To date Deftones are filed under at least seventeen different musical genres. So for the uninitiated, their highly distilled ninth record ‘Ohms’ is perversely a pretty good introduction to the Californian band. ‘Ohms’ reels and shakes for forty-five minutes and gives no indication that it’s been over thirty years since Deftones formed, twenty since the stylistic coagulation of their record ‘White Pony’. Not quite metal, not quite alternative, it’s easier to borrow frontman Chino Moreno’s recent description: “that yin and yang of what we’ve always done makes us who we are”.
Moreno still wears emotion like the smudged eyeliner of the emo bands Deftones paved the way for. Beneath distorted synths and shreds, his heart-worn lyrics expose a deep well of influences, from PJ Harvey to Fever Ray, Pantha du Prince, and Interpol. On ‘Ohms’, the track ‘Urantia’ could easily be a scene from an art-house flick: “I slipped into the cloak you left / I fiddle around in the ashtray / To find your cigarette pinkish red / I light it and take a drag.” The emotional weight of these minimal details mirrors the sonic heaviness that dials up and down as the ten tracks unfold.
Urantia is an alternative name for Planet Earth, and an undercurrent of environmental urgency runs all the way through ‘Ohms’. As Californians, the band have front-row seats to the climate crisis, so lines like “how can’t you see this is the end” bear extra disquiet. The album’s song sequence echoes the band’s own narrative and comments on time and ecological destruction: while opener ‘Genesis’ looks ahead to kick against the passage of time and “taste a lifestyle that never gets old”, the mournfully retrospective final track ‘Ohms’ concludes that “it’s too late to cause a change in the tides”.
Moments of cavernous space, like the slow slap of the outro to ‘The Spell of Mathematics’, add to the reflective mood and create a sense of geographical awe. The final moments of ‘Pompeji’ belong to seagulls and ocean waves. It’s as if you’ve emerged from a loud world to an empty beach, and alone, you gaze out to sea like an existential Antony Gormley figure – until you’re wrenched back into the caustic feeling of ‘This Link Is Dead’, “filled up with true hatred” and relating to no-one. Beach hush gives way to pure rage. But Deftones have always been good at dramatic song transitions. A train with no intention of stopping, when penultimate track ‘Headless’ screeches towards the platform of title song ‘Ohms’, it almost feels celebratory, like the encore of a live show, or a summation of the band’s life work.
Oscillating between raw riffs and melancholy since 1988, on ‘Ohms’ Deftones occupy both worlds equally: a sledgehammer to the temple, high emotion to the heart. It’s classic Deftones – fuck-you energy, producer Terry Date, and all – but they couldn’t have made this record twenty years ago. Rather than just scream “shove it!”, ‘Ohms’ is busy with act of evaluation: scrutinising what you’ve done, what you’ve become, and what you still have the power to change.