Why Do Punks Like Deftones?
Posted on April 8, 2016
Deftones released their eighth LP, Gore, today. In their two-plus decades as a band, their music has crossed many genres and subgenres, but from a strictly tonal standpoint, no one would ever mistake Deftones for a punk band.
“Why do so many punks like Deftones?” is up there with “Why are straight edge people into Disney so much?” as one of the underground’s greatest unsolved mysteries. Here is a band who play huge shows in cavernous venues everywhere they go, sometimes with bands like *gulp* Incubus, have released all of their albums with the major label machine firmly behind them, and simply don’t appear to espouse anything remotely resembling a “punk” ethos, whatever the hell that means anyway. I suppose it’s like hardcore obscenity: We can’t fully explain it, but we know it when we see it.
Deftones’ music is a small window into our angsty, JNCO jeans-wearing adolescent pasts. It reminds us of what we used to be before we bought Dookie on cassette or haphazardly safety-pinned Bad Religion patches on our backpacks. It’s the suburbs and BMX bikes and smoking dirt weed and the mall parking lot on Friday and Saturday nights. The nostalgia factor cannot be understated, here. Even in 2016, Gore shares characteristics with not just those classic, time-and-place Deftones albums like 1997’s Around The Fur and 2000’s White Pony, but with other bands of the era who’ve long since faded into irrelevance—the breakdown that caps “Rubicon” sounds like it could’ve soundtracked a fight scene in a bad ‘90s Mark Wahlberg movie. Some of Chino Moreno’s lyrics in “L(MIRL)” are unsettling, to say the least: ‘I don’t miss you/ I don’t care where you are now/ you’re a ghost to me/ left with my taste in your mouth.’ OK, bro.
Even with those ill-timed missteps—and there are a few of them on every Deftones LP, to be sure—the band’s music has always, on the whole, felt like more of a thoughtful experiment than primarily a vehicle for primal, male aggression or worse, the work of a scornful, jilted, yet entitled man, the unfortunate position many of their peers continue to inhabit with success, even as a lot of us have outgrown it and now reside on the more informed side of the chasm. Deftones’ music has an earned worldliness to it, especially now; even as Moreno and Stephen Carpenter’s guitars drop thick slabs of heaviness, such as on Gore’s excellent “Doomed User,” it feels more like an accent than a centerpiece. Similarly, the heaviness that permeates through “Acid Hologram” has an unquantifiable brightness to it—it feels oddly inviting, rather than intimidating. Abe Cunningham’s percussion has always been one of the band’s strongest, if underrated weapons, and his fills on songs like “Hearts/Wires” and “Pittura Infamate” are awfully impressive while never being too overly flashy. “Prayers/Triangles” and “Gore” have an airiness to them that pairs impeccably with Moreno’s desperate vocals; his voice has always had an underlying sensuality to it, regardless of tone at any given moment. But even with that inherent sensuality, there’s also a palpable hint of dread in seemingly every line he sings or screams. It’s wholly unique. That’s just part of the aura, though, along with the band’s use of empty space, their uniquely-created guitar tones and atmospherics to counteract the more straightforwardly heavy moments, that make them so dynamic.
I think that’s the other reason punks still listen to Deftones records: though well-oiled into a broad sound of their own at this point, and even though they could easily rest on their laurels at this point, they’ve never stopped creating, taking chances or doing what they want. Do the lunkheads who go to modern rock radio festivals notice? Who knows. But we certainly do.