Deftones first emerged during the nu metal boom of the ’90s, but they’ve since grown into a musical force that defies easy classification. Where 1995’s Adrenaline leaned into pure groove metal, the band’s sophomore release, Around The Fur, displayed the first signs of experimentation with their craft. From 2000’s White Pony onward, Deftones’ discography encapsulates a broad spectrum from riff-driven metal to electronic, to shoegaze and pop. Though this alone doesn’t make them unique, a profound aspect to Deftones’ material is their unique duality—specifically, their ability to weave dreamy atmosphere into their heavy core.
The 25-year history of the band and what they’ve accomplished therein gives new album Ohms a lot to live up to. An early element that works in Ohms’ favor, however, is the progression of the songwriting. The record flows at a mesmerizing pace, instrumentation dipping into a heavier metal approach before shifting back into an ambient backdrop. By embracing this psychedelic force, Deftones strike an appealing complexity that’s both entertaining and hypnotic. On the flourishing energy of “Genesis” and the lo-fi heaviness of “Headless,” a delightful back-and-forth takes place. Likewise, “Pompeji” offers moments where the guitar booms and drumming intensifies, only to then simmer and ease.
This chemistry makes for a compelling sequence throughout the whole of Ohms. Very little of the album is straightforward, as little of the band’s material has been for the past 20 years. It also likely helps that Terry Date—who produced the first four Deftones records and is partially responsible for helping to shape some of their strongest sounding albums—returns here for production duties. His work captures the blissful ambiance and surrealism of the band’s past material, infusing a nostalgic quality into the record.
Guitarist Stephen Carpenter opts for a nine-string guitar for his parts on the record, playing chunky tones alongside the Sergio Vega’s basslines. Providing his own distinct imprint on the band’s sound, drummer Abe Cunningham performs in equal waves of gentleness and frenetic stomps. And whether it’s during the more intense portions of the record, or the soothing sequences stirred by Frank Delgado’s samples and keyboarding, Chino Moreno maintains his angelic, breathy vocal quality. It’s fun to hear the guy let loose rough screeches, but his singing here is on another level. His lyrics tread the path of abstract poetry; his words elicit imagery—haunting and enchanting: “Deep in the bottomless depths of the ocean/ Empty bodies we sink/ Open your eyes, you smile and release me/ We slip down beneath…”
Deftones display a dazzling technicality alongside the immersive moods on the album, through the hypnotic flow of “Urantia,” wherein the instrumental progression takes on an air of minimalism, or “The Spell of Mathematics,” a superb demonstration of fuzz-fueled ambient metal. Ohms sounds, more than any of the band’s recent albums, like a strong summary of Deftones’ career to date. Balancing emotional impact with a more technical approach, the record integrates many of the best qualities that have become signatures of their sound. On Ohms, Deftones are not reinventing themselves, but merely amplifying their strengths.
A graduate of Columbia College Chicago's Creative Writing Program, Michael Pementel is a published music journalist, specializing in metal and its numerous subgenres. Along with his work for Treble and Bloody Disgusting, he has also written for Consequence of Sound, Metal Injection, Dread Central, Electronic Gaming Monthly and the Funimation blog.