“White Pony” should stand as one of the best recordings made at the onset of the 21st century. Combining heavy metal guitars and futuristic electronica touches with the alternately delicate and larynx-rending singing style of Chino Moreno, “White Pony” would make the perfect soundtrack to some cyberpunk film noir that was never made: as sharp in its execution as a chrome shuriken and a tone and feel as blurry as the glow of neon in the rain.
It’s hard to fault the Deftones for making a worse record than “White Pony,” but we’ll manage.
Where their magnum opus shoveled sludge at the listener in an octave more easily processed by the human ear, guitarist Stephen Carpenter seemingly sinks lower and lower into the quagmire of modern metal’s fascination with ridiculously low guitar tunings. The result is guitar that sounds like someone threw Carpenter’s amp stack into a lake, then tossed a blanket on top. Murky and characterless.
They’re a band at their best when seamlessly integrating their influences; Moreno’s Cure fixation at odds with heavy metal and DJ Frank Delgado’s beatmaking skills all in the same roaring, dysfunctional lullaby. When the ‘Tones draw lines instead of using a blender, they’re in trouble. “Lucky You” and “Anniversary of An Uninteresting Event,” while both interesting and able to stand on their own, smack of awkwardness in the song cycle of an otherwise heavy (and muffled) recording.
If there’s something good to say, it’s that the band’s passions are still running high. In “Hexagram,” Moreno’s vocals are stretched almost to the point of breaking, making for a howling bridge piece that’s the aural equivalent of trying to tie a rubber band around the trunk of a redwood tree. Other standouts include the single “Minerva,” with its churning waves of blissful guitar fuzz, and the similarly constructed but downtempo tune, “Battle-Axe.”
Overall the album is simply too formulaic for a band that proved themselves capable of writing a record like “White Pony.” Yet, even with most of the songs sounding so similar, the flow of the album seems disjointed and fragmented — where “White Pony” was an album, “Deftones” is merely a collection of songs.