“A lot of metal bands are too pussy to act like pussies, but we’re not afraid to really express ourselves,” Deftones guitarist Stephen Carpenter told Guitar World’s Jen Wiederhorn back in 1997. The band was in the midst of recording their sophomore album, at that time untitled but eventually named Around the Fur, and they were on a high as they refined their style and voice following the release of their debut, Adrenaline. The latter’s a comparatively rough release next to the former, raw energy and spirit in need of sanding around the edges, but no less compelling for the abandoned animal rage captured across its 10 tracks (11, counting the hidden track, “Fist”).
Twenty-three years later that ethos remains central to Deftones’ character as one of the few mid-90s nu-metal bands to stick around long enough to mature into middle age-metal. Here’s Ohms, album number nine, which is something of a statement on Carpenter’s words from two decades ago and change: The band is still comfortable being “pussy” when necessary, but Ohms chiefly indulges Carpenter’s side of the Deftones equation. The emotional, breathy, serene component of their sound is the realm of singer Chino Moreno. The grinding low end and buzzing guitar work comprise Carpenter’s realm. Deftones’ music marries Moreno’s melodic singing with the cruel jazz of Carpenter’s ESP seven strings. Ohms alters that union with a higher emphasis placed on the band’s metal roots.
For the crowd who tunes in to hear Moreno’s atmospheric, romantic vocals, this may not be Ohms’ best selling point. But heavy is subjective, and Ohms doesn’t reject the romance entirely: Tracks like “Urantia” represent the balancing act Deftones manage on their most accomplished albums, particularly 2000’s White Pony, to date the unsurpassed chapter in their storied discography. Moreno goes full-ethereal here, evoking smoldering semi-erotic imagery from the start. Through his filter as a frontman, the retrieval of an unfinished cigarette from an ashtray becomes surprisingly sexy, a scene set with “pinkish red” tones. The song is savage but sensual at the same time, a yearning bit of poetry about two lovers slowly unraveling in each other’s absence, which satisfies the itch that Deftones’ softy audience demographic needs their music to scratch.
The contrast “Urantia” strikes with the record opener, “Genesis,” as well as “Ceremony,” “Error,” and “This Link is Dead” is subtle but undeniable. Each track, no matter how far inclined toward Moreno’s influence on Deftones’ style, makes way for Carpenter, and to a lesser extent keyboardist Frank Delgado, whose synth sounds mold Ohms further into shape once Carpenter’s riffs and palm mutes and distortions make their impact felt first. The mosquito whine Ohms commences on in “Genesis” implies an album hewing to Moreno more than Carpenter; it’s the setup that makes the arrival of crushing guitar strings land hard and gives each note individual weight. “The Spell of Mathematics” carries that relationship forward with increased gravity. Delgado holds a high-pitched line above Carpenter and Moreno, almost like he’s issuing a challenge to both of them: “Be louder. Drown me out. I dare you.”
They do, though Delgado’s an earworm for the rest of the song and the rest of the album. His electronic effects push his peers along toward realization of their strengths as individuals in a collective, but Carpenter always comes out ahead of the rest. This is his album. Ohms isn’t lacking harmony. Those elements that make Deftones Deftones have their role in giving the album definition, but Carpenter simply defines Ohms with greater authority, recalling Adrenaline’s fuzzed-up angst via White Pony’s celestial peaks. Arguably, Ohms is at first blush nothing new for Deftones. What it is is an engrossing refinement of what they’ve become over years of risk-taking and experimentation.
Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.