By Jonah Krueger, News Editor
[Reprise Records; 2020]
Key tracks: “Genesis”, “Ceremony”, “Urantia”, “Radiant City”
In his book Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, Carl Wilson puts forth the idea that perhaps no historically detested sect of popular music is beyond postmortem redemption. Metal, disco, emo—all looked down upon during their respective peaks in popularity by cultural tastemakers, only to be retroactively saved once the dust settled and the commercial machine had moved on to the next fad. The past few years have seen nu-metal, maybe the most detested of the detested sects, start to receive this treatment thanks to the particular arty bands of the genre; chiefly, Deftones.
With past albums like Around the Fur and White Pony that, to the dismay of nu-metal’s haters, successfully broke through the membrane of obscurity, Deftones differ from their peers by being risky, genre-bending and unflinchingly themselves. Since 2000, however, the band has yet to release a project that warrants the same amount of attention that garnered them the (half-ironic, half-genuine) title of “the Radiohead of metal.” However, on Ohms, frontman Chino Moreno and the gang look to change that by recapturing what made the group exceptional in the first place, hopefully without creating a dated, Bush-era feel.
The band largely succeeds; Ohms is an exhilarating, engaging, surprisingly fresh take on the classic Deftones sound. The riffs are hard, the vocals switch between eerie whispers and compressed screaming, the drums keep a primal groove and the guitar tones sound like they require no less than five pedals. The songs are dynamic and, shockingly, refuse to shy away from nu-metal signifiers.
This is all exemplified in the first run of tracks, most of which are the best the album has to offer. “Genesis” starts with a cinematic, unsettling landscape before ushering a heavy, pounding, mostly static riff and impassioned vocals. “Ceremony” seemingly plays it closer to the chest, with muted guitars and upfront bass melodies, but undoubtedly carrying a lurching dissonance throughout its runtime. “Urantia” is equally influenced by thrash metal as it is by The Cure, with staccato guitars and harsh tones juxtaposing Robert Smith-esque vocal melody and gothy synth pads.
The last portion of the album is almost as strong. “Radiant City” features a wild, fuzzed-out and front-and-center bass line and serves as one of the most straightforward, hard-rockin’ moments on the project. The titular closer subverts the expectation of a heavy, raging finish and instead comes across as their take on classic blues rock.
The middle of the album—the deep cuts, if you will—is, unfortunately, less interesting and less memorable than the album’s bookends. Ohms never puts forward a purely bad tune, as all of the tracks have something valuable to offer, but the clean sections start to drag and the heavy portions are noticeably less head-banging. Tracks like “The Spell of Mathematics” and “Pompeji” suffer from feeling inessential, similar to much of the band’s output since White Pony.
Still, the highs of this album soar. Ohms proves to be Deftones’ best project in 20 years and will likely appeal to long-time fans and curious new listeners alike. It’s hard to live up to your past when you have multiple canonized pieces in your genre, but, much like their (possibly facetious) indie-rock counterpart did with 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool, Deftones are getting about as close as possible.