A ranking of all 8 Deftones albums from Worst to Best
Sacramento’s Deftones are nothing short of a remarkable alternative rock band. Having initially made their mark in the mid-1990 as one of the best bands in the largely dismal “nu metal” scene, they have continually won both critical and audience acclaim over the years with a succession of sonically inventive albums that transcend any kind of genre pigeonholing. They have a distinctive layered sound that’s rife with contrasts: by turns heavy and soft, melodic and discordant, downbeat and uplifting, beautiful and ugly, primitive and complex. It’s one that comes very much from their own musical influences, which are rooted as much in the 1980s New Romantic and indie movements as they are in metal and hardcore punk.
Ranking the eight albums (not including their live, cover and compilation albums) of a band whose work is mostly brilliant is both a tough task and one that invites disagreement. Nonetheless, I shall give it my best shot:
8th: Deftones (2003)
Don’t get me wrong: Deftones’ self-titled 4th album is far from a weak effort and has several classic tracks. However, it’s lacking in musical cohesion and often feels so grey and dour that it actively saps the listener’s will to continue. Frontman Chino Moreno was partially focussed on his Team Sleep side project at this point; the divided focus really shows.
Some tracks such as Hexagram, When Girls Telephone Boys and Battle-axe feel like a step back from White Pony to the morose, growling nu metal of their first two albums. The best ones here feel like a more grandiose continuation of the melodic approach of Pony: the multilayered and harmonic Minerva with its vast choral refrain of “God Bless You All”, the uplifting and honey-dripped Good Morning Beautiful which sounds like Smashing Pumpkins colliding with Duran Duran.
There are also a couple of tracks which look forward to the more experimental approach of the 2005 Team Sleep album and 2006’s Saturday Night Wrist: the trip-hoppy Lucky You with its uncannily George Michael-like chorus, the sparsely piano-led look-out-to-the-sea beauty of Anniversary of an Uninteresting Event. While both are worthy they just add to the feeling of inconsistency.
Despite its merits, Deftones is the one Deftones album I’ve never really felt much enthusiasm about giving a spin.
7th: Adrenaline (1995)
That the band’s debut comes near the bottom of the list is less an indictment of it than a testament to how much they have grown and developed over the years. During this early stage, they felt very much like “the better Korn”. The best of their tracks in this vein here has to be the suffocating anxiety attack and cathartic chorus of 7 Words.
Amid the tersely psychotic freakouts, however, there is a definite sense that much of their characteristic ethereal tunefulness and sonic invention is in place. Bored displays Moreno’s uncanny ability to hold a soaring note, Minus Blindfold neatly appropriates the five-note Close Encounters of the Third Kind alien communication tune and Root smoothly blends an early Sisters of Mercy riff with Faith No More vocals.
At the same time, however, after listening to their later albums it’s clear that they hadn’t yet fully blossomed here. The gritty production doesn’t bring out the unique sonic nuances and textures which have characterised later releases like brush strokes of fine artwork. It feels like their later tunefulness is being held back by the imperative to fit into a nu metal straightjacket. There are a few moments when the songwriting falls back on lazy repetition of lyrics. Still, it’s an energetic and enjoyable start to their career.
6th: Around the Fur (1997)
A definite step up from Adrenaline, Around the Fur nailed down their distinctively hazy and multilayered sonic architecture. It’s evident right from the silky, controlled menace of opener My Own Summer (Shove It) that they’ve defined themselves as something truly unique in rock.
Lhabia mixes catchy, fluid singing with a borderline progressive song structure that doesn’t lose sight of its own coiled tightness. Mascara moves from gentle and failed melodies to a powerfully soaring chorus. The chugging and grinding Around the Fur - a stinging attack on the vacuity of the fashion industry - hits an orgasmic Duran Duran-style chorus. Be Quiet and Drive is a vast, stretching soundscape of fuzzy guitars and sweeping vocal gestures. Closing track MX has a dreamy and rather chilling feel with its gurgling background vocals and female spoken word pieces.
Again it doesn’t quite hit the sheer heights of the band’s later albums. There’s a sense that it’s still trying to escape the nu metal jitters at times, as well as one that Chino’s smuggling to hit all of the vocal notes he’s aspiring to. Nonetheless, it’s a bold step on the way.
5th: Saturday Night Wrist (2006)
Their 2006 album is their most experimental and divisive. With a production cycle lasting two years, it was also the most difficult for the band. Moreno’s various personal circumstances - including a failing marriage, drug addiction and (as was also the case with the self-titled 2003 album) a concurrent focus on his Team Sleep project - had interfered with the recording. Tensions also reportedly arose between Moreno and veteran producer Bob Ezrin.
Nonetheless, the album’s wholehearted embrace of the more trippy, arty side of their style makes it one of their most interesting and idiosyncratic efforts. While not perfect, there’s a beautiful sublimity to the better tracks here. Indeed, even the lesser ones have unusual and distinctive touches which make them memorable.
Cherry Waves is the highlight: a haunting and hypnotic piece with multilayered vocal tracks and an undeniable tincture of sadness. Rapture is a full-on rant with a spectrally harmonic interlude, making for one of their best hard pieces. Mein starts off as an energetically-paced but melodically-underpinned piece before culminating in a powerful doom metal-like finale. Combat mixes blistering hardcore with a warm, bowels-of-the-earth chorus.
