Welcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, a director’s filmography, or some other critical pop-culture collection in the abstract. It’s exact science by way of a few beers. This time, we follow Deftones’ career, from their 1995 debut, Adrenaline, to their most recent effort, 2016’s Gore.
Deftones are a rare band who appeal to metalheads and shoegazers alike, offering a sound that’s both heavy and ethereal. And they’re also a rare band who really hasn’t produced a “bad” album, which makes ranking Deftones’ discography a difficult task. Right away, you’ll see that the “last place” album is a very solid effort.
While Deftones may have emerged out of the nu metal scene of the mid ’90s, their musical maturity and sonic evolution over the past 25 years has distanced the Sacramento, California, outfit from others in that category. Now, placing a genre on Deftones’ music seems like a fruitless endeavor, as their sound is really undefinable.
Led by Chino Moreno’s soaring vocals, and the loud/quiet dynamic of his talented bandmates, Deftones are perhaps the most consistent “heavy” rock act of the past quarter century. Having tragically lost their longtime bassist, Chi Cheng — who died in 2013 after a car crash put him in a semi-coma for almost five years — Deftones have triumphed in their second act, continuing to release quality albums in recent years, with a new one on the way.
While the #1 album on this list was a slam dunk, the rest resulted in a big debate among this ranking’s four writers. What one writer had at #2 was #8 for another writer. So, for now, it’s time to be quiet and drive through Deftones’ masterful discography.
— Spencer Kaufman, Managing Editor
08. Adrenaline (1995)
Back to School of Thought (Analysis): Kicking off with the band’s debut LP, 1995’s Adrenaline primarily highlights the band’s earlier heavy sound. “Minus Blindfold” has Deftones playing to a variety of unique elements: from the laid back guitar rhythm and Chino Moreno’s spoken word flow, to the abrasive guitar chords and screeching vocals, the track offers a stellar range in performance. As Chino primarily focuses on singing throughout “One Weak”, the instrumental component shifts from minimal touches of sound to more vibrant rock.
With Korn’s self-titled debut having been released the year before, Adrenaline came into the world as a strong entry to the nu metal genre. With tracks like “Nosebleed” and “Root”, the band provides a flurry of sporadic vocals and aggressively rhythmic instrumentation. These cuts, among others, allow Adrenaline to make for a solid headbanging experience. At the time of its release, Adrenaline was applauded for its unique touches of sound and style both instrumentally and vocally; today the record is still recognized as a strong debut for the Deftones.
Compared to the rest of the band’s discography, however, Adrenaline does lack depth. While one can find enjoyment in the aggressive presentation and hypnotic sequences, there isn’t much of that progressive touch that represents Deftones’ sound as we know them now. The band’s iconic duality of dreamy heaviness only appears in small doses and would begin to blossom after Adrenaline.
Hardly a “worst” album despite its ranking on this list, Adrenaline was and is a worthy debut for the Deftones, introducing the world to one of heavy music’s unique voices.
In the House of Fly (Best Song): Easily the most fascinating song off Adrenaline is “Fireal”. While the record does contain some variety throughout its material, “Fireal” involves the most diversity in sound, style, and structure. From the haunting use of minimalism to the hectic screams and grungy guitar playing, to the beautiful singing and clashing drums, the song makes for a unique composition of many qualities. More than any other track on the album, “Fireal” is a strong representation of what was to come from Deftones.
