Sunday, 18 November 2012
DEFTONES - KOI NO YOKAN
Remember when Korn were gracing the covers of Metal Hammer all the time, when Blind was the biggest song on rock radio and they were heralded as pioneers? The truth is they were merely holding the door open for bands like Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, Disturbed, Staind, Taproot and Linkin Park to wander through (and promptly shit all over the floor); Deftones were the band who, with debut record Adrenaline, kicked that door open in the first place! They were the true Kings of Nu Metal, and as if to reaffirm that status, they followed it up with an album many rock fans may recall as being quite good, Around The Fur, featuring a little ditty called My Own Summer (Shove It). Then, in 2000, something happened nobody foresaw; while many of those other bands were sinking with the nu metal ship, recycling the same old boring ideas and sounds, moaning relentlessly about how awful it is to be buggered by your father and beaten by your mother (even when they hadn’t experienced such horrors), Deftones were swimming away from the wreckage...fast! White Pony was their difficult third album, the one by which most artists can tend to be judged more harshly; you’re not allowed to recycle the same thing a second time, but you mustn’t disappoint your fan-base either; it is easy to see why it is a tough record to make, and why a lot of bands tend to drop off the map with it. White Pony did indeed disappoint those who wanted more of the same, but for the rest of us it was a breath of fresh air, with a new approach, a maturity and a confidence, it was a near perfect record that quickly had them being referred to as the Radiohead of metal due to its daring freshness and new sound (as opposed to nu sound). Still very much Deftones, but to some degree a shift in gear for a band who had matured and allowed more non-metal influences on their music to shine more obviously.
As a big fan of Deftones it was not easy for me to acknowledge my disappointment with what followed. The lack of title for their fourth outing was indicative of its laziness, and the rather average and somewhat disjointed Saturday Night Wrist was a bit of a non-event. Then they became one of those bands that were “hit and miss when playing live”, and I came to terms with the idea that they had dropped the ball permanently. This feeling of loss of such a musical force was only cemented by the tragic accident that put bassist Chi Cheng into a coma. Imagine my pleasant surprise, then, when they came back a couple of years ago with friend Sergio Vega on the low end and an impressive record in Diamond Eyes! A little burdened by some ‘filler’, it is nevertheless a far weightier and satisfying affair than its couple of predecessors, and importantly, it was an indication that there was life in the beast yet.
Well now we have Koi No Yokan, an 11 track mammoth record, which confirms the re-birth of the most important band in the nu metal movement as now one of the most innovative alt rock bands working today! Twenty years on, to still expect any Adrenaline Pt 2 is ridiculous (just go and listen to that record, dude), but that said, the album is not without its nods to previous work. Kicking off with the strident Swerve City, we are immediately smiling at the promise this might be as good as anything offered up on White Pony; the energy and groove are top-notch, and the hook is a dangerously addictive one. It is not the last time that album seems to be referenced either; Gauze is jagged, deceptively heavy and nicely textured in a way that brings Korea to mind, a sort of controlled chaos at points that houses some great bass work from Sergio, while Romantic Dreams is evidence that Frank Delgado is now officially a necessary member of this team, who pulls in the same direction as the rest and broadens their canvas, as first truly seen on White Pony, rather than a gimmicky fifth member just added after the fact. All over this record his keys and samples can be heard to be doing so much more than anything DJ Lethal offers Limp Bizkit. On Entombed, for example, a song that might not sound out of place on a new A Perfect Circle record, he adds a hypnotic layer, and on Tempest, one of the tracks they previewed prior to the album’s release and one which took a little time to grow on me, his work pulls you in and makes the track all the more compelling, complementing the song’s dark grooves and beautiful dynamics. Another grower is Graphic Nature, which has a certain Adrenaline vibe going on, and sounds like it should have been the best song on Saturday Night Wrist, its guitar work at times bringing the likes of punk legends Fugazi to mind, and Abe really shining with some nifty, very precise hi-hat grooving. It may take time, but this could end up being a fan favourite.
Another song they previewed, Leathers, nods its head to Around The Fur, with grooves full of swagger and huge guitars. It is another example of the band’s desire to step away from the standard format of their peers, playing in 11/8 time. It is not the only time they let this progressive tendency show either; Poltergeist, featuring sexy guitar effects and continuing the progression they made with Diamond Eyes, shows Chino’s penchant for a ‘hip-hop’ type of delivery in the verses, with a 7/4 time signature, completely atypical of the genre these guys are supposed to be part of. If further evidence were needed that they do not see themselves in the same bracket as a lot of their peers anymore, look no further than Rosemary, a slow build to a slow BPM, putting on show an affection for the ‘post rock’ influence without going overboard, it is heavy and seductive. A huge Djent riff leads into a gentle outro that cleanses the palette ready for Goon Squad, which grows out of it expertly.
Chino sounds like he cares more than ever about his performance on this; he is writing what seem to be his most positive and evocative lyrics, delivering gorgeous hooks with his unmistakable approach. He is singing in that seductive way only he really can, and screaming very little, but it is exactly what is required for where they are as a band. Any doubt that Sergio or Delgado may not fit is eradicated, Steph again shows off his ability to keep what he does simple yet hugely effective, with often molten heavy, groove-laden riffs. Abe Cunningham is as solid and unpredictable a drummer as ever, straddling the line between punk and progressive perfectly.
Their reinvigoration may be down to working with Rush and Foo Fighters producer Nick Raskulinecz, who has helped them inject a boldness to their sound that has been lacking for some time. Maybe it is certain members of the band cleaning up their act on a personal level and getting back to doing what they do best. Perhaps it is the love for Chi Cheng and the hope he will return to play the music they enjoy making once again. The latter is most apparent on uplifting album closer What Happened To You? which I am sure was written in Chi’s honour. It may be all of the above, but one thing is for sure, Koi No Yokan is all the good things we know Deftones for rolled into one record with equal measure and perfect balance. Dark and beautiful, textured and varied, heavy and emotional, it is their most creative work since White Pony, and unlike the last few records, it is in perfect playing order and has not one moment that you feel the urge to skip; in fact you feel almost rude for even considering skipping a song, and I struggle to pick highlights, it is that good! This is an album you enjoy most when listening from front to back, in its entirety. If there is any complaint, it is only that there isn't enough of it. This record is a tremendous gift if you're already a Deftones fan, and for anyone who is not, it's a perfect introduction. There may be some who say it is their best album to date; it is a statement I would not try to argue with.