Deftones, even at their best, have been a band of dichotomies. That is what makes them a special band in the history of heavy music: opposing forces pulling and pushing them apart and back again. They may have been coming apart at the seams in the run-up to making Diamond Eyes (Reprise), and you couldn’t blame them. If you follow the band closely, you know the history. The band was nearly done tracking their highly anticipated album Eros in the fall of 2008, when founding bassist Chi Cheng was in a car wreck, on his way home from a funeral. Chi was left in a vegetative state, and the band was in shock. As Chi fought for his life (he passed in 2013, RIP), the band was left wondering what to do. They wanted to make music, but the experience with their best friend caused them to shelve Eros, never to be heard (almost never). When they came back together, the results were unexpected and wild.
Diamond Eyes is the sound of a band rejuvenated by the very fight of their lives. Every album by the band is strikingly different but still rings true. This album is on its own plateau, however. Instead of the introspection of their last few albums, there is a lot of charm, verve, power, and hope in the songs of Diamond Eyes. Deftones found a place for their pain and it was in the music. Sonic ebbs and flows, incredible dynamic shifts, and an insane volume melodies and harmonies abound. This wasn’t the same band of skater kids from Sacramento that had formed twenty years prior. There were fully formed visionary artists.
Starting with the explosive, uplifting title track and opener, the entire album is a call to arms. The dirge riffs of ‘Diamond Eyes’ contrast with both Chino Moreno’s majestic vocals, but the spiritual overtones of the lyrics too. Love and war collide in song. ‘Royal’ has a heavy as hell Stephen Carpenter riff and has that debut album urgency, only matured. ‘CMN/CTRL’ is another banger. ‘You’ve Seen The Butcher’ is a sneaky, slow boil of a track with crushing drums by Abe Cunningham and atmospherics from Frank Delgado.
Sure there’s a lot of heavy on the album. But the depth of the tracks, not just how many great songs are here, but the layers within each song are fantastic. A master class in songcraft. ‘Beauty School’ is a gorgeous Robert Smith-inspired dream-pop alternative rock song with angelic vocals and a throbbing bassline by Sergio Vega (Quicksand) that would do Chi proud. Sergio’s choice was inspired and he would take an even greater role on 2012’s Koi No Yokan (Reprise) album. ‘Prince’ is as classic a `tones song as you can have. Pensive, mysterious, and dramatic. ‘Rocket Skates’ could be the album’s masterpiece. Certainly one of the best, most raging songs with that indelible chorus (“Guns! Razors! Knives!”), in their repertoire.
‘Sextape’ is another lush post-rock inspired gem. Definitely a sexy jam musically and vocally. Although not a pronounced influence on their songs, the band has always had a penchant for the quirky brilliance of their NoCal brethren, Faith No More. Both ‘Risk’ and ‘976-EVIL’ are late album tracks that brood along like FNM deep cuts, which is a high compliment I think the band would appreciate. ‘This Place Is Death’ closes the album with another mid-tempo heady jam. Chino weaves his obtuse lyrical musings in and around pulsing bass, beats, and shimmering guitar parts.
The eleven songs that comprise Diamond Eyes might just be Deftones’ most complete and thoughtful album top to bottom. Fans will debate that White Pony (Maverick) is their masterpiece, but this album gets in the conversation for this essential band at their very best. From the tight production by Nick Raskulinecz to the striking Frank Maddocks artwork, everything about this album is on point. Considering we almost lost the band to a breakup and they had to work through the devastation of losing not just their friend, but an irreplaceable part of the creative process, Diamond Eyes is a miracle of a release.