Be Quiet for Now (Worst Song): Among all the songs, “Bored” feels the least engaging. The occasional shifts in intensity are devoid of any depth in structure compared to the dreamier and heavier songs on the record. “Bored” only briefly touches upon the band’s strongest elements; the back and forth fluctuation in heavy playing doesn’t capture the ear like the other songs. As one progresses through Adrenaline, the song becomes a distant memory compared to the LP’s other intriguing works. — Michael Pementel
07. Gore (2016)
Back to School of Thought: Gore is perhaps the second best example of why Deftones are as highly regarded as they are. The chief example is, of course, our #1 album, but for an album as good as Gore to rank seventh overall speaks volumes about the overall quality of the band’s discography. Like other albums on this list, Gore showcases the dynamic conflict between vocalist Chino Moreno’s dreamier, artsier impulses and guitarist Stephen Carpenter’s heavier desires. At its best, Gore displays why it is precisely that tension that propels the band to its greatest heights, being one of the few bands to satisfactorily transcend the nu-metal label by being so broad sonically and so consistent in quality to make the genre tag feel only occasionally appropriate. But likewise Gore is marred by the occasional muddled tunes and a tracklist that feels more at odds with itself than a coherent statement.
Gore may be the weakest of the Sergio Vega era that began with Diamond Eyes, but this is still Deftones we are talking about. Tracks like “(L)MIRL”, “Phantom Bride”, and the title track may be lesser versions of similar ideas that appeared on the previous two records, but they still feel like they clobber the hell out of most songs by other groups attempting similar combinations of arthouse synth-led dreamy material with heavy post-hardcore/metal driven punch. There is no denying that stacked up against Deftones other LPS, Gore is something of a weaker sibling to its more accomplished partners, but on its own it’s still no slouch.
In the House of Fly (Best Song): “Hearts / Wires” deepens in quality the more time you spend with it, marrying the casual Sade-inspired eroticism of the group with their essential nocturnal heaviness, making it one of their best songs period and a key example of how even on an album where Deftones are not at the top of their game. they’re still very, very good.
Be Quiet for Now: “Pittura Infamante” is an obvious candidate for weakest track on the record. It is not so much that the song is bad on its own as much as it disrupts the momentum of the record, which up until that moment prepares Gore to be comparable to the band’s best efforts. Here, Gore loses steam and never seems to win it back even with its quality back end. — Langdon Hickman
06. Koi No Yokan (2012)
Back to School of Thought: Some of you may be surprised to see this record, which won Album of the Year at some publications, so low on our list. This has more to do with narrative than with quality; after all, aside from those bottom two entries and the #1 spot, the rest of Deftones clusters tightly when regarding the quality of compositions, production, performances, and sequencing, all the standard rubrics for best records. But what those other records in the body have that Koi No Yokan doesn’t is some great story behind it. There is a young band soaring past their peers and becoming legends in the process, the early experiments to broader horizons and the amazing comeback following the tragic loss of a beloved and necessary bandmate. Koi No Yokan has none of that: it is, simply, the summation of the lessons prior delivered very competently.
Granted, this is precisely why it is so highly praised outside of the realm of a ranked discography list like this. It is certainly a wonderful record, merely one less necessary to telling the overall story of Deftones. On a sonic end, it is perhaps the only record able to hold a candle to White Pony, and to many it holds a dear place in the broader body of work, but despite its remarkable balance of the constituent elements of Deftones sound, the lack of that little extra narrative push makes it fall ever so slightly behind its peers.
In the House of Fly: Most of Deftones back half of their discography is devoted to exploring subtleties, expanse and lushness of post-metal, which makes the leather-clad metallic Depeche Mode vibes of “Leathers” the necessary shot to the heart a record like Koi No Yokan needs to hang together. One of the few that can stand up to the anthems of their early career. Just try not to scream along to it.
Be Quiet for Now: “Goon Squad” takes the fall this time. There’s nothing immediately wrong with the track and it fits well in the tracklist, but ultimately provides little that the other tracks don’t. It’s a mood piece, which is a fancy way of saying filler, and even when filler doesn’t do anything wrong, the act of not contributing a meaningful additional emotional contour to the record notches it safely below the others. — Langdon Hickman
05. Saturday Night Wrist (2006)
Back to School of Thought: By this point, the friction between Chino Moreno and his bandmates was at an all-time high, thanks to Moreno’s then habit of not finishing things, a tendency that dramatically impeded forward progress on Saturday Night Wrist. Moreno would go as far as to forego working with producer Bob Ezrin, opting instead to record his parts separately from the rest of the band.
