It’s been well-documented how tumultuous the nearly 30 year career of Sacramento rock band Deftones has been. From the tragic loss of original bassist Chi Cheng, to the in-fighting, to the passive approach the band took to recording their mid-2000’s records – it’s somewhat remarkable that Deftones didn’t break up years ago. Instead, the band has unleashed Gore, their most fascinating release since 2001’s breakthrough White Pony.
Experimenting and progressing is a means of survival in the major label rock world — it’s the only way one does not fall victim to the ever-changing trends and expectations. This urgency is immediately heard on opening track “Prayers/Triangles.” The astral verses accompanied by Chino Moreno’s dreamy vocals give way to Stephen Carpenter’s bruising guitar work on the chorus, as if those riffs are what caused the flock of flamingos that grace Gore’s cover to flee. And while “Prayers/Triangles” works as a killer intro to Gore, it may also be the safest track on the album. This is a thrilling thing to realize as the listener begins to dig deep into the following ten tracks.
It’s no secret that Moreno and Carpenter routinely butt heads in the studio – the former wanting to include more experimental tones while the latter fighting to go even heavier. Carpenter even raised eyebrows earlier this year when he mentioned that the album “wasn’t the style or the sound” he was hoping for and he feels like he and the band are going in opposite directions. And you can see why Carpenter feels like that when you hear a Palms-esque track like “Heart/Wires” or the haunting drone of “(L)MIRL.” In rare cases, this has led to disaster. (We’d all like to forget about Saturday Night Wrist.) However, there are times where their creative differences have resulted in the band’s most remarkable songs. It’s no different on Gore. Take for example “Doomed User,” Moreno paints luscious soundscapes with his voice, going from weary to pissed in an instant, while Carpenter channels 80’s thrash (paced by Sergio Vega’s grooving bass line), and the result deploys tones that’ll leave craters in the earth.
Usually impasse between two strong-willed individuals can derail records, but the conflicting ideologies help develop Gore into the most captivating, genre-bending release from the band’s three decades together. “Acid Hologram” is a highlight among many, drenched in a fuzzy shoegaze reverb amongst Frank Delgado’s hazy electronic manipulation and Carpenter’s crunching riffs. The stampeding “Geometric Headdress” shows off Abe Cunningham’s (criminally underrated) drumming skills that most machines couldn’t replicate, and the distorted “Xenon” blends the past and future of rock with Delgado’s masterful aid.
Gore is definitely the “least heavy” of Deftones’ catalog. And it’s clear why Carpenter had concerns, but that doesn’t mean the album never gets wild – it’s just more nuanced than ever before. Carpenter and the band pick their precise spots perfectly. The title track will ignite a fire in old farts like me to jump back into the pit, as Moreno channels his iconic howl throughout. And album closer “Rubicon” is an avalanche of crushing chords, pierced by Delgado’s high-pitch key strokes. But it’s the middle track of Gore’s fantastic closing trio that’ll drop jaws. “Phantom Bride” feels like an ecstasy-induced journey swelling through shimmering soundscapes and a killer riff from Alice in Chains’ guitarist Jerry Cantrell. But like with any bender, the following hangover is never friendly and the closing moments of “Bride” is exactly that, as Carpenter’s deafening breakdown overtakes the track’s prior sheen.
There are plenty of reasons why Deftones have been dubbed the metal versions of Morrissey and Radiohead – with their heady, atmospheric musicianship and obtuse lyricism – and plenty of Gore is full of that still. But instead of resting on their laurels like many bands in their position would, the Bay Area quintet create like they’re still fighting for a spot atop the metal food chain.