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Consistent and critically-acclaimed alt-metal combo, the deep and delicate DEFTONES have been at the epicentre of their genre since bursting on to the scene in the mid-90s. Like a gonzoid cross between KORN’s Jonathan Davis and RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE’s Zack de la Rocha, frontman Chino Moreno’s incendiary live presence helped the group build up a loyal following. They’ve never looked back – only in anger!
Formed in Sacramento, California, in 1988, McClatchy High School kids, the magnetic Moreno (vocals, rhythm guitar), Stephen Carpenter (lead guitar) and Abe Cunningham (drums), began jamming metal riffs and covers in Stephen’s garage. A few years on, without original bassist Dominic Garcia, a more permanent place was set for Chi Cheng, while Cunningham returned to the fold in 1993, having been temporarily deputised by John Taylor. On the strength of local gigs supporting the likes of KORN et al, DEFTONES were one of the more promising acts to sign to MADONNA’s funded Maverick label.
Having recorded with co-producer Terry Date at the Bad Animals Studio in downtown Seattle, DEFTONES unleashed their debut album, ADRENALINE {*8}, in October 1995. Not an immediate success in terms of succeeding their rivals, anxious post-grunge tracks such `Bored’, `7 Words’, `Minus Blindfold’ and `Engine Number 9’, proved the whispered vox of the chaotic Chino had the desired effect on newfound fans.
By the release of their next set, AROUND THE FUR (1997) {*8}, their post-metal noise – with DJ support from 5th member Frank Delgado – had reached fruition. From the sonic assault of the album’s opener, `My Own Summer (Shove It)’ (a UK Top 30 entry when released the following March) to `Headup’ (a collaboration with SEPULTURA’s Max Cavalera), DEFTONES were now slicing slabs of sound with visceral vigour. Fusing unholy elements of KILLING JOKE, KORN, MINISTRY and a Sub Pop NIRVANA, the golden record was as popular in Britain, when `Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away)’ registered another chart placing; Frank was officially added there on in.
After much soul searching and turmoil, the veteran Cali noise abusers – at least in terms of the day’s high turnover music scene – returned with that difficult third album, WHITE PONY (2000) {*8}. Older and wiser if no more content with his lot, the perennially pissed off Moreno reflected on his lost youth in the tamed `Teenager’, while TOOL frontman Maynard James Keenan joined the fray on the poignant `Passenger’. Weighed down with emotion and equally at home with hardcore-punk levels of intensity, star tracks came from `Change (In The House Of Flies)’, `Digital Bath’, `Knife Prty’ (not “party”) and `Rx Queen’.
Leaving the rap-metal posturing to the young pretenders, DEFTONES took their foot off the gas while still maintaining a head of steam for the unwarranted and rather unnecessary BACK TO SCHOOL (MINI MAGGIT) (2001) {*6}. The EP/mini-set was boosted by live versions of songs from the previous album, an album that was re-released with bonus pieces much to the annoyance of Chino and Co.
With its stark, eponymous title and skull-adorned cover, 2003’s DEFTONES {*6} suggested a statement of intent recorded to claim back Top 3 territory lost during their lengthy sabbatical. Moreno certainly sounded more aggrieved than ever, and the band had rarely played with so much feral aggression (example Brit hits `Minerva’ and `Hexagram’), although it was tempting to lament possibilities opened up on White Pony and left unexplored here.
Perhaps Moreno had exhausted his more abstruse creative impulses on the TEAM SLEEP project, a collaboration with DJ Crook and guitarist Tom Wilkinson. Just when it seemed as if the trio had taken a terminal forty winks, they finally surfaced from hibernation with an eponymous debut album in May 2005. Adjectives like narcoleptic and soporific were on hand as Chino jettisoned the DEFTONES crunch, layering sheets of undistorted sound in apparent homage to shoegazing trailblazers MY BLOODY VALENTINE, The CATHERINE WHEEL and SLOWDIVE.
At least some of these influences were made clear on DEFTONES’ B-SIDES & RARITIES (2005) {*6} double-CD collection, which featured a raft of mostly eclectic 80s covers. The lengthy list comprised `Savory’ (JAWBOX), `Wax And Wane’ (COCTEAU TWINS), `Simple Man’ (LYNYRD SKYNYRD), `Sinatra’ (HELMET), `No Ordinary Love’ (SADE), `If Only Tonight We Could Sleep’ (The CURE), `Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want’ (The SMITHS) and `The Chauffeur’ (DURAN DURAN); `To Have And To Hold’ (DEPECHE MODE) was not included.
