Greetings, Glancers! It’s another Metal album for us today, so hopefully that means a Yay from me given that I’m a filthy, unwashed Long Hair. I was never a Deftones fan. Accurately or not, I lumped them in with all of the Nu-Metal crap which appeared in the late 90s, even if they did seem less Emo and more Industrial, more Alt. Like a lot of the Nu Metal bands, Deftones had considerable screen time on the Kerrang, Scuzz, and MTV2s of the world, and they were an immediate ‘change the channel’ once that annoying song of theirs came on – you know the one – the one where the guy in the oversized cargo trousers is being all inconsiderate by walking on school desks. Does he even know how many germs are on the soles of his shoes? He could have stepped in doggie whoopsies! So there’s that song. I’m sure there were others, but I’ve forgotten them now. I don’t recall many requests for them back when I was DJing in Belfast’s Metal Clubs. That’s probably for the best as no doubt a bunch of sullen fans would have come stomping on to the dancefloor with their poo-smeared boots and proceeded to march all over the bar, the stools, the tables, and even the precious DJ area, saying ‘pootones, pootones, we are the pootone brigade’, or whatever that song went like.
If I’m honest, I assumed the band had split up or stopped putting stuff out, but that’s partly due to me not caring enough about them, and partly due to me being away from the Metal scene in recent years. It turns out they never went away and have been solidly pumping out albums since the mid-90s. Ohms is their 9th studio album, but I know nothing of it. Lets have a look at the artwork.
Well that’s a very sad face. It reminds me off The Gnome King from Return To Oz, except instead of being made of rocks his face is eternally attached to tartan; you would be sad too if you had to spend your days looking up a Scotsman’s kilt all day in the hope (despair) of catching a dribble of haggis juice seeping out. It also looks a bit like that guy from Alien Sex Fiend’s Now I’m Feeling Zombified video. This guy:
Lets hope it doesn’t sound like it looks – at least from the Sex Fiend perspective. I don’t have any other comments on the artwork, and I don’t know how it compares with previous album covers. It’s a ten track, 46 minute album, which is generally the sweet spot for album length. By the time you begin to read the next paragraph I will have listened to the thing multiple times. Lets do this.
Ohms doesn’t live up to its opening 50 seconds or so. Listening to the album reminded me of several reasons for my initial dismissal of Deftones, reasons I’d forgotten over time. But I’m trying to balance objectivity against my personal feelings with these posts, so I don’t think I need to spend much time dredging up my dislike for a genre or style or approach, though admittedly I will need to resort to such comments to explaining my position at certain points. I can begin with the central positives I recognise in Ohms. Firstly, it’s clear that Deftones fans love this album and consider it, maybe with surprise, to be one of their best. I could dismiss a percentage of this praise as being part and parcel of the bias all music fans feel towards whatever garbage their favourite band pumps out, but the majority of this praise seems to be genuine and coming from a place of objective understanding. The band has been around for ages, has been through hardships, but has come out with a fan-pleasing album deep into their career. I won’t argue against that – I can say it’s not really an album for me, but I can recognise it as something which the fans it was made for will love.
On a technical level, it’s as good an album as I’ve heard so far in this 2020 journey. Admittedly I don’t know an ounce about music Production, but it’s a great sounding album. Clear mix, especially with headphones, and the blend of distortion on everything from the vocals to the guitars is neatly balanced alongside the cleaner moments. Metal does have a habit, almost by its nature, of sounding abrasive, harsh, and not all that pleasant on the ears. But that should be part of the style, not of the production. We’ve come leaps and bounds since the early underground days of Metal where recordings were done on the cheap, producers didn’t know what they were doing or bands couldn’t afford someone who did. The tech has improved, the people behind the wheel have perhaps grown up as fans of this type of music or a greater awareness of how to record it and capture the aggression and abrasion without compromising on sonic quality.
Deftones don’t seem to be, in my limited experience, the most technically gifted writers or performers. They do what they need to to get their point and music across, and within this sub-genre there isn’t much scope for outlandish time signatures, pioneering riffs, or elaborate instrumentation. They crunch out powerful beats and chords to serve their short and angry mantras. I don’t always need a band to go over and above this level for them to appeal to me – it helps especially in this genre – but I do need to feel a deeper connection to the music on an emotional, melodic, or intellectual level. This is where Deftones, and this album lose me.
