ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Ohms’ by Deftones

It speaks a lot to Deftones’ abilities that, for as many bands have tried to pay homage to what they do, none have been able to quite get there completely. That’s long been held as the biggest selling point of this band, who might have initially been bundled in with nu-metal but with an atmosphere and experimentalism that never felt like a fair comparison, but it’s been genuinely incredible to see how much Deftones have managed to keep it up. They’ve not released a bad album to date, and while 2000’s White Pony remains their undisputed peak, the fact they’ve managed to build and evolve across virtually every album since is an achievement that not many bands can attest to. Of course, reiterating all of that is nothing new, but when it comes to Deftones, it’s hard to find anything to say otherwise; they’re one of modern rock and metal’s most consistently fascinating bands, being able to push boundaries and do something entirely unique while still maintaining an enormous platform for themselves. To really clutch at straws, maybe 2016’s Gore doesn’t have quite as much staying power as some of its predecessors, but it still feels like an integral piece in Deftones catalogue in its doubling down of their loftier, more elegant moments. As such, the familiarity of Ohms arrival on the surface isn’t much of a detracting factor at all; sure, the general gist of a Deftones album is likely to remain intact across the board, but that’s never been a bad thing for a band who never use that as an excuse to play it safe or rest on their laurels.

That’s an almost mandatory viewpoint to look at Ohms with, as it does come bearing all the hallmarks of a Deftones album. It has the weight and tension balanced with a real sense of beauty and liberating experimentation, but also like the albums that have come before it, it’s never standing still, and always looking to further what this can band can actually be. In this case in particular, the leaps are perhaps not quite as drastic as they’ve been in the past, but there’s still so much richness and fascinating detail that’s gone into this album that’s enormously gratifying to dig into, especially across multiple listens. In other words, it’s what we’ve come to expect from a Deftones album, said without even a twinge of facetiousness or disappointment.

Really it’s hard to see how anyone could be disappointed by Ohms, given that Deftones have carved out such a high calibre of material for themselves that generally only becomes more refined over time. In the case of Ohms, the nu-metal and alt-metal side begins to emerge more prominently once again, a sure side effect of having Terry Date back behind the production desk, but also in what can feel like a breakaway from the more solemn side of Gore without losing the elegance. There’s still a lot of atmospheric touches that blanket this album, like the buzzing synths that tip the edges of Genesis or distant cries of seagulls that bookend Pompeji, but like with the best of Deftones’ material, it’s in service of making their heavier side feel more powerful and cinematic. This is clearly a band whose members are well and truly indebted to their roles now, and the experience at delivering that really does show on Ohms; both Stephen Carpenter and Abe Cunningham have their roles brought closer to the fore, the former in scathing guitar lines like on Error and Radiant City and the latter with the weight in his drums to back it up, while Sergio Vega’s bass and Frank Delgado’s electronics are the key sources of the sinuous progressions and depth within the band’s arsenal. And of course, there’s Chino Moreno’s vocals, capable of tactile whispers and acidic screams with equal profiency, and on a song like The Link Is Dead, proving just how deeply his stock as a metal vocalist runs. Indeed, there’s a lot about Ohms that makes it feel distinctly like a metal album, and that’s not really been all too common in Deftones’ more recent material. Sure, Diamond Eyes and Koi No Yokan had moments overall, but there’s a fire to Ohms that feels more consistently imposing, and that’s allowed to blaze without marginalising the parts of Deftones that draw from shoegaze or trip-hop. When The Spell Of Mathematics or Pompeji go into their extended outros, they feel consciously crafted as transitional phases to let the album breathe, and they’re utterly fantastic at doing so.

And yes, that similar mindset can be applied to a lot of Deftones’ music, and while Ohms does feel like its reshaping where the formula had been for the last couple of albums, the band aren’t branching out or expanding their oeuvre by any tremendous degree. Though it could be argued that that really isn’t necessary, simply because Deftones as a prospect is so clearly its own thing that embracing that originality and sense of freedom is really all they need to do. It wouldn’t be an incorrect argument either; as Ohms alone shows, so much of the appeal of Deftones comes from the slow burn and the seduction embedded in their music, which only continues to unravel more and more with each subsequent listen. It’s why their very expressionist, esoteric writing style works so well on an album like this, paired with greater anger and frustration that’s constantly threatening to boil over, while wrapping itself in images of nature and abstract concepts that surround it. It’s almost impressionistic in a way, particularly in the way that Moreno’s voice careens through it all, condensed on the closing title track where, among a landscape that’s been razed to the ground by human destructiveness and hubris, the options are to find hope within the wasteland or simply succumb to it. There really isn’t a clear answer or one set picture that defines Ohms, but that’s to its credit, especially when Deftones find themselves as a far more evocative presence through words and abstract images more than stories.

It’s just another example of how Deftones continue to thrive, and how Ohms is yet another addition to the stride that they hit about two decades ago and haven’t let up on since. They continue to be one of the most creative and daring bands in metal, and while Ohms isn’t an enormous shift for them specifically, there’s still no one else that really sounds like them, even after all this time. And that’s ultimately the beauty of Deftones, and why continuing to listen to them is so exciting – they’re their own perfect little thing that seem at odds completely with everything else around them, and the fact they continue to excel despite that never doesn’t feel like a triumph. In the grand scheme of their career, Ohms might just be another album, but it’s another album that continues to revel in its own creativity and passion, and’s always going to be worth appreciating.

8/10

For fans of: Team Sleep, ††† (Crosses), Tool
Words by Luke Nuttall

‘Ohms’ by Deftones is released on 25th September on Reprise Records.

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