Upon the album’s release, Stephen Carpenter and the late Chi Cheng were so open about their residual frustration with Moreno that the public swipes they took at him were nearly as entertaining as the album itself. We also got Moreno’s retort, right there on album opener “Hole in the Earth”, where the dejected singer voices his feelings of betrayal and laments how his bandmates were once his friends.
Strangely, Saturday Night Wrist hardly sounds like a portrait of a band falling apart. In drastic contrast to its far gloomier self-titled predecessor, several of the songs on Saturday Night Wrist have a looser, brighter — even upbeat — disposition, while the band at least sounds unified venturing further from its established sound than it has on any record before or since.
If hearing Deftones push guitars to the background in favor of synths and melodies isn’t your idea of a good time, this isn’t the album for you, but Ezrin’s fresh perspective was arguably just what the doctor ordered: the tribulations behind Saturday Night Wrist would help the band reconcile its internal differences and galvanize Moreno’s follow-through reflex as he entered a prolific period juggling Deftones output with side projects like Crosses and Palms.
In the House of Fly: “Cherry Waves” portrays a band that could be as melodic and dreamy as it wanted to be without compromising its edge. Don’t let the sweet melody or wide-open feel fool you: the mix on “Cherry Waves” overflows with detail, with its walking bassline; its trills of clean guitar echoing as if over a vast valley; and its sound effects drenched in reverb. As accessible as it might be, “Cherry Waves” is precisely the kind of impressionistic work that sets Deftones apart as artists.
Be Quiet for Now: If the pacing of Saturday Night Wrist benefits from an instrumental respite, it’s nevertheless a bit too easy to envision “U,U,D,D,L,R,L,R,A,B,Select,Start” as a Team Sleep throwaway that Moreno didn’t bother to supply with vocals. — Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
04. Deftones (2003)
Back to School of Thought: Deftones responded to the career-defining impact of White Pony by showcasing their ever-increasing appetite for atmospheres — no surprise given that White Pony had basically shattered the nu metal mold and cemented the band’s place in the new millennium’s alterna-metal zeitgeist. In a number of ways, Deftones’ self-titled fourth album establishes that this was not a band that was going to be content cranking out the same old formula with each offering, and Deftones is undeniably the most lavishly textured work of the band’s catalog up to this point. Tunes like “Deathblow”, “Lucky You”, and “Anniversary of an Uninteresting Event” expand on the spaciousness of the glitchy White Pony love song “Teenager” — only the giddy zest for life is replaced with claustrophobic gloom.
Meanwhile, if he hadn’t already proved it, DJ/sampler/keyboardist Frank Delgado shows here how indispensable his discreet touch had become to the band’s sound, somehow managing to weave a fabric of eerie harmony into the lumbering density of mid-tempo cuts like “Needles and Pins”, “When Girls Telephone Boys”, “Good Morning Beautiful”, and pretty much everything else. Even when the band is as heavy — and heavy-handed — as it can be, Deftones arguably qualifies as gothic in its mood and baroque in its ornate detail.
Simultaneously, though, the album documents the band running head-first into its own limits, signaling that a change would be necessary to sustain the momentum of its winning streak. If Deftones were going to achieve the longevity they were clearly after, they would have to rely less on lead-footed riffs.
In the House of Fly: Appearances to the contrary, it isn’t always accurate to attribute the band’s metallic edge to Stephen Carpenter and its eccentricities to Chino Moreno. Either way, on “Battle-Axe”, Carpenter and Moreno meet right smack in the middle ground between those two poles, with both contributing to a symphony of guitar parts so enormous and majestic the song practically engulfs your ears in a lashing sea of distortion as mournful harmonics ring out like ocean spray. Listen closely and you can hear Delgado lurking, an unseen yet powerful presence 20,000 leagues below the raging surface.