Back from the brink for 2006’s Bob Ezrin-co-produced SATURDAY NIGHT WRIST {*7}, DEFTONES also worked with FAR’s Shaun Lopez on Chino’s BONO-meets-CORGAN like soaring vocals. Disappointing Top 10 sales due to the fact it was leaked to the internet a few weeks prior to its release, it nevertheless tossed up some genuine semi-gems among `Hole In The Earth’, `Cherry Waves’, `KimDracula’, `Mein’ (with SERJ TANKIAN) and `Pink Cellphone’ (alongside GIANT DRAG’s Annie Hardy).
The tragic events that surrounded the near-fatal car crash (on November 4, 2008) involving passenger Chi Cheng took precedence for the alt-metallists DEFTONES. As Chi lay in a comatose state, while concurrently recovering from septicemia and brain surgery, a replacement was found in QUICKSAND’s Sergio Vega. A scheduled album, “Eros”, was shelved almost immediately, whilst the new line-up gelled for DIAMOND EYES (2010) {*8}, a Top 10 (UK Top 30) entry for Reprise Records. Bloodletting and brooding in their traumatic tribute to Cheng, there was no skirting around the furry parts of yesteryear. Instead there was angst and atmosphere on the likes of alt-metal rockers `Sextape’, `Rocket Skates’, `You’ve Seen The Butcher’ and the opening title piece.
A stop-gap COVERS {*6} set in 2011 raised some more funds to keep the grim reaper from Cheng’s door; many of the tracks repeated from their previous collection (new to the fray: `Drive’ (The CARS), `Caress’ (DRIVE LIKE JEHU), `Do You Believe’ (The CARDIGANS), `Ghosts’ (JAPAN) and `Sleep Walk’ (SANTO & JOHNNY).
Meaning “premonition of love”, the near-Top 10 KOI NO YOKAN (2012) {*8} might, initially, have had its flavour and roots fermented in Japan, but in the sonic SMASHING PUMPKINS-meets-shoegaze buffers such as `Swerve City’, `Leathers’, `Poltergeist’, `Entombed’ and `Gauze’, DEFTONES were in a tsunamic top gear. Sadly, as the group careered to their goal as world-beating nu-metal champions, 42-year-old Cheng passed away of pneumonia on April 13, 2013, after a brief recovery period the previous June. The Buddhist vegetarian had expressed his poetic side way back in 2000, when he issued the spoken-word album, `The Bamboo Parachute’; proceeds having been donated to buy instruments for the youth around his Sacramento locale.
Returning from a spell with the symbolised CROSSES alumni (one eponymous set in 2014), Chino Moreno and DEFTONES reconvened for the transatlantic Top 5 album, GORE (2016) {*8}, a record described as outside-the-box. Retaining Matt Hyde on production duties, this was, again, much more than a derivative dirge-metal assault to the senses, instead, it was angled and layered to its suggestive and subverted title. Moreno shading the darker parts with his soaring, satanic screeches, the force majeure of the pile-driving `Prayers / Triangles’, `Acid Hologram’, `Phantom Bride’ (featuring JERRY CANTRELL) and `Hearts / Wires’ et al, were worth the near 4-year wait.
2020’s OHMS {*8} furnished DEFTONES with yet another transatlantic Top 5 album, and one that re-employed the production values of Terry Date. Far from the maddening crowds of discontentment and despair, and focusing on the future, screamo seagull Moreno and Co could well be mistaken for sounding like an amalgamation of SMASHING PUMPKINS, TOOL and KORN. But that’s not to say that this, their ninth set, did not possess the necessary je ne sais quoi to delight die-hard alt-metal fans who’d resonate with the record’s pact of power, polarity and paranoia. Carpenter executed grinding, guttural guitar aplomb, whilst the full-on rhythm section of a visceral Vega and a cutting Cunningham (not forgetting the sci-fi synthwaves of Delgado) gelled with every jagged and jackhammered jolt. From `Genesis’ to the revolutionary title track anchor (download singles both), DEFTONES displayed a dramatic and dystopian diversion that also peaked with the menacing and maniacal `Urantia’, `Error’, `The Spell Of Mathematics’ and the schizoid `Pompeji’.
© MC Strong 1998-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Apr2016-Oct2020

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