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Review: Deftones Listen to Iron Maiden, Baby on ‘Gore’

Deftones at 2015 Rock in Rio - Day 04
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - SEPTEMBER 24: Chino Moreno from Deftones performs at 2015 Rock in Rio on September 24, 2015 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Raphael Dias/Getty Images)
SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: April 08, 2016
Label: Reprise

If the Deftones felt out of place when White Pony came out, before most of their fans had “shoegaze” or “dream pop” on the tip of their tongues, they must feel really out of place with latest LP Gore, in which the ex-hardcore kids and Ozzfest survivors alike are hip to — but don’t quite get — chorus pedals and sans-serif fonts. They’re still ahead of their contemporaries despite not making wholesale changes to their sound from their self-titled 2003 album onwards, which tells you more about the state of mainstream radio rock than the band themselves.

Gore feels more unified than its predecessor, 2012’s Koi No Yokan, in part because the turbulence, a new-wave  hangover nightmare, is ever-present. Moreso than ever, Frank Delgado’s electronics seem lush and pleasant on the surface, until you realize that he’s aching the beauty out and stretching it into long commutes that only have ends thanks to the rhythm section. Gore isn’t as focused on guitar heft, and it feels all the more sinister for it.

“Acid Hologram” suggests seething rage, but with a veneer that washes it in dream-doom drift, and the jerky rhythms of “Geometric Headress” are gasping for air beneath the ambient serenity caked on top. It’s an ideal vehicle for Chino Moreno, a rare rock singer whose clean vocals aren’t drenched in hokey syrup. “Prayers/Triangles” builds upon the foundation of 2003’s rapturous “Minerva,” especially when he clashes with the abrupt thunder of axeman Stephen Carpenter, and while nothing will top White Pony’s “Teenager”  for Deftones’ ability to be heart-wrenching, “Hearts/Wires” comes closer than they have in years by laying Carpenter back and letting Moreno swim and drown all the same.

Gore’s most out-and-out aggressive song is “Doomed User,” and even that barely resembles anything from their early nu-metal on Adrenaline or Around the Fur. Though it’s centered around Carpenter’s eight-string chug — a distilled take of Meshuggah‘s cyclical, interlocking grooves — he also cuts through them with bright thrash reprieves. Only Deftones could make referencing something so traditional feel so left-field, but “User” honors their beginnings: Sacramento wasn’t far from the Bay Area and its influential thrash scene, yet there was just enough distance to give the band the breathing room to find their own way. “User” is a spiritual successor to Diamond Eyes‘ title track, where Carpenter applied said Meshuggah worship to hardcore breakdowns, providing a small exercise in the crushing power of repetition.

Carpenter also flirts with old-school in the Maiden-esque intro to “Pittura Infamante,” and “Phantom Bride” has some of his smoothest soloing yet, total thrash-inflected Santana. There, and all over Gore, marks experimental-rock gospel: having something to grab onto helps especially when you’re going far out. And while Gore is far from impenetrable, it’s still evident that Deftones are the most interesting and esoteric thing the radio-festival circuit might dare touch.