Be Quiet for Now: Although this album contains several elements that recall ideas from White Pony, the band adds just enough new flavor to avoid repeating itself outright — except, perhaps, on ”Bloody Cape”, which falls uncomfortably close to the White Pony cut “Knife Prty.” Because “Bloody Cape” more than adequately captures the band’s primary attributes, it would make for a fitting introduction to the uninitiated if not for the fact that “Knife Prty” was already out there. — Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
03. Diamond Eyes (2010)
Back to School of Thought: Deftones turned tragedy into triumph when they made 2010’s Diamond Eyes. The band had been fragmented since the tumultuous recording of White Pony, recording parts at a distance for a planned sixth album, Eros. That all changed when bassist Chi Cheng was involved in a severe car accident on November 4, 2008, which left him semi-comatose. He would never recover and passed away in 2013.
The band shelved Eros and, rather than fading away, recruited former Quicksand bassist Sergio Vega to take Cheng’s stead. The group rallied, writing as a unit for the first time in years, and produced Diamond Eyes, possibly their tightest and most immediate collection of songs, not to mention their most optimistic.
Revitalized by working in a room together, the band worked on the album over two months in Los Angeles with producer Nick Raskulinecz, then catching fire after recording Alice in Chains’ comeback triumph Black Gives Way to Blue. Even without the use of ProTools, Raskulinecz captured a clean, almost antiseptic performance from the band, who heretofore had been thicker and hazier than their peers.
The results speak for themselves: Diamond Eyes sounds like a Greatest Hits record compiled from albums we’ve never heard. It’s a collection of powerful singles, from the almost operatic title track to live staple “Rocket Skates”, Vega immediately proved himself indispensable to the group — his fat bass riff in “You’ve Seen the Butcher” is a particular highlight.
In the House of Fly: After years of finding ways to bury Stephen Carpenter’s more metallic tendencies, Deftones based live staple “Rocket Skates” entirely around a riff that sounds like a revving engine. Overtop the groove, Chino uses every vocal tool at his disposal with charismatic aplomb: sexual crooning, a little rapping braggadocio, and throat-splitting Frye screams during the chorus. It’s everything right in the Deftones discography delivered in four minutes.
Be Quiet for Now: Clocking in at just over 40 minutes, Diamond Eyes is the shortest Deftones LP, and, accordingly, there’s not a lot of fat on it. Still, closing track “This Place is Death” could have been left as a B-side. Musically, it explores many of the same ideas as the remainder of the album — churning grooves offset with jubilant vocals — without adding a twist. It’s a good song by a consistent band, but its direct predecessor, “967-EVIL” does the sexual-climax-as-album-climax thing with more drama. — Joseph Schafer
02. Around the Fur (1997)
Back to School of Thought: Coming off the release of their debut LP, Around the Fur stands out as one of the strongest records by Deftones. While the band continued to play to a heavy-leaning style, Around the Fur contained much more diversity in style and song structure. The record also represents one of the band’s first steps in establishing their identity.
In “Lhabia”, Chino’s ghostly singing offers an ethereal touch to the instrumental intensity during the chorus; the energetic drum beat captures a grungier approach to his muted vocal work. The record also displays the band exploring more areas of sound, such as the chilling minimalism in “Mascara” and the slower drawl in that of “Dai the Flu”.
“My Own Summer (Shove It)” showcases of the earliest examples of the band’s iconic sound. Other than when Chino is screaming, it’s fascinating to hear how well his voice works with the shifting tone and style; when he’s whispering, his voice never gets lost in the instrumentals, and his singing works wonderfully with the rising instrumentation.
And as a whole, rather than the record primarily offering aggression like the previous LP, there’s a lot more emotion to take away throughout Around the Fur. Even as a sophomore record, one can pick up on the maturity in the band’s craft, and the album has remained one of the most innovative and memorable works by Deftones.
