(2003) Deftones – Deftones: Anniversary Special

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It’s all on record. We told motherfuckers not to lump us in with nu metal because when those bands go down we aren’t going to be with them,” Chino Moreno of DEFTONES has been quoted as saying around the time of their eponymous fourth studio album, released on May 20th, 2003, via Maverick Records. In retrospect, his feisty words might ring with the air of an unnecessary defense. After all, the outing was met with mainly positive reviews and praise for the band’s originality in the midst of declining creativity in said nu-metal department, Pitchfork’s uppity music snobs maybe notwithstanding. “Deftones” featured a tad broader spectrum of styles in comparison with their previous efforts, ranging from moody shoegaze to even moodier trip-hop, while remaining true to their angst-ridden alternative metal roots. The fact that, on this album, Frank Delgado left his turntables behind and stepped behind the keyboard rig obviously factored into this new atmosphere quite remarkably. Personally, this album was when I fully experienced the immersive side of their music for the first time, as previously I had also been one of those casual fans who had written the band off merely as yet another nu-metal act, albeit a bit more feisty one at that. “Deftones” was also the last studio album to be produced by Terry Date until their 2020 effort, “Ohms.” So, in a number of ways, it marked the end of an era, propelling the band off on a new tangent that would eventually yield such brilliant gem as “Diamond Eyes” in 2010. Perhaps it was due to this subtle twinge of being a transitional album of sorts that this eponymous effort seldom is praised as a DEFTONES classic the same way as, say, “White Pony” (2001), although it really does not shy away much in comparison. It is raw and emotional, just as you would expect from this bunch, yet a little more polished endeavor altogether.

One of the reasons why the album seems a bit underrated in the band’s catalog might have something to do with the fact that it lacks those instant ”hits” – if you can consider DEFTONES songs as such. The outing boasts no “Digital Bath,” “Passenger,” or “Change (in the House of Flies).” Over the years, “Minerva” seems to have reached the status of a fan favorite but, otherwise, the album cuts do not pop up in the online music forums very often. Yes, “Minerva” truly is a haunting shoegaze-cum-metal piece of a somewhat similar vibe as THE SMASHING PUMPKINS‘ early efforts from the 1990s – but it is by far not the only half-forgotten gem this album has to offer. “Deathblow,” for instance, is a sublime, trip-hop-esque mood piece with a good pinch of that ominous Bristol vibe à la MASSIVE ATTACK. It’s almost as though the band could not, or chose not to, outrun the long, dark shadow cast by the previous decade.

Speaking of the devil, “Lucky You” switches into full gear in terms of the mid-1990s Bristol sound. Had either keyboardist Delgado come up with a bit more prominent synths or the guest, DJ Crook from Moreno‘s side-project TEAM SLEEP, gone more haywire with his scratches, the song could easily have fit the repertoire of some of those edgier trip-hop acts, such as SNEAKER PIMPS. The song also features vocalist Rey Osburn of TINFED and his signature sound does resonate a little bit with the air of Chris Corner of SNEAKER PIMPS and IAMX. I guess the trip-hop influences on this album came from Moreno. At least, in recent years, his side projects have delved ever deeper into this particular realm.

The original work-in-progress title of the album was “Lovers,” but it wound up being given the eponymous title, instead, because Moreno considered “Lovers” too obvious in the context of the lyrics. So, is there an overarching theme to the songs? Perhaps there is. As it happens, the cover for the second single opening the album, “Hexagram,” is a work titled “Bandaged Love” by artist Ashley Macomber. A quick glance at the song titles may suggest that the theme could be something of this sort, which would obviously explain the album’s utterly melancholic and desperate lyrics (as if DEFTONES ever were a particularly joyful band, to begin with).

Another track to single out is the piano ballad type of thing, “Anniversary of an Uninteresting Event.” Amidst the album’s angry riffathons and trip-hop mood pieces, the song is quite an abrupt left turn, although one that is quite beautiful and alluring. The lyrics are about ending a toxic relationship, drawing from that “bandaged love” theme, I suppose. Apparently, the song was birthed at the recording sessions as a spur-of-the-moment thing and it shows – but in a good way; the song is charged thick with a certain sense of weightlessness, which I always find a rather pleasing quality in a song. In this case, the feeling of being afloat in zero gravity lightens the weight of the depressing lyrics.

The album closes with the somewhat standard-issue DEFTONES song, “Moana.” It rolls out the band’s usual tricks – banging riffs and Chino‘s moaning vocals – bringing things to a close on a high note. Personally, I would have put the piano ballad last but that’s just me. By and large, “Deftones” comes off a tad darker than their previous albums, so I guess they wanted to put a bit more of a banging riffathon last.

Overall, this eponymous endeavor is also a bit more slow-flowing than, say, “White Pony” but it possesses a peculiar charm of its own. For me, it was the album that eventually converted me to become a full-blown member in the parish of DEFTONES fanboys – and later, I also figured out what was supposed to be so damn special in those previous albums too. The stark contrast between the angsty heaviness and the almost ambient calm was – and still is – something that makes this album very special to me.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. Hexagram
  2. Needles and Pins
  3. Minerva
  4. Good Morning Beautiful
  5. Deathblow
  6. When Girls Telephone Boys
  7. Battle-Axe
  8. Lucky You (featuring Rey Osburn)
  9. Bloody Cape
  10. Anniversary of an Uninteresting Event
  11. Moana

Lineup

Chino Moreno – vocals, rhythm guitars

Stephen Carpenter – lead guitars, bass on track 2, drums on track 10

Chi Cheng – bass, backing vocals

Frank Delgado – keyboards

Abe Cunningham – drums

Label

Maverick Records

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