Sound — 8
In the same way Deftones have already immortalized themselves as a seminal alt-metal band that could take a genre cemented in angry, forceful expression and expand on it with much more emotion, Deftones' activity in the last few years have been an impressive continuance of artistry in the face of tragedy. After their work on their unreleased album "Eros" - an album meant to be a stabilizing initiative for the band after nearly breaking up - was ultimately shelved after longtime bassist Chi Cheng got into a car accident that left him in a coma, Deftones managed to pirouette gracefully from these chaining twists of fate. By refraining from completing "Eros" without Cheng as a show of respect, they continued forward in another direction, and ended up creating some of their most critically-acclaimed albums yet: the nu-metal resurgence of 2010's "Diamond Eyes," and the post-metal initiative of 2012's "Koi No Yokan."
Though they originally decided to keep "Eros" from being released, the possibility of the album's release grew high when Cheng passed away in 2013, now seeing it as a proper tribute to show the listeners his final work. But with the album still being far from finished, the idea of building on Cheng's work without him didn't sit well with the band either, so again, Deftones have chosen to keep "Eros" in perpetual suspension, and continue forward with writing new music, now releasing their eighth album, "Gore."
Following the more unified and dependable compositions of "Diamond Eyes" and "Koi No Yokan," Deftones concern themselves again with sonic experimentation in "Gore," reaching into brand new territory for the band. "Acid Hologram" conjures a dark and doomy discordance while Chino Moreno juxtaposes the unnerving progressions with his soft singing, the following measurement-wonky likes of "Doomed User" wields a classic '70s-'80s metal distortion sound, and most prominently, the band try their hand at blues influences, heard in the opening guitars of "Hearts/Wires," and Alice In Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell's guest performance on the penultimate "Phantom Bride." However, some of these new moments do come off sounding too emulative of others, and though the simmering low-gear instrumentation of "(L)MIRL" evokes that of a "Lateralus"-era Tool to a fair degree, the triplet-rhythmed starkness of "Geometric Headdress" sounds like a cut from Glassjaw's "Our Color Green" (a plausible risk, since Moreno and Daryl Palumbo have very similar vocal styles), and the resonant guitar melody in the chorus of "Rubicon" is reminiscent of Armor For Sleep's "Somebody Else's Arms."
But with plenty of moments being quite different than heard in their previous albums, Deftones also mix in a fair amount of familiarity from the lot of their albums. "Phantom Bride" ends on a gritty breakdown the same way that the eponymous opener of "Diamond Eyes" does, the reverbed guitar melodies and Chino Moreno's forlorn chorus vocals in "Prayers/Triangles" call back to the beautiful sadness of "Koi No Yokan," and the grainy heaviness of the self-titled track wears the same colors as the unrelenting likes of the band's 2003 self-titled album.
"Gore" also shows a wider-spanning arc of emotion in its songwriting. Deftones had always known how to weave sadness and rage together with grace and grit ever since "Around the Fur," and while those moments are still crafted (like the sadness of "Prayers/Triangles" parlaying into the distressed feel of "Acid Hologram," or the biting anger of "Gore" settling down to the somberness of "Phantom Bride" and resolving to the wistful ambiguity of "Rubicon"), "Gore" also includes some songs that wield an uncanny positivity, like the triumphant progression of "Pittura Infamante" and the crunchier "Xenon," being a more big-picture way in which "Gore" runs differently compared to the band's last few albums.
Lyrics — 10
With Moreno investing more in a fantastical-themed lyric style heard previously in "Koi No Yokan" and "Diamond Eyes," his lyrics in "Gore" pave a concept of duality spanning from front to back, where Moreno wrestles with his inner demon throughout lucid dreamscapes. Moreno's consistent tumbling between empowered disengagement from this demon and pledging loyalty to it shows the dichotomous feelings towards its power over him. He articulates the former with scorn that takes form similarly to his lyrics of spiteful lust a la "Around the Fur" ("Collect your crown, you're the queen of filth" in "Doomed User") and lethality a la "White Pony" ("You're an old hex / That just drained my will / So I put this gun to my head and I smile, and dive deep" in "(L)MIRL"), showing that this demon manifests itself by way of Moreno's worst inhibitions of toxic desire, but on the other hand, Moreno's usage of sacred geometry ("You smother me in shapes in a secret praxis" in "Acid Hologram") and other divine symbolism ("I've seen the truth and I know your strength / I have watched your great ascent" in "Pittura Infamante") duly shows that Moreno's impulse to these bad inhibitions is a sense of worship.
With "Xenon" further portraying Moreno's own darkness and inclination to such ("We're the sirens to your raid / The desire to remain / In the violence / The deciders / Of your fate"), it finally comes to a boil in "Gore," where its blood-soaked imagery calls back to that of "Diamond Eyes" ("We lay in the gore of our vices / Oh, we writhe in them... I hooked you in this way"). After this vivid carnage, Moreno again tries to distance himself from this sick and senseless side of himself in "Phantom Bride" ("You waste your life / Relaxed in your void / Where you will drain all of yourself"), but in the final "Rubicon," it all comes together when the demon speaks its final words addressing Moreno's need of his dark side in order to satisfy the crowd he entertains ("You cannot face the crowd all by yourself, embrace the power we have / The record's ours to break, the more we build the crowd goes wild"), making Moreno's inner struggle in "Gore" a meta concept just as much as a personal one, and even further, revealing the self-fulfilling, paradoxical cycle of Moreno needing to harness his darkness to create art and stave off his demons. Which begs the grim question: if Moreno's expression through music is fueled by the darkest parts of his mind and heart, is the only way for him to truly triumph over that darkness to cease the expression that demands it?
Overall Impression — 9
One of the biggest reasons why Deftones have kept up such an impressive catalog is that they don't try to recapture lightning in a bottle, and instead appeal to the same risk-taking initiatives that made their previous material as lauded as it is. Still appealing to that sincere desire to always move forward, "Gore" deftly threads the needle between Deftones' urge to try new things and to continue wielding parts they know well, making the album a formidable amalgam of contrasting sounds - old and new, clean and messy, light and heavy, conventional and odd, triumphant and defeated - and ultimately, making the album an extremely fresh new offering.