It goes without saying that a lot of 90’s numetal leaves us cringing more than anything else these days. Their edgy lyrics, dated styles, and obsession with rapping over drop-B guitars have not really aged well, and thus have lost a lot of relevancy. So when Deftones announced their latest studio album, Ohms, I wasn’t very hopeful. But one listen showed me that, in a lot of ways, Deftones have managed to mature beyond, and rise above, the shadow of the scene from which they were born.
As is their wont, Deftones really wander into some heavy territory with Ohms. Much of the guitar work hangs on chunky low notes, and the band constructs many of their tracks on rhythmic riffing. Tunes like “Urantia” and “The Spell of Mathematics” ride crushing but catchy progressions tinted with a hardcore edge, while “Ceremony” and “Genesis” stretch across long, droning chords reminiscent of doom. The band even peppers ultra-noisy intervals into a couple tracks like the opening of “Error,” using abrasive textures to sharpen those hard edges into something deadly.
Yet for all the metal filigree bilt into the foundation of these tracks, Ohms is remarkably accessible and picturesque. Layers of synths float behind the string instruments, coating the record in a diffuse glow of ethereal tones. In juxtaposition with the ultra-low distorted riffs, the guitars also stray into melodic territory to paint some beauty between the grittier textures—the lilting verses of “Pompeji” lull the listener into a gentle seaside scene that is suddenly overrun by distorted melodies and wretching screams in the chorus. Chino’s vocals especially walk the line between brutality and beauty; his signature breathy screams cut through the darker moments of the album, while the brighter ones are adorned with pretty yet powerful cadences.
Combining a dream-pop sensibility with a metal approach is no easy task, but the unit that is Deftones truly rises to the challenge. The (nine-string) guitars are HUGE and LOW, beefing up the low-end whenever the bass decides to run up and down the fretboard in quick melodic flourishes. The drums are utterly unwavering in tempo, even when diving into extended and complex fills—I know bands that would kill to have a drummer half as solid and proficient as Abe Cunningham. Chino’s vocals are laden with emotion and energy, so that even his sibilant whispers stir the heart into a frenzy.
There is a clear maturity displayed in the instrumentation of Ohms, but unfortunately, it does not seem to have carried over to the lyrics. While there are plenty of well-conceived images present throughout, the songs largely lack a focal image to tie them together. “Urantia” spends its first two verses conjuring relatable domestic sketches: “Underneath the sheets, I find your / Makeup and shoes in a bag… / Grab my keys and some money.” Yet the final verse totally abandons the domestic for the surreal line “We crawled in the tomb and released some honey.”
Similarly, the speaker in “Pompeji” starts in the sea with the lines “Deep in the bottomless depths of the ocean / Empty bodies, we sink,” but is “locked in the core of the tower” by the second verse. “Error” reads like a string of one-off metaphors, none of which seem to have anything to do with each other. While a lot of the writing sounds cool as one-liners, the lack of cohesion in the way they are combined keeps them from communicating much in the way of meaning.
Despite its nebulous lyrical direction (not to mention a weird amount of angst from someone in their late-40s), Ohms is a great listen. Its hardcore carapace, drone-metal pincers, and dream-pop underbelly make it a formidably heavy yet wholly accessible record. With a career spanning almost 30 years and nine studio albums, Deftones have a lot of history to look back on, and I would’ve fully expected and appreciated a gentle rehash of their back catalog. But Ohms shows that, at least instrumentally, Deftones are hungry for growth and experimentation, and I hope they never sate that craving.
My Top Track: “The Spell of Mathematics”