Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Album Review/Guest Blogger: DEFTONES - Diamond Eyes by Steve Abraham

Sailen asked me to pen down my thoughts on the new album by a band I have religiously followed ever since I picked up the bad habit from my brother ten years ago.  I am in no way a professional critic or writer - my only credentials for reviewing a Deftones album are solely based on my overindulgence in every single piece of music they have ever released, my preaching their gospel to anyone willing (sometimes unwilling) to listen, the numerous concert ticket stubs continuing to collect in my wallet and the fact that I have not gone a single day without scouring the net for any news pertaining to the band.  In short, I’m your average Deftones fan. 

In Pic: Deftones (Abe Cunningham, Frank Delgado, Chino Moreno, Sergio Vega, Stephen Carpenter

What always amazes me about the Deftones is their ability to surprise me by consistently reinventing their sound and musical genres in general. It took me weeks to understand Saturday Night Wrist, months for the Self-Titled album and it took me years to discover Around the Fur and Adrenaline due to the fact that I was just a teenager at the time with a haphazard taste for music. I’m still finding new details to get excited about with every updated listen.

Anyone who has ever heard any of their songs, whether they approve of the music or not, will agree that their sound is seamlessly schizophrenic.  The listener is initially left bewildered because the band makes it a point to confuse that part of your brain that insists on categorizing music into genres.  For lack of a better term, there’s something for everybody. You just have to be a little patient to hear the entire picture. 

A perfect Deftones album is their ability to flawlessly balance the sublime and the raw.  That balance was something they nailed on White Pony deeming the 2000 album a classic. They were able to weave in and out of their polar opposite sounds without ever having the audience notice what they had just pulled off.

In Pic: White Pony (Gold Standard)

Adrenaline, Around the Fur and the Self-Titled album on the other hand were near perfect - soaked in their heavy sound with just a slight taste of the quiet.  SNW is special primarily due to the softer tracks ('Cherry Waves,' 'Riviere'), although the heavier tracks ('Rapture,' 'Combat,' 'Kimdracula') are noteworthy. It was far from a perfect album due to a couple of duds ('Pink Cellphone,' 'Mein'), but I was hearing something new, something unfamiliar and initially uncomfortable. 

This is where Diamond Eyes suffers – the imbalance between the soft and the loud disappoints. 

The heavier tracks in Diamond Eyes reign supreme.  'Royal' blows my mind with every listen. It has that energy, which knocks you around the room, speaker to speaker and refuses to let up. Just when you think you’ve earned a second to catch your breath, the band delivers the final deathblow - I can’t help smiling every time I hear that savage breakdown.  

'Rocket Skates,' albeit I didn’t fully understand it initially, is a fine example of the new sound and direction the entire album could have taken.  I find myself holding my breath every time the track bashes my eardrums into my brain. It’s a savage, adrenaline-infused bitch of a song. 

The softer tracks, which are usually the no-brainers in any Deftones album, fail to hold my attention. 'Sex Tape,' 'Beauty School,' '976-Evil,' are great songs, but their respective choruses come across sounding flat, lacklustre and recycled.  Xerces established the ‘lazy’ chorus in SNW and it worked because it was the first of it’s kind.  I’m sure 'Sex Tape' would have blown me away maybe 4 years ago.  But, I find myself bored hearing the same formula once again in 2010.  

If there’s one thing the Deftones are masters at, it’s their ability to write a potent chorus. Case in point: 'Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away),' 'Minerva,' 'Bloody Cape,' 'Digital Bath,' 'Beware,' 'Change (in the House of Flies),' 'Cherry Waves,' 'My Own Summer (Shove It),' 'Engine No. 9,' 'Lotion' – I can go on and on but unfortunately there’s a word limit. 

Apart from album highlights 'Cmnd/Cntrl,' 'Rocket Skates' and 'Royal,' the rest of the album feels like they would have made A-grade b-sides. I hear hints of their previous albums in many of the new tracks and that familiarity is what keeps me from hitting the play button again once 'This Place is Death' comes to a close.   

