I’m a pretty big Deftones fan. Out of all of the bands that I was into as a teenager, I think that Deftones may be the only act still active that I’m still excited about and interested hearing new music from. The bands that I loved are either long-kaput or may as well be (*cough* Radiohead *cough*). Deftones, though, have been a constant for me.
So I suppose it was inevitable that they would one day disappoint me. But that doesn’t mean that I have to be happy that it appears that this day has arrived.
Let me dial back the gloom for a moment. I’m a strong proponent of letting an album grow through repeated listens, and most of the Deftones releases have been great examples of that for me. Their two most recent records, Diamond Eyes and Koi No Yokan, sounded pretty wonderful at first blush, but opened up immensely the more I listened. White Pony, widely considered to be the band’s artistic turning point, didn’t grab me at first. I thought it was okay, but wanted something more in line with Around The Fur. In the years since, I’ve come around on it completely, and White Pony is now my favourite record from a band that has released a pile of great ones. So I’m comfortable with a record that takes some time and effort to fully appreciate.
I’ve given Gore a fair number of listens, and while I’m warming to it, there remain elements of it that I’m not sure that I’ll ever feel less disappointed about. I’ve come to the general conclusion that the songs themselves are innocent victims of some puzzling and lousy production decisions, which seems almost more sad than simply a lousy batch of songs.
Production decisions, you ask? Yes, I respond. All over the album. The first time I listened to the record, I actually wondered if my earbuds were broken – which pissed me off, because I just bought these earbuds. But nope. My earbuds are fine. This record might be broken, though. I’m still wondering if maybe this album sounds amazing on a car stereo or something, rather than earbuds. But I don’t have a car.
The drums on this album are all over the place. At some points, the snare drum is completely overpowering (the opening track, “Prayers/Triangles” is a good example). At other points, they’re barely audible (about halfway through “Pittura Infamante”). Many, many times while listening to this record I thought to myself “that cymbal is too loud and it sounds like it was recorded in a completely different room from the rest of the band”. Previous Deftones records have had drum production that have caused some contentious arguments between my dynamic co-Fraudster and some friends of ours (who are way smarter than Jay, because they are right and he is wrong), but nothing like this. These drums are fucked.
The drums aren’t the only puzzling set of sounds on the record. At times it sounds as if some kid wanted to lay their own way-too-big-and-fat distorted guitar overtop of a record by their favourite band. These moments of huge, crunching guitar patterns, doubled and panned to each ear, completely overwhelm the rest of the band. They sit terribly in the mix and just sound lousy.
SIDEBAR – In reading reviews of this album and trying to make sense of it all, I came across a lot of heavy metal blogs and horror movie websites(?) that had posted thoughts about the record. These posts had two things in common: they were all terribly written, and they all mentioned “djent”. “Djent“, I’ve since learned, is the name that some dweeby metal fans have given to a certain style of guitar playing. Much of Deftones’ later work, they claim, is “Djent” inspired. This is the dumbest thing that I’ve ever heard. “Djent” is not a style of music. It’s barely a credible onomatopoeia of the sound they’re referring to. You know what the worst thing about heavy metal music is? The fans. – END OF SIDEBAR
The record is also overflowing with atmospheric synth work, which isn’t inherently bad, but it is often situated poorly in the overall mix – much like the guitar work. At the end of “Acid Hologram”, it sounds like a pinball machine walked itself into the studio and started jamming with the band. But like, jamming way too loud.
On first listen, I did a lot of thinking “What the fuck is going on?”, which isn’t a great reaction. Now that I’ve gotten familiar with the material, I just think that it’s a real shame. This isn’t Deftones’ most accessible work, as there’s scarcely what I would consider to be a “hook” on the entire LP. It actually may be their most impenetrable record from a songwriting perspective. That said, the songs are largely great once they’ve had a chance to sink in. “Prayers/Triangles” are Deftones as their dreamy/swoony best. “Doomed User” is super huge and brings in some classic heavy metal riffing that works unexpectedly well with the more conventional elements of a ‘tones song. In fact, I would consider the opening six tracks to be top-notch material (although the shitty Santana vibe of the first 30 seconds of “Hearts/Wires” is questionable decision-making on the band’s part). There are some bummer tracks, but most records have one or two of them, so who am I to judge based on that?
SIDEBAR – Let’s address a gory elephant in this gory room – “Phantom Bride”. This is actually a pretty decent song. A pretty decent song that includes a guitar solo by special guest Jerry Cantrell from Alice In Chains. This solo is almost funny. It is pretty bad. It doesn’t fit with the Deftones sound at all. What the hell were they thinking? They honestly may as well have gotten the guy from Smash Mouth or something. – END OF SIDEBAR
I was left with unresolved feelings about Gore. There are parts of it that I really like. But I’m not sure that I’ll be able to get past the way that the record sounds to a place where I actually feel like listening to it often.
Feeling puzzled and mildly upset, I did what I always do when I’m not sure what to think -talked to the guys I drink with. I will leave you with their thoughts about this album.
“Confusing….I’d hoped for better. Can we start a st. anger-esque online petition to have the record re-mixed by a non-no-namer?…it’ll grow on me.” – Phil Wilson
“It didn’t grab me as immediately as the last two albums, but, I think that’s a good thing. The more I listen, the more I see myself floating in a pool this summer, a big fucking smile on my face with this as the soundtrack.” – Chris Gilligan
“Sad for your sake to hear about the new Deftones, but you know me. DOESN’T MATTER TO ME.” – Jay Hosking
Fuck you, Jay Hosking.