Deftones – Diamond Eyes
Release Date: May 4, 2010
Record Label: Maverick/Warner Bros.
The snow owl on the cover of the Deftones’ latest effort, Diamond Eyes is the second such animal chosen to grace the cover of their albums, and it couldn’t be more fitting. Both 2000’s White Pony, and this May’s Diamond Eyes are analogous to those creatures- beautifully graceful, yet powerful and ominous. It’s also quite fitting because for those who have been waiting for Deftones to return to musical prowess exhibited on White Pony, Diamond Eyes will be a welcome offering. In my opinion, it will also go down as one of the best albums of the year.
Since November of 2008, the future of the Deftones has been somewhat in question. Bassist Chi Cheng’s car accident and subsequent coma prompted an outpouring of support for the Sacramento-based troupe, yet left many wondering if the band would recover. Despite some marked improvement, Cheng remains bed-ridden. Quicksand alum Sergio Vega took over bass duties, and the band had a decision to make. They could craft a new effort, markedly affected by the near-loss of their fallen comrade…or create a sprawling success in spite of it. They could pen a tribute out of grief, or an opus that overcomes it. Fortunately, they churned out the latter, and in full force.
While their last two outings showcased darker, heavier musical themes, Diamond Eyes sounds comparatively optimistic and bright, even amidst the still crushing rhythms and soundscapes. While due in some part to the conscious decision to emerge from the darker tones of 2003’s self-titled and 2006’s Saturday Night Wrist, I also credit Diamond’s fresh, more dynamic sound to the production of fellow Grammy-winner Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Rush). One could even be forgiven for assuming the band had reunited with the legendary Terry Date, whose absence from the sound-board on their last two efforts was apparent. One positive result of the new production values is drummer Abe Cunningham’s return to prominence. One of rock’s criminally underrated percussionists has been somewhat drowned out in recent releases, but on Diamond Eyes, his crisp beats, tight setup, and technical proficiency are gloriously apparent. Vega covers the bassline effortlessly, adding some noticeable personal touches, while DJ Frank Delgado adds more electronic vibes and flourishes than ever before. His touches are an organic part of the instrumentation, never seeming like an afterthought.
The highlight of the album is, without a doubt, the voice/guitar interplay forged by vocalist Chino Moreno and guitarist Stephen Carpenter. They have both developed an ability to make their respective instruments simultaneously smooth and massive. Carpenter weaves heavy tapestries with soft overlaying complements, while Moreno’s voice has never been as soothing, or as brutal.
Some reviewers of Saturday Night Wrist expressed trepidation about Moreno’s voice, wondering if it had finally reached its plateau after nearly two decades of shreds and visceral shrieks. The final minutes of “Royal” lay any remaining worries to rest. Chino’s trademark scream is the final blast of emotion closing out a relentless onslaught of bombastic riffs. One listen to “Sextape” (a fine complement to White Pony’s “Digital Bath”) also finds his crooning as silky as ever. This album’s vocals also feature more dual harmony than Moreno has provided in previous efforts while avoiding the poppy feel that often accompanies it. They haven’t lost their knack for experimentation, either- “CMD/CTRL” nearly hearkens back to bouncy “Mini-Maggit” territory, and “You’ve Seen the Butcher” comes off as a very successful attempt at the sludge-rock of Kyuss. “Prince” is a blast from the past, sounding like a relic, circa Around the Fur. As per usual, they excel flawlessly, their trademark originality and musical integrity fully intact.
The title track and the single “Rocket Skates” both provide merely the first tasty smatterings of an impending sprawling, sonic feast. Unfortunately, clocking in at less than 45 minutes, this is a meal that may leave some fans hungry. This deficiency should be perceived as a blessing in disguise. Each track is great in its own right, the album is cohesive, and there’s no song that feels like filler.
I once tried to describe Deftones’ signature sound to a friend: “It’s like being hit by an anvil wrapped in pillows”. That comparison has never seemed more apt, nor more confirmed by the feather-draped, prowling creature on the cover of Diamond Eyes. In an interview following the release of 1997’s Around the Fur, Moreno discussed his realization that the placement of flowing vocals over heavy music was a revelatory discovery in the studio- and it’s a formula that has paid great dividends to them and their fans.
Enduring for more than 20 years, 6 stellar efforts (a 7th, Eros, has been shelved for now), and the painful absence of their brother-in-arms, Deftones are no worse for the wear. Diamond Eyes is a resounding success in the face of adversity. Their last two albums left some wondering whether White Pony was the final jewel in art-metal’s crown. It will be abundantly clear this summer that there’s also room for a Diamond...