Deftones Gore

[Warner Bros.; 2016]

Styles: nu metal, shoegaze, art metal
Others: My Bloody Valentine, Team Sleep, Palms, †††

Cultural reappraisal and cultural cycling are things, and they’re never going away — even the best DJs in the world are starting to toy with sampling System of a Down and KoRn. No one’s quite certain of the degree of irony appropriate to approaching nu-metal yet, a genre so deeply imbued with monomaniacal k-holes of white male misogynist angst and weakly appropriated hip-hop elements that it seems doubtful whether the rehabilitation of the genre is all that worthwhile of a project. It’s worth noting that the best of early-2000s nu-metal was made by folks who either weren’t white — and much of Deftones aren’t — and/or who performed a strange flip whereby that masculinist angst was flung into relief via a gesture toward a “left politic” while still leaving that politic as little more than a vague framework for that male-grief fest. This is what Deftones tended to do only inasmuch as male fragility and liminality was always as central to their music as male aggression, with vocalist Chino Moreno’s atypically feminine and flexible vocal tone playing a key role here — though a capital-P Politic as such was never part of the equation.

In any case, nu-metal sounds are back, and there has therefore never been a better time (post-1990s) for a new album by Deftones, a band that always sat uncomfortably at the margins of the nu-metal heyday, indulging in dream-pop and shoegaze influences while nevertheless reaping the success of the wretched rap-metal single “Back to School” and the otherwise astoundingly-good White Pony from which it appended to. That new release is Gore, their first since the death of bassist Chi Cheng in a car crash, and it is also, conveniently enough, their best since White Pony, even though every album between that one and this maintained a certain standard of tasteful quality in a deeply tasteless milieu, while still indulging the anti-good-taste pleasures of mainstream contemporary metal.

The first impression is of texture. The culmination of a career-long investment in the interplay between guitar tone and vocal processing, it’s a far better contemporary instantiation of shoegaze than that deeply lazy My Bloody Valentine record of 2014, ripplingly sensual and utterly absorbing. Maybe it’s best summed up by the drum mixing, which is at once the culmination of a hyper-specific sound they’ve mined since 1997’s Around the Fur and a crisp but digitally-encrusted encapsulation of a certain contemporary moment.

The second impression, however, is that it is utterly, undeniably a Deftones record, Moreno’s unmistakable howl/moan and its strange interplay with Stephen Carpenter’s locomotive riffing fully intact, with all the cultural associations and history of a decades-old band that played TRL, Ozzfest, and the rest of that rightly-maligned cultural moment. Listening to the record becomes a negotiation between pleasure and reconsideration, between navigating the divide between one’s previous engagement with the group (if any) and their current positioning, as expressed via both the album and their relation to pop culture. If we pretend that on some level this album doesn’t contain the cringe-worthy hetero-male angst of early-2000s rock, we’d be lying to ourselves, but the technical quality of the work renders it engrossing nonetheless, especially taken alongside its odd tenderness, its prescient cultural relevance, and its culmination of the fluidity of gendered tropes that ran throughout their career, where the concept of aggression becomes as much a floating signifier among a sea of textural dynamics as a reification of rage.

When Moreno sings “I put a gun to my head as I smile” (“(L)Mirl”), it’s simultaneously goofy and heartbreaking, and the spindly guitar tones behind it are fragile, gorgeous, and unnervingly similar to late period-Linkin Park. In any moment of cultural revival and reevaluation, it’s imperative to return to the work both as a material substance and as a node of cultural associations — Dedekind Cut pulled this off stunningly with his Black History Month mix, sampling NWA and System of a Down both as textural elements and as cultural moments, and Deftones pull of an auto-reflexive or even auto-erotic move on their own work here, continuing their emasculating/remasculating tendencies and doubling-down on the material tonal components of their work to surprisingly involving ends.

Links: Deftones - Warner Bros.

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