Pink Cellphone, featuring guest vocals by Annie Hardy from the band Giant Drag, is the most controversial track here. It’s a bleepy electronic piece with a slight Nine Inch Nails edge. It’s not bad but it does feel misplaced. It also ends in a silly monologue about butt-fucking and British people having bad teeth.
4th: Gore (2016)
Here’s where it starts to get more difficult: four albums which are all pretty close to perfection. Their most recent one, Gore, is the closest they have ever come to Tool/Pink Floyd-style prog rock while still maintaining their dense and dreamy feel. It’s a consistently great set, with vast-sounding tracks linked together by between-song experimental dabblings. The whole gamut of their musical palette is covered here and yet the whole thing holds together extremely well.
The Floyd feel is strong on Hearts / Wires, while Phantom Bride mixes a Van Halen riff with gothic-style sounds. Prayers / Triangles starts out with a tranquil Cherry Waves-style atmospheric soundscape before heading into a chorus which seemingly fills the entire sky. Pittura Infamante feels like a Morrissey song put to some typically jangling guitar work from Stephen Carpenter, before ending up with a Thin Lizzy-style riff. Xenon features some of Moreno’s sexiest singing, a subtle layer of electronics and a concise, upturned riff.
3rd: Koi No Yokan (2012)
The band’s seventh is a smooth and polished album - one of unerring solidity and consistency. The one problem is that this is the point where Deftones started becoming like Mastodon: brilliant, but predictably so, with subtle progressions from album to album. It’s a slightly denser, heavier, more post rock-influenced version of its predecessor Diamond Eyes, thus proving to be a seamless linking point between it and the successive album Gore.
Still, it’s hard to complain when we get another beautiful, collapsing neutron star of a set, where each song is structured like a spectacular sonic artwork.
Every song is great: Swerve City is a catchy metal tune with a grandly melodic chorus, Romantic Dreams mixes Tool/A Perfect Circle-style verses with a classy Duran Duran chorus. Rosemary is a prog/post/stoner rock epic which builds like the rising paranoia of a cannabis addict. Goon Squad starts out as a post-rock instrumental before building into a true stomper via a bridging melody which sounds just a bit Peter Gabriel.
The best tracks, however, are Leather - a spiritual kin to Korea from White Pony, which is just as kinky and scarring as you could ever hope - and Tempest - a spacey gem with a memorably metallic chorus talking about an “ancient arrival”, followed by some truly eerie “Ooo-ooh” harmonies.
2nd: Diamond Eyes (2010)
Diamond Eyes was Deftones’ comeback album after a particularly fraught and tragic half-decade which included the difficult recording of Saturday Night Wrist, Moreno’s struggles with personal demons and, saddest of all, bassist Chi Cheng being put into a coma after a car accident in 2007 during the recording of their aborted Eros album. Although he pulled out of it in 2012, he passed away in 2013 due to a cardiac arrest.
While he was laid low, the band dealt with the trauma the only way they knew how - by hiring Quicksand bassist Sergio Vega and recording a fresh set of material. It’s their most immediate and accessible album which balances power and energy with punchy, almost poppy songs.
Opener Diamond Eyes chugs assertively into view before unleashing a chorus which is at once romantic, concise and epic. Beauty School is a spectacular anthem which starts off from a bare-bones Cure riff. Prince features an atmospheric and sinister bassline. Rocket Skates is thrashy and noisy, with soaring harmonies and a shockingly violent chorus consisting of the words “GUNS! RAZORS! KNIVES!”. Sextape is a Red Hot Chilli Peppers-style funk-infused soft rock song with beautiful and emotionally-scarring vocals.
1st: White Pony (2000)
While Diamond Eyes comes very close indeed, White Pony has to be the finest of their albums. As the album’s penultimate song Change (In the House of Flies) suggests, this was the moment when they really grew wings and musically soared to the great heights they are capable of.
The fluid, sexy and soaring singing of opener Feiticeira is a clear quantum leap from the nu metal stylings of earlier efforts. Digital Bath is hauntingly sparse until it erupts into an epic chorus. Elite is a growling and bile-filled look at the superficial woe-is-me attitude of the then-nascent emo culture and Rx Queen has a sunny chorus which belies the sinister undercurrents of the lyrics.
However, the second half of the album is even better. Knife Prty is a chilling, instantly memorable effort with a snappily catchy chorus and and an interlude of nightmarish female vocal gymnastics courtesy of Rodleen Getsic. Korea features and ominous electric atmosphere and distorted vocals relating to a kinky relationship. The Passenger is a fragile, melancholy epic featuring guest vocals by Tool’s Maynard James Keenan, ending in a minimal piano outro. Change (In the House of Flies) is a bittersweet gem about watching a loved one move away - with a simultaneous mix of anguish at the loss and joy that they might reach a better life.
It’s a mature album, but one which doesn’t forget about the energy and power of the metal genre in the process. As such, it’s nearly 49 minutes of the most stirring and resonant music ever recorded.