Thursday, March 18th 2010
For a band pushed to the brink by the tragic events surrounding bassist Chi Cheng’s departure, it would be within reason for the Deftones to release a transitory, unevenly-footed album in the wake of their indefinitely lost brother. What we’re given instead is Diamond Eyes, a brilliant and fiercely colorful collection of tracks that finds the band reaching a new stage of evolution, delivering the most progressive, dynamic work of their careers.
Rather than dive into righteous depression following Cheng’s accident, the band scrapped the oppressive & angry album they’d been working on prior (Eros) and focused on their own survivalism. Dwelling on the darkness would’ve likely resulted in the band’s demise, particularly had they tried to tour behind the material they’d just written with Chi. Diamond Eyes was recorded in two months with producer Nick Raskulinecz, with the band shunning the meticulous digital comforts of Pro Tools in favor of writing songs together as a band again, practicing them “a million times ’til they were perfect” in order to achieve a more raw and “personable” sound. The result is an eleven-track staggering success, defying expectation and leaping forward with optimistic, ambitious new fangs.
Surging from the word go, the title track lifts off with churning sexual ambition before a chorus that soars in gentle earnest before diving back into the groove. Chino feigns delicacy and seduction, with momentary guttural shreiks between verses. There’s hardly a noticeable transition between Diamond Eyes and Royal, a track brimming with rhythmic punchiness and explosive energy. Following a verse and chorus, all else falls away as a solo bass grind rises for just a moment before the song explodes once more, Moreno playing off his own vocal with alternating screams and the signature vocal caress he’s continued to build on over the years. After a spine-snapping groove pulls you from the progression, the final forty seconds are a tremendous, incinerating ray of supernova starlight – Chino’s screams reach inhuman levels, the crushing rhythm leaning in on each seventh count, holding an extra beat that feels like falling forward in a mammoth sprint.
There aren’t many albums that shred any doubt of excellence by the third track, but the opening moments of CMND/CNTRL confirm the ferocious seducing intent of Diamond Eyes as a whole. Moreno’s percussive off-time barking-jeer delivery is as mean as anything he’s laid down before, and any question of Deftones’ ability to rise from devastation and continue their evolution is laid to rest by the time the airtight labyrinthian rhythmic configurations of the chorus lay waste to expectation.
Quicksand alum Sergio Vega steps into his new role with all the ambition and intensity of a man who knows he’s got impossible shoes to fill, and he’s given various moments to shine throughout the album. Had the band continued a linear path with the bombastic melancholy of their previous work, the new low-end influence would undoubtedly draw numerous comparisons to Chi and message-board mercenary comparative critiques for years to come. Hell, that’s bound to happen either way, but the brooding doom has taken a backseat to aggressive fantasy with rays of blinding uptempo brilliance, and to great effect; Diamond Eyes isn’t an album devoted to mourning or dwelling on “keeping the faith” in their fallen brother’s absence. This is a sharp-angle evolution, an expansion, a revitalization that leaves little room for critical doubt as to whether the Deftones’ core has been scarred too deeply by their loss. In fact, the album’s damn good supporting evidence that true growth arrives through tragedy.
For example, Beauty School turns a potentially downtempo jam into a sadistic kind of love song, gloom supplanted by a poetic, darkly passionate thunderstorm dream. I like you when you take off your face, put away all your teeth and take a swing at me, Chino delicately croons before rounding the corner to a swaying, floating chorus that evokes infatuation and romantic drunkenness. Comparisons to the dark masterpiece of White Pony will undoubtedly abound in flaccid grasps for referential familiarity, but only the base formula of Prince nods back to that era, in a Digital Bath-meets-Change sort of way. That is, until a minute thirty into the track, when drummer Abe Cunningham signals a double-time shift and all sorts of new-territory hell breaks loose.
It’s fitting that “floating underwater” are the opening words to Sex Tape, a dreamlike exploration of subterranean, minimalist subtlety through two verses before blooming into a bridge & chorus as beautifully melodic as anything in their formidable catalogue. Singular, repeating two-count tom hits frame the next verse as Moreno waxes night-drive romantic; Cruising through the city after hours with me / fusing all our powers… It’s a hard left after the brutal Guns! Razors! Knives! of Rocket Skates, violent imagery laced through a racing alt-metal riff that knocked audiences on their ass last year when it was debuted live.
After the gently progressive 976-Evil – featuring an open throated high-end chorus laced with heartfelt undertones, album closer This Place Is Death strikes the ear like an indirect reflection on the possibility of what may have been, a looming danger embedded in spiraling aggression.
Refusing to hide behind the touchstone familiarity of their previous albums, these Sacramento rockers have obliterated any notion that they’ve been irreparably weakened by Cheng’s departure. He’s undoubtedly strong in their hearts and thoughts, but rather than dwell on the pain the Deftones have risen to remarkable new heights with an album that surges into the light and establishes promising new horizons.