CMU Artists Of The Year 2010 – #8: Deftones

When it was announced that Deftones were readying a new album late last year, I let myself get a little excited. Actually, when asked, I think I may have told people it was the album I was most anticipating in 2010. But even then I was preparing myself for disappointment, given what a let down their last album, 2006’s ‘Saturday Night Wrist’ had been. Still, a lot has happened since then.

A quick recap. In early 2008, Deftones began recording what was meant to be their sixth album, ‘Eros’. With recording completed, it was set for an early 2009 release, but in November 2008 bassist Chi Cheng was seriously injured in a car crash, leaving him in a coma in which he still remains. Seven months later, having already delayed its release, the band decided to shelve ‘Eros’ for the time being and began work on a completely new set of songs, saying at the time: “We realised that this record doesn’t best encompass and represent who we are currently as people and as musicians”.

The first new track, ‘Rocket Skates’, was made available as a free download in February, firmly proving that the band were very much back on form. Something re-confirmed upon the release of the album, ‘Diamond Eyes’, in May. Also very much worthy of a mention is the M83 remix of ‘Rocket Skates’, released on seven-inch for Record Store Day in April, which is one of my absolute favourite tracks of the year.

Six (or seven) albums into a career, it’s not easy to maintain the momentum, but despite that wobble a few years ago, Deftones seem a long way off simply phoning it in. I’m not sure if it’s right to suggest anything positive – even a little thing – can have come from something as horrible as Cheng’s coma, but that tragedy has really refocused this band on their music with great effect. Certainly on record.

But what about live? To be honest, despite the brilliance of the new recorded material, I was still concerned that the band might not be able to reach the high standard of live show that I remembered from my teens. Actually, this wasn’t a new concern. I’d avoided seeing Deftones live for almost a decade so worried was I that any new live show would be an anti-climax. But, especially given the quality of ‘Diamond Eyes’, my curiosity eventually got the better of me last month, and I ventured out to see their recent Brixton Academy show.

I suspect my fears would have been realised a few years ago, but now, like on record, the band are completely focused. And they didn’t play anything off ‘Saturday Night Wrist’, which suggests we share similar views on their recent past.

Frontman Chino Moreno still runs around, works the crowd into a fit and delivers superb vocals. For ‘Elite’, he came down off his platform constructed at the front of the stage and screamed the chorus right into the faces of the front few rows, eventually crawling up on top of their raised hands as the song grew in intensity. That’s still exciting when it’s not happening to you directly.

The polar opposite of Chino, guitarist Steph Carpenter stood almost perfectly still for the whole show, long hair obscuring his face as he pumped out that deep, controlled guitar sound that rumbles through your bones. And I can never say enough in praise of Abe Cunningham’s drumming; his signature style and the off kilter rhythms he plays on the hi hat add so much to the songs (for me anyway), it’s impossible to imagine any other drummer playing them.

After more than 20 years together, and some considerable downs to their ups, Deftones still have the spark that is ground out of most other bands by this point, either by the music industry machine, a creative wall, or inter-band tensions. In fact, all those things have affected Deftones at some point in the last decade, and yet in 2010 they’ve still managed to outdo pretty much all new pretenders to their throne.

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