Sacramento band Deftones released the seminal White Pony 20 years ago; it’s a hybrid of alternative metal, post-hardcore and trip-hop that is considered by many as the magnum opus of their career. Moreno’s violent, impressionist imagery layered with the atmospheric-laden instrumentation is what set the band apart from the nu-metal genre they were erroneously lumped in with. After the release of November’s Ohms which continued a trajectory of exceptional releases, the band announced the long-planned White Pony x Black Stallion remix album to commemorate White Pony.
As a band that has always dipped their toes into experimentation, it’s a natural progression maturing with the fans that the album first resonated with 20 years ago. Inspired by lead singer Chino Moreno’s love of DJ Shadows Entroducing, it is an idea that has been in the works before the original album was even mixed. So long in fact that the band commented that the album includes collaborators “that actually inspired some of the writing of the record itself, the original album”.
Firstly, let’s make this clear. This reimagining is going to need a bit more than a first listen to get your head around it – if you can at all. If you were looking for a remix album that dubs the original track over a generic EDM beat, Black Stallion is not that. Instead, each collaborator reimagines the track within their own sonic universe, creating tracks where their own fingerprints show up in a similar magnitude to Deftones.
As Clams Casino distorts the opening riff of ‘Feiticeria’ into a realm of trip-hop beats, the album becomes a manifest alternate universe where Deftones were an electronic outfit. The down-tempo opener is a slightly dull way to kick off a record so dynamic and experimental. The following track mixed by DJ Shadow, for example, is a slow-burner that turns the chorus of ‘Digital Bath’ into a track that haunts rather than screams out: this is why you shouldn’t write the record off.
Take Robert Smith’s reimagining of ‘Teenager’ for example, turning the track into a simmering gothic ballad. On the original, it is one of the bands more tender moments, and Smith draws this out by introducing a gorgeous piano accompaniment to the song. Another example of this is Purity Ring breathing ethereal, shimmering life into ‘Knife Prty’ which sounds like it could be dropped at a Four Tet light show. Megan James’ accompanied vocals bring out the seductive tone that underscored the original.
Some tracks barely even sound like the originals at all, to mixed results. Take Tourist’s re-work of ‘Change In The House of Flies’, which enters a house modem with Moreno’s breathy vocals entering sporadically. Or Trevor Jack’s reimagining of ‘Korea’, which sublimates into the original’s darker subconscious realm.
The problem with the flow of the album, then, is having so many different creative fingerprints can make it a tad overwhelming. You’ve got the aforementioned Robert Smith version and a few tracks later Salva’s sub-drop and broken-beat scattered ‘RX Queen’. Squarepusher’s closing track propels ‘Pink Maggit’ into a sudden realm of insanity, distorting Moreno’s vocals into a realm of glitchy disparity. At 10:12 minutes the iconic DJ pushes Deftones’ shoegaze tinged original through a mangle of digital signal processing, adding 3 minutes to the original playtime. This is where at times the record feels likes creative excess; if Black Stallion was a live show you’d have left before the encore.
As a work Black Stallion encapsulates the more emotionally driven aspects of their first albums, which were often layered by the aggressive instrumentation on some tracks. It’s an album where you’re probably going to download your favourite songs, rather than listening to as a collective. If you’re looking for classic Deftones go back to Ohms, but for listeners who have moved their musical tastes into electronic realms beyond metal Black Stallion might just contain your new ‘on repeat’ track. One thing for sure it is the Marmite of the bands back-catalogue; you either love it or really don’t care for it.
Words by Charity Swales
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