In the 15 years since they formed in Sacramento, Deftones have upped their game with each album. Other less-complex bands they were lumped in with have sold more records, drawn bigger concert crowds, and are more visible (we're looking at you, Korn and Limp Bizkit), but Deftones expanded their sonic palette over the years to include everything from primal rage-fueled rockers to quieter, more introspective moments. None of those other bands can claim that. And most of those groups have either receded far in the background or become ghosts of their former chart-topping lives in the past decade.
While those bands spent more and more time mating rapping and scratching to occasionally scorching guitar riffs, Deftones took a different path. Their second album, 1997's Around the Fur, hinted at the direction they were headed. By 2000's White Pony, they were hailed as one of the most important bands of the new decade. A self-titled album from 2003 and 2006's Saturday Night Wrist cemented their reputation as one of metal's most experimental combos.
"The interesting thing is, at the core, this is a band that does what it wants to do, regardless of what others think," says bassist Sergio Vega, who joined the band after original member Chi Cheng was left with a brain injury following a 2008 car accident. He's still recovering.
Deftones had a new album ready to go before Cheng was injured. They scrapped the songs, recruited Vega, and wrote a brand-new batch of tunes for Diamond Eyes, which came out in May. "There was a lot to digest when I heard what happened to Chi, but the guys were able to compartmentalize things," says Vega. "The guys would be talking about Chi as we worked. He's always on their minds, but they wouldn't stop working. They made a difficult thing into a positive experience, and it speaks volumes that they embraced me as part of the band."
(Deftones' show at House of Blues this week is the final night of their headlining tour before they head out on the road with Alice in Chains and Mastodon.)
Unlike the band's previous three albums (which each took at least two years to complete), Deftones wrote and recorded Diamond Eyes in just two months. It was released a mere four months later. Despite the accelerated schedule, Vega says the experience was like "summer camp." "We'd be jamming together, while [producer Nick Raskulinecz] documented everything we did," he recalls. "In two months, we had an album."
Diamond Eyes is one of Deftones' most focused albums. The heavier songs recall Around the Fur's best moments, but there's also the melodic edge the band has brought to each if its albums since White Pony. Guitarist Stephen Carpenter's riffs on the title track and "You've Seen the Butcher" are beyond crushing. Turntablist and synth player Frank Delgado manipulate sounds for lulling effects throughout the record. And Chino Moreno states his case as one of his generation's best metal singers.
But like most Deftones albums, Diamond Eyes can be a bit elusive at times. What is Moreno singing about here? A woman? Addiction? Enemies? The answers aren't always clear, but the questions are engaging. For Vega (who used to be in the post-hardcore band Quicksand), the music continues to reveal new layers. In that way, he's just like the group's fans. "There are six albums out there, each unique in and of itself," he says. "It's always interesting to read what people think and why they are attached to one record or the other."
Vega hopes that connection to the band's work drives listeners to be active in their own lives — whether it's going to the group's concerts and escaping for a couple of hours or creating their own forms of art. "I hope people get some sort of positive charge out of the music and walk away ready to do something," he says. "That's what the most memorable music has done for me."
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