I found this a fairly weak, uneventful album in melodic terms. It’s an album of moments with most songs having one melodic moment I could hold on to. Of those few moments, lets say 80% of them stuck with me so that I remembered them on the next listen, and of those 80% maybe 50% stuck with me after I’d stopped listening. If I find myself recalling or humming a melody at some random point during the day, I’ll want to return to it and to listen to the song again. That tugging almost always leads me to a deeper relationship with other songs. With Ohms that relationship never transpired. It’s a shame, because the throbbing, shadow-laden promise of the Twin Peaks inspired intro synth of Genesis made me hopeful that I’d been unfair to Deftones all this time. That synth returns at various inspired points through the album, namely in the outro to Pompeji and into This Link Is Dead. But for every good moment I enjoy, there’s the rest of the song swallowing up that positivity in a choking swirl of tuneless angst.
I say tuneless because it’s sadly true. It didn’t take long – the second song on my first listen in fact – before I remembered that I always felt the vocalist was weak. I still do; Chino isn’t a great singer by any definition, falling on the same flattened ends to words, frequently drifting out of tune whether by design or by mistake. His wafting softer moments are the slurred whispers of a sullen stoner, his screaming moments static and vaporous, and the whole thing is so heavily filtered as to wrench most of the humanity from every utterance. Vocals which sound like they are being squawked through a megaphone sound like the desperate laughable mewlings of an embittered Presbyterian protesting abortion outside a Primary School.
The whiny nature of the vocals drips over to the lyrics, much of what is said already covered by every weeping goth over the past forty years, every teenager threatened with curfew over the last hundred years. I’m being a little harsh because I think there are fine ideas behind some of the songs, but little clarity or insight or poetry or personality, Genesis seemingly concerned with a middle ground awakening and the awareness that ‘both sides’, whether turd or douche, can be blindly followed. Every lyric seems to go out of its way to say nothing about something, and as such I lost any real emotional or intellectual connection.
Returning to what I mentioned about moments – the album opening is cool. I would have loved that to have remained an instrumental. Keep that ominous waspish hum and build upon it as its own thing, then have the rest of Genesis as your second track, because as it stands the song falls apart as soon as the down-tuned guitars and vocals start. I’m a Metal fan and I like my Metal to be punishing – hard, fast, distorted, liable to upset the normies, so that makes what I’m about to say a little contrary; One of the things I don’t like about Metal is the expectation that must always be hard, fast, punishing. That’s a hallmark of the genre, but it’s not the genre. Have the balls to write a soft, slow, gentle song. Have the balls to be sweet instead of angry. Don’t feel like you have to drop some crushing riff in an otherwise soothing or melodic song because the genre calls for it. The song should call for whatever the song requires. By all means you can merge light and dark, soft and heavy – look at Metallica’s Battery or One as popular successful examples. This may say more about me as just one guy and there will be millions of fans who want it rough and loud all day every day. At the end of the day, as a Metal fan I don’t necessarily care about genre. I just want good music – emotional, creative, played with feeling and desire, which speaks to the artist and by proxy speaks to me – the genre the song is delivered in is of secondary importance.
Still, I admit most of the songs have a groove, have plenty for existing fans to get behind. While rarely adventurous, the songs are rarely static. There is a coherence to the album which mostly avoids feeling samey and I was able to distinguish between the songs more easily than other albums, Metal or otherwise. Error has an almost cool chorus, let down by fairly awful vocals, Ceremony has some catchy ooh-ooh moments, and Urantia is another example of a perfectly good intro turning into something less good. By the time The Spell Of Mathematics rolls around the album is beginning to wear a little thin, but then it closes with one of the most interesting sections of the album, the finger-clicking faded out countdown to something unspeakable.
One feeling I couldn’t shake as I listened to the album was the band’s similarity to one of my favourite bands. My Vitriol were (are?) a British band who had a brief moment of success around the turn of the century and one of their trademarks was filtered spacey vocals with occasional shrieking outbursts, but the chorus-drenched Line 6 guitar tone they employed is front and present in Ohms. My Vitriol was not a Metal band, but their punches were more effective to me than anything here, their emotion more potent, their chorus bigger and more interesting. My Vitriol used a lot of distortion in an ambient and impactful way, while hear it feels like a barrage of fuzz without distinction. Is Deftones a less interesting, more abrasive My Vitriol?
It’s not an album for me and Deftones likely isn’t a band for me. As mentioned earlier, that’s fine. The people predisposed to enjoy this will enjoy this and it’s a solid enough album for people curious about the band to be drawn in. There will always be new comers who will discover this thanks to the band’s prior success, and I have no doubt that most will think this is a great album. I’m in the minority as a dissenting voice but that doesn’t concern me. In this journey I wanted to listen to a variety of the most highly rated albums of 2020 and hopefully find something new to love. This isn’t it, but it may be for someone else.
