Sound — 9
I have to admit that I became a fan of Deftones for entirely narcissistic reasons. I had kind of passed them off as "just another nu-metal band" for quite a long time, until I had started writing atmospheric metal of my own on low-tuned 7-string guitars, only to have a close friend comment on how my music sounded "just like Deftones," and after checking out "Saturday Night Wrist," saw exactly what he meant and became a fan. Of course, I got into their back catalogue, and anticipated their future releases. "Diamond Eyes" and "Koi No Yokan" did not disappoint me at all, with the band diving deeper into sonic experimentation and ambient textures. Pre-ordering "Gore" was pretty much a no-brainer at this point. Now, I'd been aware of the band's oft-tumultuous history up to this point, including the sad passing of their bassist and the album they were working on, "Eros," which to this day remains unfinished and unreleased. They had announced that album would be dramatic, huge, almost Pink Floyd-ish in its delivery, and even though very little of it has seen the light of day, one listen to "Gore" has got me thinking that these attributes could apply to this record as well.
Right from the opening clean guitars of "Prayers/Triangles," you get a sense of the epic scope of the album, and the epic high-energy chorus sounds like a possible defining moment for rock in 2016. "Acid Hologram" is a song chock full of slow, sludgy atmosphere, and cool syncopated riffs with some interesting whammy bar noodling from Stephen Carpenter (who had his signature ESP tele-style 8-strings fitted with Floyd Roses). "Doomed User" brings plenty of metal riffage to the table, a lot of it in odd time signatures like 5/4. Chino gets a lot of space to unleash his animalistic screams on this tune, which he doesn't use as frequently on this record. But when he does, it's used to great effect, similar to Stephen and his Floyd Rose. Continuing in a very proggy direction is "Geometric Headdress," which features the kind of big, epic chorus that this album is known for. "Hearts/Wires" opens in a very Pink Floyd-esque way, waiting through almost two minutes of clean guitar and bass noodling before the lyrics kick in. The song showcases a very shoegaze-y side of the band, and spends a lot of its length dramatically building up to its climax. "Pittura Infamante" and "Xenon" are both kind of psychedelic-sounding tracks with interlocking guitar riffs that use a different guitar range than we've gotten used to on recent Deftones output, focusing more on high notes than Stephen's often massive-sounding low end riffs. "(L)MIRL," aside from its odd title, has some of my favourite bass playing on the album and like a lot of the songs here, builds up quite dramatically. "Gore" features a lot of the quiet-verse/loud-chorus dynamic a little more typical of the genre, and has an eerie, almost Meshuggah-esque closing riff. "Phantom Bride" features Jerry Cantrell on lead guitar and shows the band taking another very Pink Floyd-esque left turn, with lots of soaring melodies and slow buildups. And Jerry's solo will remind a lot of people of David Gilmour, with its long, soulful bends and almost vocal-like melodic delivery, before accompanying a very huge-sounding eight-string riff. The album closes with "Rubicon," shunning more typical song structures for an explosive intro and more energetic riffs and a kind of prog sensibility, before closing with another kind of Meshuggah-ish riff.
Production-wise, the record sounds great. There are many times I can hear the bass quite clearly. The dynamics are quite good on this album, though it might be a bit loud at times. Stephen recounted in a Guitar World interview that the majority of his issue with going into recording this album (as he had apparently been the "unhappy member" of the band on this record) had to do with his guitar rig setup, getting his Axe FX tones perfect. Well, I happen to think he hit the mark quite well with his guitar tones on this record.
Performance-wise, everyone is at the top of their game. Stephen is exploring the sonic spaces of the eight-string quite adeptly, in his own sort of signature style. Chino's vocal performance is stunning as usual, and his guitar playing adds all sorts of shimmering layers atop the solid foundation laid by the rest of the band. Sergio's bass playing is great, laying a foundation but not always just copying the rhythm guitar. Abe's drumming is tight, but groovy. Frank, like Chino's guitar playing, does a wonderful job of adding layers of intrigue on top of the music, and while his role is not that of a soloist or rhythmic player, what he adds to the songs would be sorely missed if it were removed.
Deftones have really hit the mark with this album, sonically. It sounds like the kind of album you can just let wrap around you like a warm, fuzzy blanket. The band has really grown a bigger appreciation for using concepts like musical space and building up tension to create a dynamic, dramatic album.
Lyrics — 9
I ordered the album from iTunes, which sadly did not come with a lyric sheet. The few songs that have been posted on the internet so far have shown Chino's lyrics to be very poetic and, though not overtly personal, seem very heartfelt. It's hard to gather any real meaning from the lyrics, but to me, that just adds to the mystique of them. Take this pair of verses from "Acid Hologram":
"Your light will fade
And our hearts will sync
In time your disguise
Will shift and reverse
In the wave of your plume
We bathe and drink
You remind me of her again
Smother me in shapes"
It's all a bit abstract, but it paints a very interesting picture in the mind, and matches up quite well with the music.
Chino delivers all of the lyrics in his usual way, with a very vulnerable-sounding and dreamy clean voice, or his piercing shrieks. The way he transitions from one to the other is very unique, and there's not a singer out there that sounds like Chino. He can lull you to slumber one minute, and scare the crap out of you the next. There seem to be a lot of harmony vocals on this album as well, which is something I enjoy.
As Deftones are a very vocal-driven band, the fact that their singer has so many unique facets to his voice that he uses quite well, and always has, makes them a rather unique fixture in rock music. Chino may well be one of my favourite vocalists out there, and this album uses his talents quite well. Some fans may be turned off by the slightly more tilted balance towards clean vocals than screams, but I personally think this is a good thing.
Overall Impression — 9
After some really great albums, Deftones seem to be on a really great trajectory, and "Gore" just continues this. Every album they've released so far has been better than the last, and while I loved "Koi No Yokan" a lot, "Gore" is just a vastly better album, and showcases the band's talents a lot more. But it never feels like an album of disconnected styles or rapid-fire genre changes, it feels like a truly coherent, cohesive body of work. In many ways, the band has been showing its prog sensibilities more readily on this record as well, with a lot more in terms of extended instrumental passages (a guitar solo on a Deftones record!? Well, I never!), strange song structures, and climactic build-ups. It's hard to single out just one good song from this record, though I'd have to recommend checking out "Phantom Bride" just to show a completely different side of the band, and because I'm a fan of Jerry Cantrell's lead work. There's nothing I really dislike about the album at all, and I feel that this album has a lot of potential to become one of my top albums of 2016. It might be too early to call this Deftones' magnum opus, especially if we still have a chance of finally hearing "Eros," but this album is a pretty strong contender for that title.
If you're looking for a strong experimental metal album with a lot of different moods and sounds, you really can't go wrong with "Gore." If, like me, you had passed this band off because of their association with bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit in the late-'90s, do yourself a favour and get over it, and check out this amazing record.