I’M ASTONISHED. I’ve always respected Deftones—White Pony is one of my favorite 2000s metal albums—but I never thought they’d be capable of releasing something that I liked as much as Gore. This album surprises at every turn, seamlessly transitioning from contemplative quietude into manic chaos on a whim, all the while meshing their tried-and-true alternative metal aesthetic with as many elements of different genres as they can. In the hands of a lesser artist, it’d be mere pastiche. Deftones make the sound their own.
Let’s look at the first track for a minute, because it’s arguably the best thing on here and definitely the best example of what I’m talking about. “Prayers/Triangles” has, in no particular order, a vocal melody that recalls Diary-era Sunny Day Real Estate, a hard rock feedback-heavy cold open, production that would be at home on an early Alcest album, and a chilling screamed bridge that represents Deftones reaching back to their own personal roots. It’s an intensely layered song that I’m still in the process of picking apart, even though I’ve already listened to the album many times over. The track doesn’t wear its influences on its sleeve—in fact, I’m certain that several of the connections I made weren’t even on the radar of the musicians involved—but it invites those associations, encouraging active listening over passive enjoyment.
For those looking for a metal album to passively enjoy, though, Deftones still has you covered—this album goes hard when it wants to. “Doomed User”, the second single from the album, showcases Deftones at their loudest and rawest (or as raw as the shoegazey production will allow), and while it’s Gore’s least complex track, it nevertheless creates a distinct sound for itself which will almost certainly appease the cravings of listeners who like their metal loud and gritty. But its success as a song isn’t based in its headbangability (which is a totally real word that all discussions of metal should include); “Doomed User” works because, like every other song on Gore, it makes you feel something. Whether it’s that track’s unrelenting coldness or the oxymoronic major-key joy of “Pittura Infamente” or the grimy bitterness of the album’s final moments on “Rubicon”, every single track conveys a distinct emotion, with the lyrics and music working in tandem and the production keeping the album consistent. The one major complaint I could conceivably level at Gore is that the songs start to blend together toward the middle as a result of that consistency, but the last three tracks change things up enough to sufficiently reinvigorate the album, and at no point is it ever anything close to boring.
Gore likewise shines on a technical level. For starters, the drumming is fantastic, and it’s clear that the band knows it. (Why else would they put such a complicated drum line front and center in both the progression and mix of the title track?) Chino Moreno’s vocals are as powerful and varied as ever, delivering passion and delicacy in equal measure. It’d be one thing if he were only able to manipulate his voice to suit the needs of a metal album (which he does in earnest here), but Chino’s an excellent singer by virtually any objective standard, and he uses his full range on this album. Take special note of his spot-on delivery in the chorus of “Hearts/Wires”, where his lilting tenor rises above a reverberating swirl of guitars (side note: if you’re looking for a reason to love Deftones’ guitarist, look no further than the opening minute of this track) before giving a brief hint of his signature high-pitched growl in the next lines. The overall talent on display here is nothing short of astounding.
And yes, Gore has a few other small issues here and there. As much as I love “Pittura Infamante” and “Xenon”, their riff-based structures stick out in the track listing among the more internally cohesive remainder of the album. The production falters a couple times as well, though the resultant over-compression is never quite stifling. But for every nitpick, Gore offers up a moment so incredible that it overshadows any lesser ones that surround it. It’s in the little things like the transition between “Acid Hologram” and “Doomed User”, or the guitar solo of “Phantom Bride”, or the startling and harrowing ending of “(L)Mirl”. Those are the parts of the album that stick in your mind for the rest of the day, the parts that leave you reaching for the replay button when the final notes of “Rubicon” fade away.
To risk sounding clichéd: Deftones have done it again. Gore is a challenging, fluid, and wholly engrossing album from a band who, 28 years after their inception, should by all accounts be past their prime. But Gore ferociously asserts that Deftones haven’t lost any of their creative spark. If anything, their fire is blazing higher than ever. A MINUS