Of all the major acts of the original nu metal wave of the ’90s, none have been able to match the remarkable sonic growth and startling consistency of Sacramento’s Deftones. From their very first album, the band already displayed a knack for atmosphere and nuance unmatched by their contemporaries. But it is the band’s fearless creative spirit and refusal to give in to stagnancy that has kept them as one of metal’s greatest contemporary acts, across eight albums and more than twenty years. In honor of their latest album Gore releasing this past Friday, I’m ranking all eight of their studio albums, and examining their stunning sonic evolution.
#8: Adrenaline (1995)
Like many listeners, I had never really given the band’s debut its proper due. This one is only “weak” in comparison to all the incredible albums that followed, because even early Deftones displayed a nuance and maturity that most of their contemporaries never had. Chino’s vocals aren’t fully developed, and the ambience of White Pony onward isn’t really anywhere to be found, but as an aggressive thrill ride it’s a great starting point to the band’s discography. The songs do tend to blend together, but overall this is still an enjoyable nu metal album with hints of the evolution that would follow.
#7: Deftones (2003)
While still containing many of the same elements that made previous record White Pony a masterpiece, this album doesn’t really push the band in many new directions, and the variety from track to track doesn’t ever fully coalesce into a cohesive whole. Regardless, many of the individual tracks are among the band’s best, and the album’s flaws don’t prevent it from being an enjoyable listen.
#6: Around the Fur (1997)
While still primarily a nu-metal album, the band’s growing songwriting ability and gift at exploring contrasts becomes more apparent. Frank Delgado’s influence also becomes more prominent, as the album begins to play more with ambience and mood. The biggest improvement is Chino, whose grew tremendously as a vocalist across the board from Adrenaline, and largely ditches spoken-word for his signature haunting cleans and visceral screams. A massive improvement overall, and a great stage-setter for even bigger things to come.
#5: Diamond Eyes (2010)
After Chi Cheng’s tragic car accident, the band scrapped the album they were working on and re-tooled their approach, focusing on a message of hope and optimism. This album feels like the natural successor to Saturday Night Wrist, yet also manages to blend in more raw brutality than was present on that album. This delicate balancing act between beauty and intensity is part of what makes Diamond Eyes one of Deftones’ most consistent listens.
#4: White Pony (2000)
This is where the fun really begins. The album that took Deftones from a band that was experimental and forward-thinking for nu metal to a band that transcended nu metal completely. Frank Delgado is now a full member of the band, and his electronic textures, combined with vastly more experimental songwriting, push the band to new heights. The album shifts moods from the brutality of “Elite”, to the soothing trip-hop of “Teenager”, to the masterfully infectious “Change”, without ever feeling scattershot. A true classic.
#3: Gore (2016)
Deftones’ latest offering takes the carefully mixed brew of previous album Koi No Yokan, and digs deeper… and grimier. Grime is the key word throughout, as intense and ethereal passages alike are drenched in a sludge of echo and reverb. Yet these tracks still soar like the best of the band’s catalog, with the slow burn of “Hearts / Wires” and psychedelic-esque Jerry Cantrell guest solo of “Phantom Bride” being highlights. Chino turns in one of his most uplifting and captivating vocal performances to date, and the band shows no signs of weakness more than twenty years into their recording career.
#2: Saturday Night Wrist (2006)
Wow… now this, ladies and gentlemen, is an underrated album. It was recorded at a weird time for the band, as they were battling with interpersonal tension, addiction, and failing marriages, as well as declining popularity after many fans were let down by the self-titled album. Yet that struggle was eventually borne out in a massive evolution for the band, and arguably their best album… certainly the one that marks the stepping stone from the band’s “classic” period to their more evolved modern sound. Ditching Terry Date was one of the best decisions Deftones ever made, as fresh production gave their sound a widescreen, epic feel that perfectly compliments the uplifting elements of many of the songs. I could go on and on, but if you haven’t heard this one do yourself a favor.
#1: Koi No Yokan (2012)
The band continues the trend towards more lush soundscapes that they have been developing on the previous two albums, with an abundance of beautiful slow burns and epic buildups. Each track takes its time to develop, and lush electronics are now so ingrained into the band’s sound that it’s difficult to imagine the band without them. What really sets this album apart from the pack is the confidence and mastery Deftones display in their ever-improving balancing act of visceral aggression and ambient beauty. While Chino has fewer harsh vocals here than ever before, his soaring, passionate performance perfectly coalesces with the mixture of soaring post-rock glory and droning brutality, as led by the career-highlight guitar work of Stephen Carpenter. Overall, a brilliant release from a group that keeps expanding their songwriting while retaining the best elements of their core sound.