ARTS

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June 6, 2003

Disjointed White Pony follow-up not worth going Def over

The Deftones have always been something of an oddity in the world of hard rock. While they can often be found touring alongside radio-metal acts like Korn and Linkin Park, they've always put out heartfelt, artsy records with a distinctive (and now oft-imitated) sound. White Pony, released in 2000, sold well over a million copies, won a Grammy, and also happened to be one of the best metal records of the decade. Furthermore, unlike most of their disposable peers, the Deftones have enjoyed a long career and are more popular today than they've ever been.

The band's popularity was quite apparent on May 11 at the Metro, when the band rolled into town for one of a few small club shows leading up to the release of the new, self-titled, and heavily-rumored about studio record. Dubbed a "guerilla tour," the objective was to announce each show just a few days before the performance and only make tickets available the day before through the club's box office. Despite the fact that tickets for the show went on sale on Saturday, the Metro was packed to the gills with the Deftones' faithful fans, eager to catch a glimpse of the new material. Here, the Deftones' broad appeal was apparent: Limp Bizkit sweatshirts were juxtaposed alongside vintage store finds, Dashboard Confessional pins mingled with Slayer hats. Two hours after the venue opened its doors, the Deftones emerged (sans opening act) and triumphantly plunged into their biggest radio hit to date, "My Own Summer." The crowd of eager fans immediately erupted with energy as singer Chino Moreno repeatedly dove into the mass of bodies, tethered to the stage by his microphone chord. After entertaining fans with a rendition of "Lhabia," also from 1997's Around the Fur, the band charged into the first song from the new record, "Hexagram."

On record, this song ably demonstrates why Moreno is one of the best and most versatile vocalists in hard rock today. A bludgeoning metal-core assault, each verse closes with Moreno screaming until his voice reaches its breaking point, the choruses consisting of alternating yells of "Worship! Play!" over a backdrop of thick chords crunching at breakneck speed. Halfway through, all of the tracks fall out of the mix except for the guitar and vocals, and the song blossoms into a dreamy interlude. Moreno's voice, sultry and heavy like the female jazz singers that he studied, slinks repeatedly through the line "It's the same sound." This is easily one of the best opening songs in recent memory.

The first single from Deftones, "Minerva," is familiar territory. A slow, plodding tune, Moreno's vocal slides over a wall of guitar, broken up by a wistful bridge consisting of an eerie riff with sparse electronics layered underneath. A solid radio single, the song makes up for its lack of originality with its inexplicable catchiness.

"Good Morning Beautiful" attempts to recapture the romanticism of "Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)," the best song from Around the Fur. Unfortunately, this track falls far short of the heartfelt honesty of that now classic tune. There's a reason that to this day ex-Far front man Jonah Matranga covers "Be Quiet and Drive" during almost every set with his new outfit, Onelinedrawing. The song hit a chord in its desperation that few can, something that is sorely lacking from "Good Morning Beautiful."

The middle section of the record is typical Deftones, a steady crawl through atmospheric metal-that is, until "Lucky You." One of the most underused weapons in the band's arsenal is DJ and keyboardist Frank Delgado. On White Pony, he was intent to hide amongst the instrumental assault, adding sparse samples and drum loops without really making his presence felt; his additions merely blended into the mix as if simply another instrument. On "Lucky You," Delgado takes center stage, creating a dark groove using only electronics and keyboards. The remarkable thing about this song is that it doesn't sound out of place on the album. It faithfully reproduces the Deftones sound while using a completely different palette. After the subdued piano-driven "Anniversary of an Uninteresting Event," Deftones ends with a bang with the characteristic "Moana."

While Deftones is as solid a metal record as one can hope for this year, it's still critically flawed in one aspect; its lack of cohesiveness. On White Pony, the Deftones proved that high-concept was not out of their reach by creating a moody and terrifying record that explored the line between sexuality and insanity: every song confronted the listener with violently obsessive scenarios. In the opener, "Feiticeira," Moreno crafts a lyrical kidnapping by playing the pleas of the victim against the authority of the victimizer. In "Digital Bath," watery riffs enveloped in swaths of reverb wash over a sexual fantasy that ends with the electrocution of a lover. The album's closer, the mysterious and chillingly atmospheric "Pink Maggit," seems to detail either a rape or murder. White Pony was so consistent in its presentation of the provocative that it provided the listener with a cohesive picture, a unified work. This is where Deftones fails: it is merely a collection of songs that seem interrelated only through their musical content. If this is indeed the Deftones' last record, it may be a wise decision, as it seems that perhaps their best days are behind them.