Welcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, a director’s filmography, or some other critical pop-culture collection in the abstract. It’s exact science by way of a few beers. This time, we follow Deftones’ career, from their 1995 debut, Adrenaline, to their most recent effort, 2020’s Ohms.
Deftones are a rare band who appeal to metalheads and shoegazers alike, offering a sound that’s both heavy and ethereal. And they’re also a rare band who really hasn’t produced a “bad” album, which makes ranking Deftones’ discography a difficult task. Right away, you’ll see that the “last place” album is a very solid effort.
While Deftones may have emerged out of the nu metal scene of the mid ’90s, their musical maturity and sonic evolution over the past 25 years has distanced the Sacramento, California, outfit from others in that category. Now, placing a genre on Deftones’ music seems like a fruitless endeavor, as their sound is really undefinable.
Led by Chino Moreno’s soaring vocals, and the loud/quiet dynamic of his talented bandmates, Deftones are perhaps the most consistent “heavy” rock act of the past quarter century. Having tragically lost their longtime bassist, Chi Cheng — who died in 2013 after a car crash put him in a semi-coma for almost five years — Deftones have triumphed in their second act, continuing to release quality albums in recent years.
While the #1 album on this list was a slam dunk, the rest resulted in a big debate among this ranking’s four writers. What one writer had at #2 was #8 for another writer. So, for now, it’s time to be quiet and drive through Deftones’ masterful discography.
— Spencer Kaufman, Managing Editor
09. Adrenaline (1995)
Back to School of Thought (Analysis): Kicking off with the band’s debut LP, 1995’s Adrenaline primarily highlights the band’s earlier heavy sound. “Minus Blindfold” has Deftones playing to a variety of unique elements: from the laid back guitar rhythm and Chino Moreno’s spoken word flow, to the abrasive guitar chords and screeching vocals, the track offers a stellar range in performance. As Chino primarily focuses on singing throughout “One Weak”, the instrumental component shifts from minimal touches of sound to more vibrant rock.
With Korn’s self-titled debut having been released the year before, Adrenaline came into the world as a strong entry to the nu metal genre. With tracks like “Nosebleed” and “Root”, the band provides a flurry of sporadic vocals and aggressively rhythmic instrumentation. These cuts, among others, allow Adrenaline to make for a solid headbanging experience. At the time of its release, Adrenaline was applauded for its unique touches of sound and style both instrumentally and vocally; today the record is still recognized as a strong debut for the Deftones.
Compared to the rest of the band’s discography, however, Adrenaline does lack depth. While one can find enjoyment in the aggressive presentation and hypnotic sequences, there isn’t much of that progressive touch that represents Deftones’ sound as we know them now. The band’s iconic duality of dreamy heaviness only appears in small doses and would begin to blossom after Adrenaline.
Hardly a “worst” album despite its ranking on this list, Adrenaline was and is a worthy debut for the Deftones, introducing the world to one of heavy music’s unique voices.
In the House of Fly (Best Song): Easily the most fascinating song off Adrenaline is “Fireal”. While the record does contain some variety throughout its material, “Fireal” involves the most diversity in sound, style, and structure. From the haunting use of minimalism to the hectic screams and grungy guitar playing, to the beautiful singing and clashing drums, the song makes for a unique composition of many qualities. More than any other track on the album, “Fireal” is a strong representation of what was to come from Deftones.
Be Quiet for Now (Worst Song): Among all the songs, “Bored” feels the least engaging. The occasional shifts in intensity are devoid of any depth in structure compared to the dreamier and heavier songs on the record. “Bored” only briefly touches upon the band’s strongest elements; the back and forth fluctuation in heavy playing doesn’t capture the ear like the other songs. As one progresses through Adrenaline, the song becomes a distant memory compared to the LP’s other intriguing works. — Michael Pementel
Pick up Adrenaline here.
08. Gore (2016)
Back to School of Thought: Gore is perhaps the second best example of why Deftones are as highly regarded as they are. The chief example is, of course, our #1 album, but for an album as good as Gore to rank seventh overall speaks volumes about the overall quality of the band’s discography. Like other albums on this list, Gore showcases the dynamic conflict between vocalist Chino Moreno’s dreamier, artsier impulses and guitarist Stephen Carpenter’s heavier desires. At its best, Gore displays why it is precisely that tension that propels the band to its greatest heights, being one of the few bands to satisfactorily transcend the nu-metal label by being so broad sonically and so consistent in quality to make the genre tag feel only occasionally appropriate. But likewise Gore is marred by the occasional muddled tunes and a tracklist that feels more at odds with itself than a coherent statement.
Gore may be the weakest of the Sergio Vega era that began with Diamond Eyes, but this is still Deftones we are talking about. Tracks like “(L)MIRL”, “Phantom Bride”, and the title track may be lesser versions of similar ideas that appeared on the previous two records, but they still feel like they clobber the hell out of most songs by other groups attempting similar combinations of arthouse synth-led dreamy material with heavy post-hardcore/metal driven punch. There is no denying that stacked up against Deftones other LPS, Gore is something of a weaker sibling to its more accomplished partners, but on its own it’s still no slouch.
