconds) but it’s hard to notice since one gets lost in the sweeping atmosphere and impressive rhythm section. While a lot of the electronics that made Koi No Yokan so engrossing is missing on Gore, the band makes up for it with more brute force tracks like “Phantom Bride” (it’s expected on that track in particular thanks to additional guitars from Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains). The sound force is perhaps a release and tribute to late bassist Chi Cheng, who died in 2013.
Moreno’s lyrics are as mythic and beyond his peers as they ever been. Opening track “Prayers/Triangles” seems to be a play on a torrid love affair where “prayers, laid on the line” and “triangles, placed in your mind” trap the pair from seeing the error of their ways. Moreno doesn’t seemed bothered by it with “(L)MIRL” (“I don’t miss you/I don’t care where you are now/You’re a ghost to me/Left with my taste in your mouth”). His romanticism is still on Robert Smith levels of gothic as on “Hearts/Wires” where he wants to “dine on your heart” after cutting through razor wire or on “Rubicon” where “your body it aches to be draped in our delight slowly.” It’s like if a hopeless romantic was a fan of the Saw franchise. To Moreno’s credit, it’s miles ahead of Fred Durst’s wordplay about being a chainsaw. Moreno has always had his heart on his sleeve, but how he describes is interesting and occasionally impressive.
While Gore lacks the near-perfect balance of electronics and guitar power of their previous record, it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the album. It’s still a modern-Deftones album, but also sounds a bit back-to-basics with a greater focus on being a heavy rock band than an alternative rock band. They’re 25-veterans and while their nu metal peers have trouble shaking off the curse of the now-deceased genre, Deftones continue to sound bigger and be better. Metal rarely sounds so beautiful yet still incredibly forceful, but Deftones are experts at finding serenity in aggression.