Deftones – Diamond Eyes [Album]


Diamond Eyes
is at once surprisingly restrained and understandably aggressive, pitching itself somewhere between the radio-friendly White Pony and the more straightforward Deftones. There’s a noticeable lack of experimentation present, and Deftones content themselves with mostly sticking to a more old school template than we’re recently used to from the Sacramento five-piece.

The story behind Diamond Eyes is relatively well-known, but to outline, the album has been created from scratch in under a year. Following Bassist Chi Cheng’s horrific car accident and subsequent coma in 2008 – he has since remained in a semi-conscious state – Deftones’ all-but-complete project Eros was put on ice. Recruiting Quicksand bassist Sergio Vega, the band decided they’d fallen out of love with Eros, embarking upon the recording of a new album. At times that decision is audible, and as savage as it seems to criticise Diamond Eyes on such terms, it rings true. Sextape for example is unexpectedly gentle given its title and something of a misstep; it fails to develop into anything strident and ends up sounding bland and, dare I say it… middle of the road? Although this record has an apparently more positive outlook than the mooted Eros, its creation is not a response to the stricken Cheng’s situation; therefore there is little sentiment to fall back upon in its criticism. Diamond Eyes is far more immediate than the labyrinthine Saturday Night Wrist, which was far from impeccably received in 2006. However I for one am disappointed that Deftones haven’t invested sufficient time in this project in order to pursue the experimentation displayed on that album. Whatever the opinion of its naysayers, I’m of the firm opinion that Saturday Night Wrist is a fantastic album. Not only does it hang together as a mature and moody piece of cohesive work (Cherry Waves, Xerces) but it also possesses stunning outright single tracks like the punishing Rats!Rats!Rats! and Kimdracula. But that’s enough of reviewing the wrong album, I’m clearly preoccupied with setting straight what I believe to be the bad press that SNW received. 

There’s nothing here to rival the sprawling Beware from that album, or indeed their Maynard James Keenan collaboration Passenger, one of White Pony’s many highlights. Considered moments such as these are largely jettisoned in favour of more immediate material and there’s a vastly different atmosphere surrounding this album. It feels an awful lot like inhibitions have been shed; Diamond Eyes may showcase a more stripped-down and less complex Deftones, but this in no way renders them less interesting. The largely simplified work done on this album simply showcases different palettes in their repertoire, and whilst it’d be a stretch to say there are many moods to Diamond Eyes, the differing textures are certainly commendable. You’ve Seen the Butcher leading into Beauty School is a prime example of this, with the menacing-sounding former, downing the tempo and introducing a technical riff which is nicely offset against Beauty School’s more sketchy, washed-out sound. You’ve Seen the Butcher’s forbidding depths are mostly bestowed upon it by Abe Cunningham’s stunningly and characteristically complex drum track. Whilst Beauty School boasts a similarly accomplished percussion performance, Cunningham simplifies it in the chorus, allowing the numerous guitar and keyboard layers to build a reassuringly saturated sound which is less sinister than its predecessor.

On the overwhelmingly positive side, website-crashing free single Rocket Skates is undeniably one of the best things the band have ever produced. If ever proof were needed that Deftones can simply reach into their collective pocket and flick out something this stunning like so much change and lint, Rocket Skates is it. Chino Moreno’s frenziedly ecstatic chorus of “Guns! Razors! Knives! Woo!” is nothing short of genius and if it wasn’t tearing up moshpits in clubs up and down the land as the summer sets in, it’d be nothing short of criminal. Its pseudo speed metal opening riff is representative of Stephen Carpenter’s work throughout Diamond Eyes, with the guitar performances uniformly low and crushingly heavy. The album opens with its title track, which is also the most adventurous song on offer, a brutal stomping, swaying guitar riff offset against dream pop keyboards in the chorus before shattering back into an evil breakdown. Royal almost primitively straightforward, almost unworthy of comment until a breathless guitar break which descends into a headbutting outro complete with career-ending Hexagram-esque Moreno shriek. Following on from this CMND/CNTRL is considerably more bloody-minded in its totality with a descending verse riff and drum and bass breakdown; it’s much more like the Deftones we’ve come to expect, successfully marrying heaviness with experimentation without sounding forced. Prince forges a similar groove with Frank Delgado’s airport PA system synth tones, its highlight being a middle eight successfully straddling the line between sing- and bounce-along. Moreno’s performance throughout Diamond Eyes, is faultless regardless of lyrics, “And you can’t stop now, row by row, almost out” he hisses on Prince.

In conclusion, a Deftones album conceived and released in less than a year falls short of their own impeccable standards. But since those standards are hitherto so high, that by no means makes Diamond Eyes a bad album. It may well convince those who were irked by Saturday Night Wrist, but will more than likely be regarded on the same level as their 2003 self-titled album, a record that probably failed to live up to the sum of its’ parts. There are some outstanding moments, and some really powerful tracks, but also just too many mistakes; Risk and 976-EVIL (despite its’ interesting, almost M83-esque chorus) represent the album’s low point. It’s tempting to characterise Diamond Eyes as one of Deftones’ weaker albums, but a fairer criticism is that it’s a mostly excellent but too inconsistent piece of work to be regarded as an absolute triumph.

 8 out of 10.

Stream Diamond Eyes for a limited time at NME.com
Deftones on Myspace

Deftones on Last.fm
One Love For Chi on Twitter

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