Review: Deftones - Ohms
Deftones are back with their much-anticipated ninth(!) studio album!
If you know me well enough already, it probably shouldn’t surprise you that I’m a massive fan of Deftones. Deftones has been one of my favourite bands for a long time and I’ll ferociously argue that White Pony, Diamond Eyes and Koi No Yokan are three of the best metal albums ever made. The band’s unique blend of the heavy progressiveness of Meshuggah and Faith No More mixed with the swagger of 90s hip-hop and the atmospherics of bands like The Cure has been a huge draw to me ever since the days of me watching Scuzz and Kerrang as a teenager and it’s something that probably won’t ever go away. It’s a sound that’s influenced an entire generation of bands too, especially those that are more progressive-leaning.
It’s no wonder then I was incredibly hyped for their latest album Ohms, especially after hearing both the album’s first singles and noticing how much of an improvement they both were over the band’s somewhat controversial last album Gore. Gore was an album a lot of fans (including myself if I’m honest) viewed as a bit of a dud, so we had high expectations of Ohms. This is an expectation that was no doubt made even higher when it was confirmed that Terry Date would be returning to his role as the band’s producer. Date, as you may already know, was the producer behind White Pony and also worked with them on the lost album Eros which will likely never see the light of day due to the death of Chi Cheng. Was Ohms the return to form we were all hoping for? Well, I dived in and tried to find out!
The album starts off with its second single “Genesis”. A very fitting name indeed for an opening track, it launches you right into the primal 8 string heaviness and wall of sound atmospheric textures that has been a Deftones trademark since Diamond Eyes and I’m very, very glad to hear the return of that sound after it was noticeably a bit absent on Gore. It’s great to hear Chino Moreno’s signature shouty-screamy textures too! “Ceremony” continues that heavy yet atmospheric mix that Deftones are so good at whilst “Urantia” adds more frantic-sounding galloping riffs that sound more like what a metalcore band would come up with before dropping into one of the album’s most epic choruses.
“Error” sounds more like a throwback to the band’s first two albums with its squelchy and dissonant guitar sounds during the verses that drop into a massive low groove, all the while being carried along by infectiously driving drums from Abe Cunningham and a beautifully twisted vocal from Moreno. It seems like we’ve seen a resurgence of the sound of not one but two older eras of Deftones in this record, albeit with a slightly different edge to them thanks to the ever-lower ranges of Stephen Carpenter’s guitars.
That low range reaches its absolute zenith on “The Spell of Mathematics”. One of the best songs Deftones has ever put out to date, this is also quite possibly their first song to feature the new 9 string guitar that Carpenter had hinted at in the music video for the album’s title track and also in behind the scenes shots from the studio when they were working on the album. Carpenter uses the massive range of his new guitar to full effect, creating a beautiful dynamic contrast between lightly-plucked verses and almost inhumanly low choruses, dropping his guitars down into a register that you perceptively feel more than you can hear. It’s an effect that works incredibly well in this song and it’s something that I hope we hear more of on future Deftones albums! Cunningham absolutely shines on this track too, pulling out some absolutely fantastic fills as he duels with the guitar and bass work of Carpenter and Sergio Vega.
There seems to be a bit of a theme with massive amounts of dynamic range on this album, something that’s only amplified by the enormous “Pompeji”. On this track the contrast between the super atmospheric verses and massive heavy choruses and bridge are at an almost Nirvana level of extreme, showing the influence from classic 90s bands like those from the Seattle grunge scene, Nine Inch Nails and the post-The Real Thing work from Faith No More to full effect.
“This Link Is Dead” returns to that Adrenaline/Around The Fur sound that had been referred back to in “Error”, albeit with much more force. The guitars are all big, unnerving chords and screaming, dissonant effects, the drums are in full nu-metal mode and Chino taps into his younger self to deliver some fantastically tortured distorted vocals made up of his trademark piercing screams and soft, tortured melodies. This is followed up by the thrashy “Radiant City” that has more of that same style of vocal (albeit with less distortion) from Moreno, although unlike “This Link Is Dead” it allows some release in the form of a euphoric chorus. These two tracks are the album’s high point when it comes to aggression and unease and it’s something that we’ve been missing from Deftones for a very long time!
“Headless” brings us straight back to the groove, this time something that sounds more like a slow Meshuggah groove than anything to do with Deftones before we get a good old-fashioned massive chorus. That Meshuggah-esque groove is the driving force of “Headless” and it’s something that I feel is very much welcome amongst the incredible sonic universe that makes up Ohms. We then end this incredible journey through the world of Deftones in the 2020s with the odd title track, a song that initially didn’t make much sense as a first single I’ll admit but in the context of the album as its closer it absolutely works.
With this album in particular, I really feel like I need to devote a lot of time just to how fantastic keyboardist/sampler/DJ Frank Delgado’s work has been. Whilst he has been a massively integral part of the band ever since the White Pony days, on this record he has really stepped up. Whilst normally his contributions are very much in the background, on Ohms he properly steps out of the shadows for the first time. If you didn’t realise how much he added to the band’s sound before, you definitely will now! The beautiful synthwave-esque outro of “Pompeji” is one of the best things he’s ever contributed to the band, creating a beautiful melancholy that segues perfectly into “This Link Is Dead”.
He contributes some brilliantly menacing sliding synths to “Radiant City”, adding fantastically to the overall tense feeling of that part of the album. Those smooth slidey synths are a real trademark of Delgado’s work and they make things feel just as massive on “Headless” as they create feelings of dread on the aforementioned “Radiant City”. Whilst “The Spell of Mathematics” is a song that focuses much more on the incredible lowness of Carpenter’s new guitar, Delgado more than helps to create a solid foundation for those textures by creating incredible ebbs and flows of synthesised and sampled sound that lift the song into the stratosphere.
On the production side of things, it’s pretty clear that the Terry Date magic has well and truly been applied. Whilst it’s nowhere near a perfect album sonically, it’s got a dirty and noisy grunge aesthetic that really suits what the band were musically aiming for. The band feels like it’s gained its mojo back by bringing Date back into the fold and, using his famed production skills, he’s taken them back to a place that they were in back when they made White Pony and maybe even back when they were working on Eros after a period where the band were really struggling with just trying to get along with each other.
Was Ohms worth the hype? Absolutely. Whether it’s their best work to date is a question that I really can’t and shouldn’t answer as everyone will have massively different opinions about that. What it is, though, is a return to a winning form that we haven’t seen since Diamond Eyes came out 10 years ago. Just like Diamond Eyes was a rebirth for the band after the difficult time that was the Saturday Night Wrist era and the failed Eros sessions, Ohms feels like a rebirth after yet another difficult time that was the Gore era. I’m glad that one of my favourite bands of all time is back on form and hopefully that’s a form that continues for plenty of albums more!
A fantastic return to form that absolutely lived up to the hype