Album Review: Deftones - 'Ohms'

16 February 2021 | 11:21 am | Alex Sievers
Originally Appeared In

Time realigns once again.

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'Ohms' was originally released on September 25th, 2020.

Time does realign. In 2000, Deftones released 'White Pony,' an ahead of its time watershed moment of that year - next to 'Relationship Of Command,' 'Chocolate Starfish' and 'Hybrid Theory' - unifying nu-metal fans, horny teens, normies, BDSM purveyors, hip-hop heads, and post-rock nerds alike. It was a critical and commercial stomper lifted by 'Change (In The House Of Flies),' 'Passenger,' the surreal 'Digital Bath,' and the teenage-rebellion anthem, 'Back To School.' It's far from my favourite Deftones release but it's undoubtedly their most important. A decade later, Deftones unleashed 'Diamond Eyes,' which I'd consider their finest creation. Born out of tragedy - bassist Chi Cheng's accident and coma, who'd sadly pass in 2013 - it was fuelled with soulful melodies, longing lyrics, intimate vocals, great groove and even greater riffage. Then in 2020, we had 'Ohms.'

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When 'Ohms' arrived in September 2020, I had just moved into my new house, and without any WI-FI for a few weeks, couldn't get out a review. (Not that I'm known for getting reviews out that quickly, let's be honest.) But this was a blessing. Because this album is a slow-burner, and that's how it should be best consumed: slowly, thoughtfully, repeatedly. Which is how I consumed it during that time. It's a cerebral experience, but not like Tool's 2019 comeback; a homogenised mess of their former glories, playing out like someone's edging routine gained sentience, all with a limp-wristed climax, awful interludes, and a glorified drum solo song. No, 'Ohms' is a satisfying and rewarding off the bat without having to test your patience nor requiring you to alter your state of consciousness in order to "get it."

At no point when I listen to 'Ohms' do I find Deftones to be phoning it in. This feels like what 'Gore' should've been, ultimately feeling like an apology for how overwhelmingly meh that previous LP was. This isn't to say that 'Gore' was without its decent moments - 'Hearts/Triangles' and 'Pyramid Bride' aren't half bad - but with immeasurably forgettable songwriting, and a paper-thin drum mix that totally removed the slick rhythmic pulse that Abe Cunningham expertly displays, it was a letdown to many. Myself included. This new record isn't breaking new ground for Deftones, but that's clearly not the intent; it's trying to be a relevant and consistent record blending old and new sounds of their varying era for Deftones at this point into their lengthy career. To say it accomplishes those goals is an understatement, meeting all of my shoegaze, groovy, alt-metal and sensual expectations of their music.

If Deftones listened to those wankers who only like their first few albums and call them "The Deftones," then they'd just regurgitate the same old 'My Own Summer' and 'Adrenaline' cuts ten times over and call it a day. Thankfully, they had far more common sense than that when writing. Though I do feel there is some truth to what others have echoed online, that this newest release is just 'Diamond Eyes 2: Back In The Habit.' And sure, I can see that, as it's a little on the nose. Likewise, this ninth LP also feels like it's a direct descendant of their 1998 and 2003 eras, seeing the band pluck out all of the best things they've done from across their discography. Though instead of it all feeling like a watered-down "return-to-roots" album, 'Ohms' feels supremely relevant; completely them. Producer Terry Date once again brought out something very special from this band. If we were ever going to get a record close to the indefinitely shelved 'Eros' - that Terry also worked on - 'Ohms' is that album.

