There is a question that must be asked before trying to rate the Deftones‘ newest release, Gore. Do you compare it to albums by other bands, or to the Deftones own discography? Because make no mistake: by one standard, Gore is an excellent album, but by the other it struggles to distinguish itself.
The key factor that has made the Deftones so enduring is that each album has sounded distinctly unique among the band’s work, even though every album uses many of the same elements. Adrenaline‘s rage, White Pony‘s experimental electronics, the wall of sludge that is Diamond Eyes, all of them are easily distinguishable. For the first time with Gore, they have made an album that doesn’t really sound fresh. Even the lyrics rehash a lot of the same imagery – frontman Chino Moreno’s fascination with guns, razors, and knives continues here. That’s not to say stale Deftones doesn’t sound really good, but it feels like a letdown, especially after the phenomenal back-to-back of Diamond Eyes and Koi No Yokan.
Lead single “Prayers/Triangles” enters on a wash of feedback, and a rippling, very pretty guitar line from Stephan Carpenter. The chorus gets intense and moody, and the shrieked bridge is classic Chino, but even though all the same sounds are present, the song seems to lack a sense of urgency. It’s a common problem on Gore, which meanders a little too often for its own good – although the band do find some interesting nooks and crannies to explore as well. “Acid Hologram” has a chill, mellow vibe, which seems an odd choice so early in the album. The song takes a couple sharp lefts, though, featuring a heavily distorted/digitized vocal bridge, and then a shift into a more standard chuggy riff that would be more impressive if it didn’t sound exactly like Koi No Yokan single “Leathers.” “Doomed User” is a throwback to Diamond Eyes, with a downtuned 8-string riff and Chino’s unmistakable yelp-scream throughout. The verses actually feature the most interesting choice, when the guitar line teases 80s cock-rock territory. “Geometric Headdress” is the most experimental song here, with a repeatedly mutating riff, but it also wanders without much of a purpose, randomly throwing fragments of previous styles together.
“Hearts/Wires” has an extended intro that would fit in any 80s crime-noir film’s opening credits, before bursting into a spastic Deftones tantrum and just as quickly fading back out into a gentle, melodic song. “Pittura Infamante” is simultaneously one of the more distinctive songs here, and the weakest. It’s brighter and happier sounding than the Deftones generally do, but spends four minutes doing absolutely nothing. “Xenon” also struggles to lift off the ground until the chorus lands. It’s mellow, but the melody is strong and engaging.
“(L)MIRL” has a dark, drifting intro that would be right at home on Koi No Yokan. The spooky guitar line is a definite highlight of the album, and is the first instantly memorable riff on the album. “Gore” sounds like an outtake off Diamond Eyes, with the heaviest chorus of the album both musically and vocally. “Phantom Bride” is hands down the highlight of the album, marrying the ethereal beauty of tracks like “Sextape” and “Rosemary” with an echoing guitar line and a colossal chorus that sticks in your head like a burr. It’s the only song on Gore that truly feels like an evolution or improvement on the band’s sound, and had the band focused on this airy but melancholy feel, Gore could have been so much more. Closing track “Rubicon” is a little more standard, but also has an earworm of a chorus slipped between the chugging verses.
If I have sounded really hard on this album, let me reiterate: I am only disappointed in Gore because the Deftones are so consistently phenomenal. Koi No Yokan was my favorite album of 2012, and Diamond Eyes was a very close second place in 2010, but only because 2010 was a stronger year for music (despite being 2nd best on the year, Diamond Eyes remains in my top 5 for the decade so far). Taken in the context of 2016’s other releases (and there have been a lot of amazing albums released already), even a familiar, slightly stale Deftones record is a breath of fresh air and a beacon of creativity. “Phantom Bride” is incredible, “Doomed User” is sure to become a live staple, and even my least favorite track, “Geometric Headdress,” is vastly superior to many other bands’ *best* songs. Spoiled as I am, I just hoped for a little bit more.
*Score in comparison to previous Deftones records: [4/10]