I was 12 years old and eating dinner with my dad and stepmom when the phone rang. It was a call from my friend up the street; she had just won last minute tickets to go see a band called Deftones perform that evening with two other bands called Thrice and Thursday. I was familiar with that song “Minerva” they were playing on the radio, and of course I had bumped “Change (In the House of Flies)” hundreds of times on my Big Shiny Tunes 5 CD, but otherwise I had no knowledge of the band whatsoever. I was heavy into bands that the media had conveniently handpicked for me: Linkin Park, Blink 182, Green Day. Surface level music that tells you exactly how to feel, uncomplicated enough for my still developing mind to grasp and relate to. Bold, block letter emotions encased in flashing lights so you don’t get lost.
Somehow my parents let me go to the show. I had been to a few concerts in the past with my dad, but this would be my first official show I was seeing of my own volition. We arrived at the venue, Arrow Hall, a cavernous ex-hangar turned into concert hall, about halfway through Thrice’s set. I felt, and probably actually was, half the size of everyone there. Thursday took the stage and I was terrified and exhilarated by the layers of noisy melody emanating from all around me. Fourteen years ago, and I still distinctly recall the atmosphere of Arrow Hall as Thursday ended their set and Deftones were primed to take the stage. The energy was all around me, and I could feel it growing within me as well. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited for something I knew next to nothing about before, and certainly not since.
When the band finally walked out, Arrow Hall erupted. Who were these guys, and how could they manage to produce such ecstaticism in so many people? “Minerva” wasn’t THAT great of a track. It wasn’t long into their set that it started making sense to me. Even as a 12 year old I could recognize the prowess of the band’s stage presence, and despite knowing next to none of the songs being played, the experience resonated deeply within me. About halfway through the set, a random dude, obviously caught up in the euphoria of seeing the best band ever playing live, ran over and picked up 12 year old me and put me on his shoulders. I was obviously initially horrified, but then I caught a clear glimpse of the stage, the first and only one that evening had afforded my still developing self. Bathed in red light, Chino hunched over in the middle of the stage, sweat pouring off of his fairly overweight body, wailing into the mic. The strain in his voice and the strain on his face were both naked, and though the insane man who lifted me up put me back on the ground shortly after this happened, this image stuck with me for a very long time.
That concert changed my life. Not only did it spur my Deftones obsession, one that would last 14 years and counting, but it opened my eyes to a whole new world of music and art itself. Sometimes emotion is clearly defined, and its easy to map out what you feel, how you feel it, and why. But more often than not, the most powerful of emotions are abstract and formless, unclassifiable forces that move through our minds, bodies, and hearts.
Deftones deals primarily in these broad, impressionistic strokes of feeling. Chino’s lyrics are about nothing in particular, fragmented glimpses which rely as much on your imagination as they do his penmanship. Contradiction is important to Deftones; I mean it’s right there in the name. Chino coos and croons over Stef Carpenter’s chugging polyrhythms, lays down hair raising screams over soft waves of shoegaze textures accented by Frank Delgado’s ambient key effects, while Sergio Vega’s grimy bass (before that Chi Cheng’s deep-warm grooves) and Abe Cunningham’s propulsive drums keep the band grounded and the momentum alive through all the atmosphere. It’s a formula the band has stuck to for the course of seven albums, while injecting enough doses of creativity to make each record stand as its own statement.
Gore is Deftones’ eighth album. How haven’t they used this title before? Such a short, simple word with so much imagery attached to it. Literal violence, a common theme of Deftones’ music, as well as the metaphorical meaning.
Spilling your guts. Leaving your insides bare. As always, however, the title is a bit of a subversion. Gore is arguably the lightest in tone of all Deftones’ records. While Deftones’ choruses have always soared, a majority of the tracks on this record could be described as genuinely uplifting and almost positive. Chino likes to segment his musical personalities off into different projects, but there’s no doubt that the brightness of his Crosses project has carried over onto the development of this record. Stef’s chugging, downtuned riffs are ever present, but much sparser than ever before, perhaps explaining why at one point he didn’t even want to be involved with Gore whatsoever. This push and pull between Stef and Chino is what makes the Deftones the incredible band that they are, and its clear that with Gore, Chino won out most of the time. ‘Doomed User’ and the title track are the only songs that have any real teeth to them; the rest of the record floats between mid-tempo melodic alt-rock and crushing balladeering, as in “Hearts/Wires’ and ‘Rubicon.” The pink and light blue pallet of the cover art serves as a good indication of the music, gentler and less foreboding than what you’ve come to expect from a band whose strong sense of melody is matched only by its esteemed, world-crushing heaviness.
Gore is the third album in the stage of Deftones career that started with Diamond Eyes and continued with Koi No Yokan, the post-Chi Cheng era. Six or so years removed from the revitaization of Deftones that was Diamond Eyes, its finally safe to evaluate these records critically, not tainted by misty-eyed appreciation that the band still exists after the devastating loss of their former bassist. Diamond Eyes holds up remarkably well, and is sure to go down as a classic in the band’s catalog due to its sense of renewal and experimentation (although, to be fair, a case could be made for almost any record in this band’s catalog being a classic). Koi No Yokan I’m not so sure about. It’s a record that I wanted deeply, desperately to love, but four years later, I’m finally willing to admit that it just isn’t that great. With an oeuvre as strong as the Deftones’, even slightly weaker efforts stick out like sore thumbs, and Koi No Yokan was noticeably lacking. Keep in mind that a weak Deftones record is still a really fucking good album, but when they’ve made expectations this high for themselves, its hard not to feel disappointed when they don’t live up to them.
This could explain the vague apprehension I felt about Gore leading up to its release. There are little worse feelings than your favourite artists releasing mediocre works, and I was genuinely afraid of being disappointed again. So am I disappointed? Does Gore stack up? It’s hard to say for sure. Deftones’ records are almost always growers, some more than others. For example, I didn’t even like my favourite Deftones’ record and favourite record of all time, the highly controversial Saturday Night Wrist, until about a year after it came out. There is a lot of emotion attached to this Gore, whether through the music itself, or through my own personal attachment to the band, that settling on concrete critical opinion is nearly impossible. I am bound to inherently love the Gore, just as I am bound to be inherently disappointed by it. It’s hard to put into explicit, precise words how exactly this record makes me feel, as a 25 year old man hearing a new record from his favourite band as a teenager. Maybe that’s just Chino’s lyrical impressionism wearing off on me after all these years. I’m sure your relationship with Gore will be just as vast and complex as mine is, or perhaps it won’t make you feel anything at all. At the end of the day, the band that made me who I am today, that taught me that it was okay not to fully understand the way I feel, is still making music, and that makes me feel the purest, simplest form of joy there is. One last contradiction.
Ridiculous Made Up Genre of the Day: Deftones