All five members are as on-point as they've ever been with 'Ohms.' When I think about the greatest rhythm sections in rock, I think of Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk (Rage Against The Machine) and then Sergio and Abe Cunningham from Deftones. These two-peas-in-a-groovy-pod are so in-sync with one another's playing and dynamics that it's a little scary. There isn't just one example of their standout symbiosis; all ten tracks showcase that deep rhythmic connection. Whether he's drop-tuned or playing in standard, Stephen Carpenter's guitar-work here highlights why many consider him a riff-king and heavy music guitar pioneer of the 21st-century. Good thing we look to him for sick seven-string riffs and not his flat-earth and anti-vaxx views. The dude has smoked his brain stupid or has watched too many misinformed and inaccurate YouTube videos. (Probably both.) Anyhey, Frank Delgado plots away on the synths, dropping in little colourings and brushstrokes to the album's canvas. Sometimes obviously and sometimes subtly. And then we have the distorted, mid-range cranked filters that sit over Chino Moreno's screams and his over-compressed spoken parts, all of which are classic Deftones vocal production. Like always, it creates this up-close and personal vocal dynamic, like the guy is losing his shit or creaming his jeans right into your ear canals. Which then, in turn, makes the big refrains and singing passages when his voice glides and soars high that much more special. That much more powerful. This is an old trick Deftones has employed since before I was in kindergarten, but it works so well.

Releasing the titular 'Ohms' first, with its urgent pace, triplet riffs, super-charged and catchy choruses, and uplifting tone (despite the dystopian imagery of its music video) and the terrific stylistic balancing act between their gorgeous melodic and caustic metal shades with 'Genesis' - the final and first songs, respectively - was a stroke of genius. (Even though the latter has some lame centrist lyrics.) As the public, we were given the finale and opening first, then being told to wait until we could pull the pieces together when the record dropped and it could be followed through in order. While some may shake their heads at a band showing their hand so early, these were the best choices to create a real buzz about a brand new Horny Korn record. Within context, both of these dope songs make so much sense as an opener and a closer, to the point where if you somehow haven't heard the entire album front-to-back yet, close this tab and go listen. But do please come back and finish this, just for my own ego!

While 'Ohms' and 'Genesis' will go down as modern classics for Deftones, if there was one song that I could signal out as the highpoint, it's 'The Spell Of Mathematics.' Beginning life as an aggressive alt-metal slammer, with Chino's EQ-boosted distorted screams piercing down the middle of the mix, like a scythe through grass. Like 'Genesis' before it, it's a stellar example of the tight-rope the band walk with their sonic balance. While it's one of the more tense and controlled heavier songs, it morphs into a beautiful second-half. Around the three-minute mark, it starts shuffling off into the ether with winding-down dynamics, Sergio's rumbling bass lines keeping the momentum, higher-octave atmos and Chino's drifting vocalisations making for a surreal experience that still churns my guts with how heavy it is when they heel-turn from post-rock into alt-metal. The use of handclaps and cool finger snaps to lock-in with Abe's drums beats in the outro is such a simple idea, but adds a lot to the song's moody final moments, as an airy ambience intertwines around all of these vocal and instrumental elements. 'The Spell Of Mathematics' is quintessential 'Tones.

'Pompeji' is a perfect mid-album turn-around, like this record's version of 'Sextape,' especially considering that it follows 'The Spell Of Mathematics.' Once again marrying their noise-rock tendencies, Chino's sexy vocals, and that blood-pumping, thick-as-Molasses rock sound everyone and their dog loves from this band. The rising warm synth pads move like an oceanic swell, merged with the soft ebbing samples of light waves on a beach, as gulls chirp away overhead, making for a relaxing and escapist closing 90 seconds, setting up the record's next belter very well. For 'This Link Is Dead' crashes that serenity, brewing a storm with a darker key change from those once bright synthesisers and sunny shores of 'Pompeji.' With a hair-raising, saturated-to-shit guitar slide rearing its head, like a sleeping giant waking up, a quick sixteenth hi-hat groove lays the bed for a killer  Deftones piece, making me so happy to hear Chino still scream like that, authentic voice-breaks and all, in the current year. It's a jumpy, riffy nu-metal banger that doesn't forgo melody, simultaneously sounding it belongs in 2020, 2010 and 2000. Very few bands of this calibre, of this size, with this kind of storied history, can do that on their ninth fucking record after 31 years in the game.

For how good 'Ohms' is - and it is very good - it's not perfect. 'Ceremony,' 'Urantia' and 'Error' sees an early three-track run that marks a real lull in proceedings. Something felt harder due to these songs chronologically appearing right after 'Genesis.' They're of a slightly lower-key, subtle and somewhat cerebral nature to their fellow seven, more immediately gratifying counterparts. This is a big part of that slow burn I mentioned. However, they aren't without their specialities or merits. Well, two of them are.

