Album Review: Deftones – Ohms

[Relapse; 2020]

Let’s get this out of the way first: Deftones are the only good thing to come out of the nu-metal age. While there are Limp Bizkit apologists still among us, it’s been accepted that through the course of their existence Deftones have continuously reinvented themselves and experimented in ways their nu-metal brethren were too afraid to attempt. Sometimes it paid off and sometimes it didn’t, but they garnered respect for trying and it’s a testament to their abilities to see them releasing their ninth album in 2020, Ohms.

If 2016’s Gore was considered a fitting cap on their 2010s trilogy, Ohms is a semi-victory lap for the Sacramento noise makers that also previews what’s to come. Far less hook-driven than 2012’s glorious Koi No Yokan, Ohms combines the last three decades of music and influences and runs them through a meat grinder for another reinvention. To put it bluntly – Ohms is the indie record the band never made. They’re still on Reprise Records, as they were throughout the last decade, but Ohms doesn’t feel like anything that came before it, outside of the typical Deftones traits – cacophonous screams, voice manipulations, hard bass and guitars, and lots and lots of energy.

Ohms marks the return of renowned heavy metal producer Terry Date, who infamously produced the band’s misunderstood 2003 album Deftones. There’s more significance than that though, as Date was the chosen producer for the legendary unreleased 2008 record Eros, which Deftones fans know to be the last record to feature original bassist Chi Cheng who passed away in 2013. So to bring Date back into the mix shows a certain vulnerability for the band, given that the last time they worked together their brother Chi was still with them. And while Date is renowned for making bands like Slipknot and Pantera sound heavier and heavier with each release, his mark on Ohms is of an entirely different stroke.

Whether it’s too on-the-nose or not, “Genesis” kicks the album off like a dream-pop band entering the next phase of their existence – slowly scanning our brains and building till we get the one-two punch of Stephen Carpenter’s heavy riffage paired with Chino Moreno’s markedly abrasive vocals. Chino rips through the echoing mantras “balance” and “rebirth” with tenacity, reflecting the band’s transformation between Saturday Night Wrist and Diamond Eyes, which is really what Ohms is all about – the next step in evolution for one of the most beloved mainstream rock acts. This all leads to a gorgeous breakdown layered with Chino’s delicate “We’re everywhere / no need to return / I’ll show you the way.”

Throwing back to White Pony’s “Teenager”, “Pompeji” finds Chino at the height of his vocal capabilities, using one of his most endearing traits in his ability to transition between the shrieks and the melody that he’s so adored for. Things get a little braggadocios on “This Link is Dead”, as Chino spits furious venom but also makes it the most radio-friendly track on the album. The clashing and stylistic change ups are all the ingredients necessary to make Ohms one of the more intriguing listens from the band.

There’s a hefty mix of hard and light rhythms on Ohms, but it’s safe to say that the band’s more ethereal moments like “Beware” and “Hole in the Earth” from Saturday Night Wrist feel like good precursors for this direction. That being said, Date’s production isn’t without its heavier edges, like on the visceral “Urantia” that blends quasi-thrash metal with the more serene production of their 2010s work. The title track veers towards the latter, giving us an arena-sized closer that will be the exclamation point on so many of their setlists for years to come. “So we slip into / our hopeless sea of regret,” Chino utters before the most resonating chorus of the album “And time won’t change this / this promise we made.”

This isn’t to deny hardcore fans their just desserts; Ohms is packed full of dynamic riffs and random scats from Chino. It flows in directions one wouldn’t expect, case in point: “Error”, which feels like a Korn song one moment then smooths out across a bridge of soaring Tool-esque prog, which would make sense considering the association with both acts.  “The Spell of Mathematics” pulls no punches, it lands every crack and smack, then gives you a breather as Chino perpetuates this monolith that is Deftones.

Ohms is the first Deftones record to feel entirely like all of the rest but also like none of them. It somehow manages to push the band into a new direction while leaving breadcrumbs from each album. With a wide range of enjoyment coming from each cut, Ohms further cements Deftones as the premier mainstream rock band to reinvent themselves every decade. The additions aren’t new, but they are carefully crafted and assembled in lavish ways that make the album a success on every level for its audience. The songwriting has improved significantly from Gore, and while there are fewer catchy or pop-influenced songs, the aesthetic is still pristine. It boasts many exhilarating and unpredictable juxtapositions, as on “Urantia” where the band flips from the jagged thrash to a saccharine chorus where he sings “There is no one left like you.” Right back at ya, Chino.