Throughout their long career, Deftones have been pushing the musical boundaries of metal since day one. Their first two albums (1995’s Adrenaline and 1997’s Around The Fur) were raw, chaotic, and in your face. After a 3 year break, the Sacramento band, which was originally a quartet (vocalist/guitarist Chino Moreno, guitarist Stephen Carpenter, bassist Chi Cheng, and drummer Abe Cunningham), officially added keyboardist/DJ Frank Delgado to the mix, and released the genre defying White Pony. Heavier, moodier, and complex, it prompted all major music publications to crown them as the “Radiohead of Metal.” It is also very likely that White Pony influenced some of your favorite post-hardcore bands recent albums. After all the success and hype (Pony went on to go platinum), Deftones followed it up with 2003’s self titled effort, which left much to be desired. The band has said they became lazy on that record and that album showed how much they put into it. Leaving many fans disappointed, Deftones barely toured to support that record, and many began to forget about them and/or write them off. Their latest release, Saturday Night Wrist, is here to win back those fans and erase the disappointment of the last album.
Despite almost breaking up and an insane amount of turmoil and delays in Saturday Night Wrist’s production, it is finally upon us and I am here to assure you that it’s a return to glory for the Tones. While most of the music was produced by Bob Ezrin (KISS, Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd), Moreno’s longtime friend Shaun Lopez worked with him on vocals. The result is a twelve track album that sounds like the natural progression of White Pony, combining aspects from that album and Moreno’s quieter side project, Team Sleep.
The first single, “Hole In The Earth,” begins with a crushing guitar intro followed by Moreno’s melodic vocals. A passionate combination of melody and hostility, the song kicks off the album well and is a message from the band: they aren’t messing around this time. The frantic “Rapture” follows, which displays Moreno’s raspy scream and the heaviness Carpenter loves to incorporate in each song. Reminiscent of “Elite” from Pony, it’s definitely a song that knocks you on your ass.
The balancing act of metal and melody is apparent throughout the album, especially in “Beware,” which just may be one of the best songs the Deftones have ever written. Spanning six minutes, the choruses are slow and atmospheric, with Moreno eerily singing. With just a little under two minutes left in the track though, the Tones let it loose and deliver an auditory ambush. “Cherry Waves” reminds me a lot of a Yeah Yeah Yeah’s song, as Moreno’s croon in the chorus is similar to Karen O, just not as feminine. “Mein” will be a fan favorite, as System Of A Down’s Serj Tankian lends his voice on the chorus, offering deep vocals, which counteracts to Moreno’s higher sound on the verses. Following that is the instrumental “u, u, d, d, l, r, l, r, a, b, select, start,” a Deftones first. This builds up to another moody, piano-driven “Xerces.” A showcase of Delgado’s programming and keyboard skills, his work stands out along with Moreno’s vocal range. This track, combined with the instrumental, kind of stalls the pace of the album, and could lull listeners to sleep on their first listen. Thankfully, “Rats! Rats! Rats!” follows to revive the album’s pace. A high-octane track, the guitars dart in and out, Cunningham controls the skins, and Moreno sings like a madman in the verses, only to pull back and sing on the choruses. This doesn’t last long, as Moreno and Carpenter kick you in the teeth with the vicious combination of vocals and guitar. One of best songs on the album, as the fusion of brutality and melody is something to behold.
The album takes a trip to the asylum with “Pink Cellphone,” an electronia-tinged track that is heavily influenced by Team Sleep, as it would fit perfectly on their album. It’s a nice change of scenery on the album, until the final minute. Featuring Giant Drag’s vocalist Annie Hardy, she finishes off the track with a x-rated dialogue, mentioning Hot Carls and explaining why British people have bad teeth, among other things. I can see that part completely ruining “Cellphone” for many listeners, as it takes a few listens just to get over the absurdness of this track. “Combat” brings the album back to normalcy, as it begins with a spacey minute and a half intro into Cunningham’s staccato drum roll and Carpenter and Cheng’s devastating musicianship. This track slightly reminds me of another track from White Pony, this time being “Knife Prty.” “Kimdracula” follows, and this is another track that’ll please White Pony fans.
The gentle “Riviere” closes out Saturday Night Wrist. Moreno’s vocals effortlessly flow over this lullaby, as Carpenter’s guitar keeps the dark undertone in place. The song displays an emotional heaviness, as Carpenter punishes his kit and Cheng and Carpenter drive through with their bass and guitar, respectively. Moreno finishes off the track poignantly, barely whispering “She haunts the road/she waits for a new face,” bringing the album to a haunting close.
The process of finishing Saturday Night Wrist almost destroyed the band, with creative differences between Moreno and Carpenter. It even got the point where each member wanted to kick out Moreno. But, I’ve always believed in the theory that when there is turmoil in the Deftones’ studio, a great album will follow. Saturday Night Wrist is the redemptive album every Deftones fan was waiting for after the disappointment of the last recording. The angst and anxiety are back in Moreno’s vocals, while the swagger is more apparent than ever in the music. While it doesn’t top White Pony, it comes pretty damn close. The album isn’t without fault – the middle of the album can drag on at points and many will despise “Pink Cellphone”— it is still one of the best albums I’ve heard in 2006, as very few bands can reach the perfect medium of ambience and aggression in their songwriting as well as matching the amazing vocal range of Chino Moreno. There are reasons why the Deftones are known as “the Radiohead of metal” and many of your favorite bands want to emulate their style; Saturday Night Wrist only proves these points even further.