It’s easy to see this, the ninth Deftones album, as a reflection of the eighth Deftones album. I liked ‘Gore’ plenty but the Californian outfit’s 2016 effort was met with a decidedly lukewarm reception. The consensus seemed to be that while it was atmospheric, it wasn’t exactly dynamic, and while it wasn’t bad, it fell short of the band’s lofty standards. Even Deftones themselves seem to have come to view it as something of a missed opportunity.
Now, some things look the same in a mirror. The lyric sheets for both ‘Gore’ and ‘Ohms’ are concerned with gods, spirits, and myths, both records have four-letter titles, and both have almost identical running times. But some things look very different. Where ‘Gore’ featured bright, pink artwork and an airy, sunset vibe, ‘Ohms’ is monochrome and intense. And, where guitarist Stephen Carpenter somewhat checked out of writing sessions for his band’s last record, here he is a driving force.
To ensure Carpenter’s contribution this time around, Deftones went back to basics. The band’s three original members- Carpenter, frontman Chino Moreno, and drummer Abe Cunningham- met in a small rehearsal space, jammed hard, and thrashed out ideas like they used to do as teenagers. The results are audible. From the gnarly guitars and slinky, serpentine melodies of ‘Genesis’ to the burly, rolling riffs of the closing title track, everything feels vibrant, absorbing, and closely meshed. In short, it’s dynamic as fuck. Moreno has never been a literal lyricist but when he yelps “I finally achieve balance” over the opening track, there’s a sense he means exactly that.
Carpenter employs a fidgety, unsettling riff at the beginning of ‘Urantia’ that brings to mind his work on ‘Around the Fur’ (still the band’s best record) and then puts pummelling weight behind it for a big finish. He somehow adds both bliss and belligerence to ‘This Link is Dead’, and gifts a steamroller stop-start rhythm to the first half of ‘Headless’. It might not be a coincidence that the letters of ‘Ohms’ can be rearranged to spell out mosh.
It’s not just Carpenter though. Everyone steps up. Frank Delgado adds watery pulses to ‘Ceremony’, essential sci-fi synths to sumptuous album highlight ‘Pompeji’, and then there’s, y’know, samples of seagulls squawking as well. And Cunningham remains the band’s secret weapon. He continues to drum like he’s in a hip hop group, not a… well, whatever Deftones are now, and produces novel off-kilter measures and lithe, head-bobbing beats that only seem to get catchier the greater the chaos that swirls around him.
The shimmering verses of ‘Urantia’ are better than anything from this year’s Tool comeback, ‘Headless’ goes from welcome numbing rumble to full, beautiful bloom at the halfway point, and while the big, evil riff of ‘Error’ sounds like something Soulfly wrote 20 years ago, few bands are as adept at adding lush layers, distinct melodies, and so much ear candy, to create something new. They do it all without ever once sounding like they’re forcing things too. ‘Ohms’ isn’t necessarily an immediate album but the end result is one of the heaviest and catchiest tracks here.
It might be the most repeated sentiment in any commentary on Deftones since the turn of the century but they just keep on giving people reason to say it- this band’s ability to incorporate new ideas and slowly evolve, while still sounding exactly like themselves, is rare magic. I have a feeling no one will be looking back at this record in a few years and wondering what could have been. ‘Ohms’ is Deftones taking every opportunity.