'Ceremony' - the weakest track of the lot, the one I'm not into - is about tension and release without the fucking release. For even when the tense rhythms, agitated feel and structure, and palm-muted riffs unravel into those big choruses, it just doesn't feel like the right pay-off for me. By all intents and purposes, I should be sweating this song harder than young white dudes who always wear beanies sweat shit pop-punk bands with abusive members. But I just... don't. As 'Ceremony' is the one and only song I skip now when I return to 'Ohms.' However, a stronger iteration of this sound and idea is 'Urantia.' Bulwarked with tough and rapid riffage, beset by one of the record's better soulful refrains found, full with great pay-offs, it shows just how well Frank can thicken up Deftones' compositions with his synth and ambient additions. It's what 'Ceremony' was actually trying to be. Then there's 'Error' which grooves like a turn-of-the-century nu-metal song, with all of its sweet guitar harmonics, and if you'll pardon the obvious pun, is no musical error. (Thank Chirst I never tried my hand at comedy.) Oh, and I love that very sudden but very fitting timing shift halfway through at 2:50, as the track blossoms wide into this beautiful shoegaze piece that aims for the heavens and nails it.

As for the remaining songs? There's still solid stuff to be mined out! Once there was 'Swerve City' and it's graceful melodic shimmering and galloping bounce. Now there's it's new distant cousin: the thumping, head-bobbing throwback riff-fest of 'Radiant City.' This seventh cut is one of the shortest songs for those paying attention, yet another mosh-pit inducing Deftones rager with fast and gritty bass flurries in the intro hastily merging with syncopated drum and guitar patterns as shit kicks into high gear. (More like Riff City, amirite!?) But 'Radiant City' is just that: radiant. Glowing in tone and beauty. Also revealing how interesting the records flow is, like a rising and falling tide of everything this band has expertly done for decades. Without ever feeling cheap, a pit-fall that very well could've happened, torpedoing this album and forever dooming it.

To wrap up, there's 'Headless,' which at first parties hard like the late '90s pool party that that gross voyeuristic cover of 'Around The Fur' was taken at. But I didn't just pull that 'Around The Fur' connection out of my ass either. As 'Headless' grooves and moves like Deftones' famed nu-metal record of old. Yet interestingly enough, it changes paradigms in its second half as it comes to be melodically adjacent to future songs like 'Minerva' off their lush 2003 LP. Something this band loves to do in their songs but it always works. And it pops my pants every time I hear that shift, seeing Deftones pull that off right before my very eyes and ears. Truly, 'Headless' is one of those great deep-cuts that feels both new and fresh, being keenly informed by some of the strongest parts of their detailed and successful past.

In 2040, will people revere 'Ohms' like they did 'White Pony' twenty years on? Likely not. In 2030, will people speak as fondly of this record as they do of 'Diamond Eyes' last year when it turned ten? Doubt it. And will fans love this LP another 25 years into the future as they do 'Adrenaline'? Honestly, probably not. But that's fine! Not every record from a beloved, influential band like Deftones needs to be an instant Hall-of-Famer or a modern classic. Sometimes, it's good enough to receive a really solid record that's confident, that's them, that's relevant, and that sees a great band sounding rejuvenated. And 'Ohms' is that. It's imperfect yet fantastic; nine out of ten songs is an awesome ratio for a band of their height, at this point in their lifespan. 'Ohms' stands tall as an authentic example of a band doing what they do but ensuring that it's still fun and genuine. Which is a fucking rare thing these days. Not just any band can do that, but Deftones aren't most other bands. A familiar yet phenomenal experience, one that brings some excellent new tracks into their repertoire, 'Ohms' makes 'Gore' feel like a bad dream. Apology accepted guys! This was a grand reminder of why I loved this band in the first place.





The Spell Of Mathematics


Radiant City

This Link Is Dead



'Ohms' was originally released on September 25th, 2020: