Just as every beauty pageant has its "Miss Congeniality"--the contestant whom all the other girls likem but who never wins--every music scene has a band like theDeftones. Talk to players in the world of new metal and they will invariably give props to the Deftones, lamenting that the band's audience isn't as large as that of Korn or Limp Bizkit, and commenting on how interesting the band's sound is. After hearing such talk, you may want to give the Deftones a listen--at which point you'll likely realize what a lame compliment the word "interesting" is.
Yes it's true that Deftones don't sound like any other hard rock group. Although the band dabbles in heavy riffage from time to time, most of it's guitar work emphasize texture over melody, stasis over propulsion. In many of the songs on The White Pony, the guitars simply drone, kicking up big, slow moving clouds of distortion. It's almost a throwback to the sound of the early nineties "shoegazer" bands such as My Bloody Valentine, Swervedriver and Ride--except those bands usually managed to work something resembling a tune into the din.
The Deftones, by contrast, are much more interested in playing with sound than messing with melody. It isn't just that a song like Feiticeira, which opens up the album, disdains conventional verse/chorus construction; it's as if the band is thouroughly uninterested in anything that could be mistaken for a melody.
Thank frontman Chino Moreno for much of that. Moreno, who can't seem to decide if he'd rather be in Tool or The Cure, is clearly fond of sriking the tortured artist pose, but his writing is so abtruse that it is often impossible to figure out what exactly is torturing him. So in Fieticeira, he ends up intonig his lyrics as if he were arbitrarily assigning pitch to the words(which themselves seem pretty random)
Not every song is quite so haphazard. The churning, clangorous Knife Party, actually has a chorus of sorts, and there's enough repetition in RX Queen, to suggest that Moreno is trying to be melodic, even if his sense of pitch is rather less than accurate. But, for the most part, Moreno comes across like a cut-rate Perry Farrell, playing out some private drama no one else quite understands.
Meanwhile, the band provides context by shifting the textures behind his caterwauling. It's an impressively cooperative effort, as the individual parts seldom convey enough harmonic or rythmic information to stand on there own. One obviously favored trick is to have guitarist Stephen Carpenter offer a two- or three-note drone that magically turns into a chord progression when bassist Chi Cheng adds a root.
Carpenter and Cheng can work this routin in both midtempo thrash mode and feedback drenched slomo, and often will use both approaches in the same song, playing off drummer Abe Cunningham to provide the illusion of a bridge. When Carpenter and Cheng finally lock into something tuneful, it usually turns out to be some hoary cliche or other, like the headbanger riff that powers Elite or the powerchord pattern that rescues Korea from it's doldrums.
It's easy to be impressed by the sonic cues in Knife Party as the verse shifts from ominous quiet to a thundering drone, then kicks the thunder up a notch for the chorus. But, on the whole, such stunts are about as catchy as listening to the guy next door rev his car engine. Of course, there are moments when the attention to texture leads The Deftones into interesting territory. For instance, the brooding understated Teenager, with it's scratchy guitar loop and churning breakbeats, delivers a sound verging on ambient techno--and unusual choice for what's basically a hard rock band.
But so what? As interesting as such things may be, they don't make for a particularly compelling listening. Frankly, White Pony just isn't a win, place or show bet.------------J.D. Considine