There are only so many rock and metal acts that have managed to keep their sound fresh and engaging over the course of 25 years, but Deftones are certainly one of them.
The Sacramento quintet’s career has been full of ups and downs, most notably the death of original bassist Chi Cheng in 2013, but they have consistently channelled these into their work and produced great art as a result. Their last album Gore came out in 2016, and while it did have its critics (one infamous review compared it to finding a w**ked-in shirt on one’s bedroom floor), on the whole it was well-received. Ohms is the group’s ninth studio effort and makes it clear that even after all these years, they’re far from losing their spark.
Ohms largely sticks to the same sonic territory that Deftones have been conquering since 2010’s Diamond Eyes: slickly-produced alternative metal blending Chino Moreno’s ethereal vocals and Stephen Carpenter’s crushing guitars, with plenty of softer moments to balance out the harder ones. Opening track ‘Genesis’ kicks things off in exactly this fashion, beginning with a chilled mix of clean guitars and synths before giving way to a doomy riff and Moreno’s borderline screaming. As the record goes on, we see the band subtly introducing new ideas here and there ‒ the haunting vocal harmonies on ‘Ceremony’, the thrash metal riff that opens ‘Urantia’ ‒ and although these are never front and centre, they mesh so seamlessly in the mix that you can’t help but smile. Most of the songs follow unconventional structures, as Deftones have always done, but the title track and ‘Error’ are the most radio-friendly offerings here, the latter’s four-on-the-floor groove and melodic chorus recalling ‘Swerve City’ off 2012’s Koi No Yokan.
Lyrically, Ohms keeps the grandiose metaphors and sexual overtones of previous Deftones records while also sharing more of Moreno’s personal thoughts and feelings. Perhaps the best example of this is the title track, which sees him accepting the past and anticipating the future with disarming honesty. Elsewhere, ‘Pompeji’ explores religious images similar to Tool’s ‘Sober’, with Moreno declaring “Jesus Christ, you watch us fail / We raise our glasses and drink in hell”, while next track ‘This Link is Dead’ reads like a throwback to the band’s more hyperactive early years with its four-letter expletives and punk-rock angst.
Deftones fans have learned by now not to expect radical experimentation from them, and Ohms is ultimately more a refinement of the band’s core sound than a reinvention of it. Still, for anyone worried that almost five years and a global pandemic on from Gore, the group’s energy might be on the fade, this album will put their minds at rest. But it could just as easily blow their minds too.
Words by Nat Schaefer
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