Wherever you stand on the music of Deftones, from an objective viewpoint their career has been remarkable. They’ve existed for almost three decades, played an influence on innumerable bands, pioneered nu-metal tropes before said subgenre widely became recognized and subsequently spawned wave after wave of terrible soundalike bands—don’t give me that look, history has been unkind to it for a reason—and most importantly, in the years that have elapsed between 1995’s Adrenaline and their 8th studio album Gore, they’ve become masters of consistency. It’s important to note that does not equal complacency.
Deftones have one of the most recognizable sounds in contemporary heavy music, spearheaded by Chino Moreno’s idiosyncratic vocals (and he’s still able to push himself after 28 years in the game, as evinced by his throat-shredding verses on “Doomed User”), but they found their sound early on and learned to experiment within it, pushing it in different directions and pushing boundaries as they did so. In that regard, Gore could be regarded as more of the same, but it asks more of the listener than, say, Koi no Yokan or Diamond Eyes did.
It doesn’t exactly come out with all guns blazing; leadoff track “Prayers/Triangles” is surrounded by a floaty ambiance that adds weight to its explosive chorus and intense bridge, but it’s certainly a more understated opener than “Swerve City” or “Rocket Skates,” for example. Immediately noticeable is Abe Cunningham’s syncopated drum pattern, and boy, does he put in work on this album. He’s all over “Geometric Headdress,” whose intriguing song structure and multiple meter changes are handled brilliantly. He knows when to hold back, as well; so do the rest of the band, and while reports of the push-pull dynamic between guitarists Moreno and Steven Carpenter may have sparked alarm earlier in the year, particularly for fans who remember the in-fighting that surrounded 2006’s Saturday Night Wrist (it took Carpenter a while to get on board with the new material this time around), their new record shows that they’re still well capable of playing off each other as their songs are pushed and pulled into different shapes. The cinematic slow-burner “Hearts/Wires” dips into psychedelia for its evocative intro before settling into a mid-tempo groove, one that makes Carpenter’s bruising chorus riff all the more impactful.
Speaking of riffs, the one that opens “Pittura Infamante” is euphoric and in a major key. You don’t get that in many Deftones songs, and it doesn’t hang around for long, but it’s a shot of, well, adrenaline that kicks off the second half of the record in style before segueing into the thrashing shoegaze of “Xenon,” which in turn gives way to the emotional ‘(L)MIRL’ (no, we don’t know what that stands for either), a definite album highlight that will appeal to fans of Deftones’ melodic side, as well as fans of Sergio Vega’s basslines.
The title track raises the bar higher still, crashing through its five minutes with reckless abandon, two pairs of double choruses and a chilling coda, Moreno’s shrieks suggesting someone in intense pain as crushing minor chords reduce the song to a smoldering wreck, fizzling into penultimate track “Phantom Bride,” whose waltzing time signature and notable Carpenter solo (as well as guest vocal from Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains) give plenty of pep to a surprisingly understated song…that does a complete 180 and descends into chaos during its final moments, leading into the cathartic closing track “Rubicon,” which dips and swells for three minutes before going all-out for its finale, wrong-footing the listener with a false ending and letting a chunky riff finish it off for real. Gore certainly takes some getting used to, but it has depth enough to keep listeners coming back, whether they be a recent convert, a relatively new fan, or a die-hard Deftones follower. Almost three decades in, they’re still well ahead of the curve.