Monday, January 31, 2011

Diamond Eyes - Deftones

Diamond Eyes

Reprise Records.

SCQ Rating: 76%

As I sit here in the darkly lit confines of the SCQ office, a jack-and-coke fizzling on one side and a sullen owl’s jewel-cased eyes glaring to my right, I fully recognize that I’m not a massive Deftones fan. Maybe I’ve never struggled with the level of testosterone necessary to warrant devotion for Adrenaline or Around the Fur, but those weren’t prerequisites for being hell-bent absorbed by White Pony’s preening hybrid of Pro-Tools soundscapes and metallic riffs. Moreover, Saturday Night Wrist beckoned my formative years at their most nocturnal, cooing the drowned-out atmospheres of ‘Cherry Wave’ and ‘Xerces’ while I sunk deeper into my apartment tiles at 4am.

In other words, I’ve tailored an impression of Deftones – an emphatically beloved one – by ignoring the crunchier, less layered half of their discography. That 2003 self-titled effort? Yah, never heard a note of it. So, despite my slanted perspective suppressing my first-listen until four months post-release, Diamond Eyes remains my most anticipated Deftones album.

Whatever’s always struck me as rhetorical about metal’s riff tendencies – those insular, chugging repetitions – falls by the wayside when Chino’s running the mic, and his dramatic turns pitting heartfelt croons against guttural screams feel increasingly nuanced over the opening title track. Tight, spitting verses pave to more elegiac, even-keeled choruses on ‘Royal’ but the outfit’s sixth record begins transforming at the onset of ‘CMND/CTRL’, a pulverizing riff that worms inside-out like a lassoed intestine – visceral, scathing and beautifully compact.

A switch-up, then; a widening of scope that with ‘CMND/CTRL’ and ‘You’ve Seen the Butcher’ begins to create a narrative evocative more for its use of keys and space than the relentless guitar-work overtop. And for Diamond Eyes’ first crossover track (read: not metal), ‘Beauty School’, to land square after such a punishing sequence of events seems like a rare mid-album victory round; one of those we-can-write-modern-rock-songs-in-our-sleep reminders.

‘Prince’, with its loitering-alley of a bass-line, calls to mind one of the few compositional mainstays of the Deftones’ canon and reflects briefly on what’s come before. None of these songs have rocks in their pockets like the whole of Saturday Night Wrist heaved, and both LPs benefit from this sharp-as-knives contrast. Diamond Eyes’ palette remains even stricter than that of White Pony and, although I’d be remiss to expand upon the band’s pre-millennial output, the furor of ‘Rocket Skates’ surely suggests the band’s early, aggressive styling.

A new drink in time for Deftones’ first subdued breath, as ‘Sextape’ bends morning’s bedroom glow around pared-down rumblings and Chino’s most conventional, sing-along chorus this side of ‘Change (In the House of Flies)’. One song over and ‘976-Evil’ takes an increasingly full-blooded approach on the same thick melancholy. Even for the staunchest fan of their break-neck material, these slower numbers are to be savoured; too seldom (save Saturday Night Wrist) do Deftones encourage this kind of self-exploratory navel-gazing, even when they execute it so well.

As alluring as Diamond Eyes’ back-story tries to steal what is ultimately Eros’ back-story, I’ll avoid stretching for the emotional shortcuts many die-hards have already cut and pasted. Perhaps because despite my admiration for Deftones’ ability to pull me toward the fringe-nexus of metal, scream-o and their indefinable them-ness, I’m still not a massive Deftones fan. Diamond Eyes, for all its frothy and acute presence, doesn’t alter my positioning in the Deftones’ directional debate so much as sedate me to their possibilities. With their hardest, most concise offering, Deftones succeed in pulling me helplessly toward the primeval pole of their sound.

1 comment:

Kill-A-DJ said...

Very well written. I am a Deftones fan, but, oddly enough, I have the same stance when it comes to the band's material. "976-EVIL" is precisely the sort of song that pushes Deftones from meh to wow.
Good write up!