In the House of Fly: Looking at how Deftones have continued to push their sound, “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away) is a stunning example of why the band is so fascinating. There’s this fantastic emotional result with the vocal’s playing off the harshness of the instrumentation; the chemistry here isn’t that they are necessarily working together, but that by contrasting one another they exude emotion. The balance in somber feeling and heaviness makes “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)” the record’s standout track.
Be Quiet for Now: To be clear, by no means is the title track “Around the Fur” bad, but among the other songs, it is the least memorable. Where other tracks offer more of a range in substance, either drastically playing around with structure or tempo, the song keeps the momentum somewhat to the point. Other than a brief haunting sequence towards the end, the track never expands into anything that offers the listener something new. — Michael Pementel
01. White Pony (2000)
Back to School of Thought: When the four writers of this list got together to determine these rankings, White Pony received unanimous first-place votes. Deftones have yet to release anything less than a good record, but this one transcends time and place. Perhaps no other album from the nu metal canon embraced the style’s wild fusion of genres while discarding what does not work.
Nu metal long harbored a not-so-secret affinity for the sophisticated pop music of the ’80s, but Deftones solidified that link in 2000. On White Pony, Deftones tossed out most of the overt references to hip hop while maintaining boom-bap drum patterns. Instead, the band reaches back through the chrome-plated grunge of Failure and Hum and embraces the melancholic art rock spirit of Talk Talk and The Cure. Songs like “Digital Bath” moan with the same romance and desperation as songs from Crowded House.
With that added melody came a more mature emotional bent. White Pony dismisses nu metal’s adolescent angst in favor of sexual yearning and existential dread. In these songs, Moreno touches on the human condition with poetic lyrics and a focus on singing.
Deftones composed White Pony once again with producer Terry Date over the better part of a year, fine-tuning every aspect of its sound. The addition of Frank Delgado as full-time keyboardist, as well as Moreno’s first shoegaze-ish guitar compositions further diversified the band’s sonic pallet. Moreno and Carpenter often clashed while writing the record, and the compromise between the former’s mellowness and the latter’s heavy chugging guitars form the core of the band’s sound from hereafter.
The result was the band’s most cohesive record, one which sets a tone early, then mutates it in subtle but logical ways. Even Maverick Records’ later addition of “Back to School – Mini Maggit”, against the band’s wishes, created a pair of thematic bookends with closing track “Pink Maggit.” In fact, Chino once called White Pony a “cocaine concept album”, though its narrative is inscrutable.
If all that sounds highfalutin for the turn of the millennium, it was. White Pony moved over 1 million units in the US, remarkable numbers by today’s standards but paltry in the age of Linkin Park. Still, “Change (In the House of Flies)” hit #3 on the Billboard alternative singles chart and #9 on the mainstream singles chart. “Elite” later won the band their sole Grammy for Best Metal Performance.
In the House of Fly: On a record so filled with great and distinct songs it feels disingenuous to call the lead single the best song, but “Change (In the House of Flies)” defines the mood of White Pony and maybe the band’s whole career. The band largely improvised the song before writing the rest of the album — curiously they placed it late — thickening the moody attack of “Be Quiet and Drive”, while sneakily playing in odd time. Moreno’s at his peak on this song, taciturn and cruel while alluding to Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” and David Cronenberg’s The Fly in a song fit for Sacramento strip clubs.
Be Quiet for Now: Most of the songs on White Pony serve a dual purpose — they function as excellent songs in their own right and also serve the downward trajectory of the record’s drug-binge decomposition. Only “Korea” works better as a standalone song than part of the track listing. Heavier and more atonal than anything else on the record, it’s unquestionably Stephen Carpenter’s big moment, but it doesn’t fit between “Knife Prty” and “Passenger.” B-side “Boys Republic” better suits the album’s melancholy excesses. — Joseph Schafer