Sales: 3. Based on what I can tell, the album seems to have sold fairly well for this band at this moment in time. Doesn’t compare to their peak, but what does these days?
Chart: 3. It topped the US Hard Rock chart and the UK equivalent, it topped the charts in Croatia… top 5 in Australia, UK and US regular charts. Reasonable enough, but as we know it doesn’t take much to reach the top of the charts nowadays.
Critical: 4. Almost, but not quite a 5 score for me. Mostly acclaim with the album topping several Metal oriented publications best of lists for the year and with very positive reviews across the board. Some reviews were less forthcoming with the praise, noting the band is simply providing more of the same – lets see how it stands the test of time.
Originality: 3. A 3 is the absolute peak here. I’m tempted by a 2 because I didn’t feel there was anything new here, but lets give them the benefit of my doubt.
Influence: 2. I’m happy to go 2 here. Due to the lack of originality or need for it, I can’t see this album going on to influence other acts, certainly not over and above anything else Deftones has done. It’s always hard to say with a new album unless it’s immediately revolutionary, though the album’s acclaim and popularity could well draw new fans and influence new kids to pick up a guitar.
Musical Ability: 3. As mentioned in the review, they guys don’t show off much in the way of technical chops, but this doesn’t seem to get in the way of crafting enjoyable songs for fans. The vocals almost have me pulling this down to a 2.
Lyrics: 3. I could go with a 2 here, but I’m going to assume the lyrics will mean more to others than they do to me, and I fully admit to being a bit of a lyrics snob. It’s the sort of angry angsty fluff I might have enjoyed when I was a child, but even as a child I had a more discerning eye for a unique turn of phrase.
Melody: 2: I can’t keep handing out threes, so I find I’m switching between 2s and 3s. I could go 3 for melody but lets go with 2. Again, melody is subjective in terms of your enjoyment. I didn’t get much enjoyment from this, from the melodies. There are some catchy moments, nothing in the way of interest or innovation, and the vocals mean that even the best hooks wavered out of tune.
Emotion: 3. There’s a lot of shouting. I’ve read enough about the band now to know a little of their history and their tragedies. I’m happy to give a 3 here as I may not feel the emotions which the long term fan would.
Lastibility: 3. I’m not going to listen to it today – the title track is probably the best song and dispenses with a lot of the crap I don’t enjoy within the band, so I could see myself listening to that again. I wouldn’t walk out of the room if any song from the album came on. So it has to be a positive score. Again, the Deftones fans will surely listen to this for years and ages to come, but I’m not sure it has any relevance beyond that.
Vocals: 2. Yeah… not great. Regardless of whether the vocals deliberately drop out of tune for effect or because the band are deaf, it doesn’t make for a pleasant listen. I’m sure people will argue, people always do, but from clean to harsh I’ve heard a thousand better.
Coherence: 3. Sure, it sticks together. The synth moments repeat every so often. The emotional and musical aspects don’t differ wildly. It all makes sense.
Mood: 3. Nothing exciting here. It evoked nothing in me, I don’t think I would hit the pit if I heard this in a club, even after a few pints. But it didn’t have me skipping tracks or piss me off.
Production: 4. One of the better aspects of the album.
Effort: 3. I’m sure it took as much effort as any other album does these days, but an extra point for being to create a fan favourite release this deep into their career.
Relationship: 2. It doesn’t mean much to me and didn’t do much to convert me from my previous state of apathy. I can listen if it’s on, but I wont seek it out or anything else by the band.
Genre Relation: 3. It sounds like other Deftones music. It sounds like other Deftones-esque music.
Authenticity: 4. I’d tend to go 3 with this, but based on how much love the long-time fans have for the album it looks like it’s exactly what the fans hoped for in their wildest dreams.
Personal: 3. If this were a 10 point scale, I’d go with a 5 out of 10. But lets stick with a 3. I have no great feelings either way towards it, but at least I’m a little more educated about the band if they come up in conversation.
Miscellaneous: 3. Interesting enough artwork, interesting story in how the band have come back from tragedy.
One of our lowest scores so far, but still solidly in the above average section. Again, I’m content being in the minority with this one. Deftones don’t do it for me, but they’ve given what appears to be one of their best albums to the fans who have followed them since the 90s, so ignore me and go listen to it if it’s your jam. Let us know your thoughts on Ohms in the comments!