I finally understand why it doesn’t make sense for a band to listen to their fans who relentlessly ask them to try and re-capture the chemistry of a classic like White Pony. What you end up with is the same sound; stale and sub-average. I love the Deftones for the mere fact that they make it extremely difficult for me to draw comparisons between any of their songs. With Diamond Eyes, I can’t help feeling that the Deftones are getting a little too comfortable with a certain type of song writing. The fact that I can pinpoint exactly which new track reminds me of an older one doesn’t help either.

While I’m ranting, Stephen Carpenter really needs move on from the Messugah-ish guitaring. I get it, he wanted to experiment with a sound on the previous album and that’s totally fine. Even Chino got it out of his system with Team Sleep and the atrocious 'Pink Cellphone' (the former being successful).  But time to move on to something new. Stephen Carpenter was the king of establishing those larger than life chords, producing the perfect contrast to Chino’s voice. So why mimic the sound of another band? 

Also, I want to hear Abe utilized a little more effectively. He has proven to be a fantastic drummer, but in Diamond Eyes it sounds like he’s been forced to simplify his technique. If there’s one member who really did his homework on this album, it would be Frank Delgado, with his keyboards and samples holding the entire sound together. 

Perhaps I’m being a little harsh and over-critical. With all the time, money, effort and words spent on these individuals, I think I can take a time out to nit pick a little. After all, the Deftones have repeatedly set the bar pretty high for their listeners. 

However, let me end on a positive note. There’s a lot to love on the new album. I do appreciate the fact that the band tried to think outside the box with the stoner rock-ish 'You’ve Seen the Butcher' and 'Risk' with it’s almost R&B vibe.  'This Place is Death' is one of the strangest and darkest tracks I have heard by this band and it continues to grow on me. The music opens up even more when swivelled through headphones or on higher volumes. No one should be discouraged from hearing the album because compared to a lot of music currently out there, this album scores big and there are plenty of reasons to return to Diamond Eyes after taking the occasional break. 

Maybe I’ll be proven wrong in time with this album. Maybe I’ll find out more and more to obsess over with Diamond Eyes and maybe I’ll have to eat these words.  With their previous work, a lot of it sounded like noise until I took the time to peel the music apart and appreciate what the band was trying to accomplish.  Diamond Eyes, I absolutely get. I understand what’s good about it and the ease of the entire exercise is what’s disappointing. 

To quote a Deftones classic, “I feel like more.” 

Sean – if you want a rating – it’d be a 7 on 10. 

Steve Abraham is my old roommate from school and childhood friend. We grew up on the Deftones and while I've been following them loosely, Steve has been keeping his eye on them very closely for over ten years now. I thought who better to introduce YHIHF readers to one of my all time favourite rock bands (as they release their sixth album) than the person who knows them best.  Hope you enjoyed his review and more than anything else, I hope you give the Deftones a listen.  They're honestly one of the most versatile, diverse sounding rock bands out there and Chino Moreno has a voice which is smooth as butter.  Metal, stoner rock, progressive rock, glitch rock - the Deftones are everything and more. One more thing, the tunes and album which have been marked in Gold, are the ones you should be getting on right now. Retailers, it would be awesome if you had this on sale in India. - SG 

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  1. If I hadn't already heard the album, based on this piece of writing, I definitely would.

  2. Melanie D'SouzaJune 2, 2010 at 1:02 AM

    You're a star Steve. This is really really well written. Makes me curious to hear the Deftones. Imma ask Sean to hook me up :)

  3. I had goosebumps reading this thing. Took me back to senior year, phelps dorm, top ramen and fried ham. :) Not only is it an honour to have the Deftones on my blog, it was even bigger honour to have Steve write for YHIHF. Steve remember that file you kept with all your fiction in middle school? Juhi, get your hands on that, history right there. ;)

  4. I just read a Youtube comment on the video for "Rocket Skates" where someone said that they love having sex to their songs.Well...If you think about it, their songs are quite "sexable",if I could say.
    Lovely Review though.


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