In the House of Fly (Best Song): “Hearts / Wires” deepens in quality the more time you spend with it, marrying the casual Sade-inspired eroticism of the group with their essential nocturnal heaviness, making it one of their best songs period and a key example of how even on an album where Deftones are not at the top of their game. they’re still very, very good.
Be Quiet for Now: “Pittura Infamante” is an obvious candidate for weakest track on the record. It is not so much that the song is bad on its own as much as it disrupts the momentum of the record, which up until that moment prepares Gore to be comparable to the band’s best efforts. Here, Gore loses steam and never seems to win it back even with its quality back end. — Langdon Hickman
Pick up Gore here.
07. Koi No Yokan (2012)
Back to School of Thought: Some of you may be surprised to see this record, which won Album of the Year at some publications, so low on our list. This has more to do with narrative than with quality; after all, aside from those bottom two entries and the #1 spot, the rest of Deftones clusters tightly when regarding the quality of compositions, production, performances, and sequencing, all the standard rubrics for best records. But what those other records in the body have that Koi No Yokan doesn’t is some great story behind it. There is a young band soaring past their peers and becoming legends in the process, the early experiments to broader horizons and the amazing comeback following the tragic loss of a beloved and necessary bandmate. Koi No Yokan has none of that: it is, simply, the summation of the lessons prior delivered very competently.
Granted, this is precisely why it is so highly praised outside of the realm of a ranked discography list like this. It is certainly a wonderful record, merely one less necessary to telling the overall story of Deftones. On a sonic end, it is perhaps the only record able to hold a candle to White Pony, and to many it holds a dear place in the broader body of work, but despite its remarkable balance of the constituent elements of Deftones sound, the lack of that little extra narrative push makes it fall ever so slightly behind its peers.
In the House of Fly: Most of Deftones back half of their discography is devoted to exploring subtleties, expanse and lushness of post-metal, which makes the leather-clad metallic Depeche Mode vibes of “Leathers” the necessary shot to the heart a record like Koi No Yokan needs to hang together. One of the few that can stand up to the anthems of their early career. Just try not to scream along to it.
Be Quiet for Now: “Goon Squad” takes the fall this time. There’s nothing immediately wrong with the track and it fits well in the tracklist, but ultimately provides little that the other tracks don’t. It’s a mood piece, which is a fancy way of saying filler, and even when filler doesn’t do anything wrong, the act of not contributing a meaningful additional emotional contour to the record notches it safely below the others. — Langdon Hickman
Pick up Koi No Yokan here.
06. Saturday Night Wrist (2006)
Back to School of Thought: By this point, the friction between Chino Moreno and his bandmates was at an all-time high, thanks to Moreno’s then habit of not finishing things, a tendency that dramatically impeded forward progress on Saturday Night Wrist. Moreno would go as far as to forego working with producer Bob Ezrin, opting instead to record his parts separately from the rest of the band.
Upon the album’s release, Stephen Carpenter and the late Chi Cheng were so open about their residual frustration with Moreno that the public swipes they took at him were nearly as entertaining as the album itself. We also got Moreno’s retort, right there on album opener “Hole in the Earth”, where the dejected singer voices his feelings of betrayal and laments how his bandmates were once his friends.
Strangely, Saturday Night Wrist hardly sounds like a portrait of a band falling apart. In drastic contrast to its far gloomier self-titled predecessor, several of the songs on Saturday Night Wrist have a looser, brighter — even upbeat — disposition, while the band at least sounds unified venturing further from its established sound than it has on any record before or since.
If hearing Deftones push guitars to the background in favor of synths and melodies isn’t your idea of a good time, this isn’t the album for you, but Ezrin’s fresh perspective was arguably just what the doctor ordered: the tribulations behind Saturday Night Wrist would help the band reconcile its internal differences and galvanize Moreno’s follow-through reflex as he entered a prolific period juggling Deftones output with side projects like Crosses and Palms.
In the House of Fly: “Cherry Waves” portrays a band that could be as melodic and dreamy as it wanted to be without compromising its edge. Don’t let the sweet melody or wide-open feel fool you: the mix on “Cherry Waves” overflows with detail, with its walking bassline; its trills of clean guitar echoing as if over a vast valley; and its sound effects drenched in reverb. As accessible as it might be, “Cherry Waves” is precisely the kind of impressionistic work that sets Deftones apart as artists.
Be Quiet for Now: If the pacing of Saturday Night Wrist benefits from an instrumental respite, it’s nevertheless a bit too easy to envision “U,U,D,D,L,R,L,R,A,B,Select,Start” as a Team Sleep throwaway that Moreno didn’t bother to supply with vocals. — Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
Pick up Saturday Night Wrist here.