With the release of 2000’s White Pony — a daring and inventive magnum opus of heavy alternative rock — the public-at-large seemed to finally embrace the notion that many Deftones’ fans had known for years: the Sacramento band had no place in the company of many of their mouth-breathing nu-metal brethren.
Chino Moreno’s thoughtful, self-reflective lyrics and the ambitious landscapes of their sound (led notably by guitarist Stephen Carpenter), aligned more with post-hardcore acts like At the Drive In or prog-rock avatars the Smashing Pumpkins. Yet despite their obvious creative capabilities, the Deftones never really had any intention of abandoning the fundamentals of their sound, whose elements (howling vocals, sludgy guitars) and timing (late ’90s) unfairly grouped them with dipshits like Staind and Limp Bizkit.
Now, more than 30 years into their career, and with plenty of plaudits in hand from high-minded rock critics, the Deftones still like their riffs chunky and their songs angsty. And, as their latest release, Ohms, proves once again, the Deftones are justifiably comfortable living in their own skin.
Their heaviest album in years, Ohms, leans greatly on the work of Carpenter, whose leaden hooks set the stage for brooding cuts like “Headless” and the album’s title track. He eases off the distortion for the beginning of the math-rocky number “Ceremony,” but the thunderous notes return for the chorus, and the feedback is cranked up even further for the doom-metal piece “The Spell of Mathematics.”
But as with all their great albums, the Deftones balance their more aggressive stances with moments of ethereal rumination. “The Spell of Mathematics” is interspersed with atmospheric interludes, and songs like “Urantia,” and “Radiant City” start off as thrash-metal kickers but have moments of genuine calm and beauty. Still, the album is weighty — the ballads that made an appearance in past records are nowhere to be seen here.
Moreno, never one to shy away from life’s great mysteries, again tackles universal topics on Ohms, exploring aging, religion, and regret. His voice also acts as a transcendent beacon, ranging from righteous rage to hopeless lamentation (thankfully, he never adopted the dopy, morose baritone of his “contemporaries” like Scott Stapp and Aaron Lewis.)
With the realization that the Deftones could deftly defy genres on White Pony, some (probably newer) fans may have hoped for a turn into artsier territory, a creative endeavor embraced by heavier acts like Deafheaven, who dove headlong into shoegaze (and, gasp!, pink cover art) and Baroness, which leapt at the chance to work with avant-pop master Dave Fridmann.
The Deftones never really toyed with those options. Moreno and company know what works best for them, and if they straddle different worlds without living wholly in one, they can live with that.
With Ohms, the Deftones show anew that they occupy a unique, welcome place in the rock canon.