Deftones have been one of the most vital and challenging rock bands of the last two decades, turning their particular brand of alt-metal into a moody and often striking display of musical assurance and lyrical complexity. If you're a newcomer to the band, I've selected 10 songs of theirs that demonstrate the breadth and brilliance of their catalog. I hope you enjoy.
A struggle for many hard rock bands is how to "mature" without getting boring. Apparently, we don't have to worry about that happening to Deftones. On "Tempest," from this year's Koi No Yokan, the quintet start out with a gentle, radio-friendly instrumental opening before slowly building the tension and tunefulness. Fans of the band's more sonically pummeling earlier years may sniff at "Tempest" and call it a sellout, but the sophistication on display here is stunning in its own way.
"Combat" captures Deftones at their most adventurous, elevating a typical fight-with-a-girlfriend diatribe into an artful, layered, blistering audio experiment. The track opens with eerie, atmospheric noises -- some indecipherable dialogue, some gloomy sound effects -- before unleashing its rage about 80 seconds in. Frontman Chino Moreno wails with dangerous conviction, "Whose side are you on? Whose side are you on?" Dude, we're definitely on your side.
"Diamond Eyes," the title track to Deftones' stirring 2010 release, proved that 15 years into their career this band hadn't lost an ounce of their edge or fury. Mixing ethereal keyboards, jagged guitars and some creepy invitations to "come run away with me," "Diamond Eyes" opens the record and sets the tone for one of the band's finest albums.
It's very possible that "Beauty School" is the most straight-up traditional love song that Deftones have ever written. Of course, in their capable hands, this Diamond Eyes cut doesn't sound like roses and boxes of chocolates. Instead, the song has ghostly, almost cinematic flourishes that suggest unresolved problems within this particular love story.
Soaring and powerful, "Minerva" salutes a woman's voice that's so captivating it leaves the narrator numb. The music feels sweeping, even inspirational, but the depth of Moreno's ecstasy is such that there's almost an unsettling undercurrent to the song, as if it's almost too much for him to bear.
The story goes that Moreno was inspired to write "Hole in the Earth" because of tensions within the band during the making of Saturday Night Wrist. Whether or not that's the case, the song dynamically paints a scenario in which everything is falling apart. Visions of the apocalypse abound and, even worse, the singer can't stand the people he's around. "Hole in the Earth" is a nightmare scenario brought to vivid life by a moody, mid-tempo arrangement in which the guitars move in and out of focus.
In the movies, some of the scariest monsters are the calmest. When you think about somebody like Hannibal Lecter, his cruel, calculated genius is all the more unnerving because he never seems to break a sweat while freaking you out. Deftones' "Digital Bath" features an equally horrific figure: a quiet madman who nonchalantly kills his lover while they're in the bath together. The situation should be repulsive, but Moreno's brilliant first-person storytelling keeps you on the edge of your seat.
One of the hidden gems in Deftones' catalog, "Sextape" sings of waves and oceans, and similarly the music has a shimmering beauty to it, complete with powerful undertows. This is the band at their most sensual and seductive, and the longing in Moreno's vocals has an undeniably wistful quality to it, as if he's trying to regain a moment of pleasure that's probably gone forever.
Plenty of rock songs have been devoted to the pleasures of fast cars, but none are quite like "Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)." In the Around the Fur single, driving takes on a dangerous, desperate energy as the narrator insists that all he needs is his girl and the open road. There's nothing romantic or freewheeling about "Be Quiet and Drive" -- just the creeping suspicion that our main character isn't telling us everything and that his reasons for escaping may be uglier than we want to know.
Deftones are known for their bleak lyrics, but "Change (In the House of Flies)" ranks among their blackest. Over anguished guitars, Moreno whispers and moans to his beloved, treating her like a fly whose wings he's pulled off. It's an upsetting song about the dark side of desire, and "Change" is all the more frightening because of the studio effects applied to Moreno's voice, rendering him nearly inhuman.