Deftones’ Career-Defining Album “White Pony” Turns 20

Success has a way of messing with a good band. First world problems compared to the millions of bands that never make it, sure. However, so often when an emerging band that has fast become a genre leader, big corporate record labels can foul up the flow. This was almost the case of White Pony by Deftones, and the case where the hype was lived up to by pencil pushers, bean counters, and greed almost wrecked the game. White Pony is the band’s pivotal third album, where they built off the stylistic changes that came in with Around The Fur (Maverick) and pushed their sound further than before. In the process, they severed themselves far from the Nu-Metal wave that was exploding at the time and firmly created a new camp of “Deftones Music” as a category. That is, until, the label got in their business later on.

The band continued to work with the maestro, Terry Date (Pantera, Soundgarden, White Zombie), and unlike most producers who would try to make a band conform to their previous sound, Date was more of a partner who let the band do what they do best. Being definitely themselves and exploring all of their non-heavy influences is what makes the band great in the first place, so why mess it up? The entire album flies in the face of the musical conventions of the scene at the time from the choice of opener, the sequence of the tracks, and just overall being inventive musically. The album has more in common with the schizophrenic nature of a later-era Faith No More album than what was popular at the time.

The opener ‘Feiticeira’ doesn’t sound like any other song the band has and is a totally moody and atmospheric heavy song. It’s also the polar opposite of their other two album openers up to this point. ‘Digital Bath’ is likely one of the three tracks the average fan knows from this album. It was definitely a game-changer and along with its spiritual cousin ‘Change In the House of Flies’ are songs best associate with vocalist Chino Moreno’s love of The Cure, Morrissey, goth rock, new wave, new romantic 1980s pop and other influences. They are both iconic tracks and continue to influence and drive fans’ love of the band. ‘RX Queen’ has a Reggae beat and a great melody. Moreno taking many changes lyrically and vocally. ‘Street Carp’ is one of the harder tracks here with that great riff/bass combo from Stephan Carpenter and Chi Cheng (RIP). Moreno’s themes of sex, romantic love, violence, depression, drugs, and rebounding from these lowest lows can be heard and interpreted on nearly every track, even though typically his style is poetic to all, but mostly up to the listener’s interpretation.

‘Teenager’ is the first super chill, Trip-hop song of the band’s career. It was initially a Team Sleep song, so no surprise there. Deftones have always been about musical and self-exploration and the die-hard fans know this and aren’t afraid of new flavors. These and other influences from DJ Frank Delgado begin to really be felt here. His impact on this album is undeniable. ‘Knife Prty’ is one of the best songs on the album, and is just aggro enough to please the holdover fans. ‘Korea’ is heavy and the most Adrenaline-like, Nu-sounding track of the album.

Saving the big three for last, these tracks continue to live in the lore and hearts of the fans. ‘Passenger’ of course, features Maynard James Keenan of Tool on co-lead vocals. Rember that Tool was becoming a huge band at this time with Ænima (Volcano) blowing up so to have MJK also co-write and produce the track was a major deal. To have Maynard and Chino trading off vocal lines is transcendent, and takes the track to a phenomenal high. This is not a guest appearance for the sake of it. This is what a true collabo is meant to be. Artists creating together, co-signing each other.

‘Change…’ as discussed previously is such a huge song for the group. The hypnotic rhythm section of Chi and Abe Cunningham, the amazing guitar work of Carpenter and Moreno, all capped off with maybe Chino’s best vocals in the bands’ history all make this the best song on the album and a top 10 of the decade. I can hardly imagine them playing live and not performing it.

Remember that Faith No More reference at the top of this piece? ‘Pink Maggit’ is one of those songs where they don’t channel their fellow NorCal heroes as much as take the lessons they learned and make their own thing. A proggy, avant-garde song about overcoming the odds and believing in yourself. Next level singing and a beautiful wash of shimmery guitars again and it is the antithesis type of song that makes this one of the best bands ever. The fading heartbeat at the end mirrors our own blood pumping, maybe the twin heartbeats of lovers after a climax. for this band, and owes a little to the end of Dark Side of the Moon too. So of course what happened next is confusing, to say the least.

White Pony was a smash hit for the band, eventually earning a platinum album (on a newly released album, not cumulative sales), the first out of the gate in the Nu-Metal era. So of course the record label which was never convinced of the album’s potency wants another hit and to re-release it to make more money, which has always happened in the business. The label asked the band for a new song, so they reworked the middle section of ‘Pink Maggit’ into the new song ‘Back To School (Mini Maggit)’. That song, with its Nu Metal by numbers rap verses and hooky sing-along ending and stereotypically MTV-ready video was a major hit. One that sustained the album for several thousand more units and made the label happy. The band however felt like they sold-out. They hate the song and they will reportedly never play it live either. In hindsight, it’s not a terrible song and Chino rules at rapping, but it was a step back, and a compromise they will never make again. It will not appear o the upcoming 20th-anniversary re-issue of the album. Other versions of White Pony also have the not-often heard enough track ‘The Boys Republic’, which you should seek out.

In spite of that last second regression at the hands of the money-hungry herbs in the industry, White Pony is arguably the best Deftones album. It holds up strong to this day and especially when all their peers were turning towards a mainstream audience with friendly sounds, they asked their fans to take a weird trip with them. Those who did were rewarded.

KEITH CHACHKES