It took me a little while to fully accept just how good Deftones’ new album is. Like it seems guitarist Stephen Carpenter may have preferred, I was ready for something viciously heavy, with the energy of their self-titled album, give or take. The last two were mostly melodic and absorbing, but some nice fangs were flashed, at least briefly, on tracks like Rocket Skates and Leathers. With a name like Gore, I figured the band had finally gotten enough artsy shit out of their system and were ready to tear jugulars.
Gore is not that bloodlustful display of primal rage I’d hoped for though, nor is it another pretty art-rock album; It’s something in between, and being something in between has lead, I think, to some irresponsible critical calls and unfair judgments, including my own first impression. I got through it, and aside from the undeniably arresting second half of Phantom Bride, nothing had grabbed me. That was it?
So I went through it again. And again, all the while doing other things that it didn’t manage to pull my attention away from. So I removed the distractions. Then Pittura Infamante started to take root, starting very strangely Billy Corgan-esque, but there’s this little hook, a subtle syncopation, one extra beat in the verse riff that sort of shouldn’t be there, yet so perfectly is. It cracked the concrete.
From there, I started listening to the rhythms more. The singles that the band had released in advance of the album, Prayers/Triangles and especially Doomed User, took on new life in context. Then the time signature of Geometric Headdress hit me, switching to 6/8 in the chorus. Wait, what? Appreciation deepened.
The snarky take, which is never the most responsible one, is that Gore is the post-metal record Chino should just admit he’s always wanted to make. Hearts/Wires is basically a Palms song. But as you really dig in, you’ll find more appropriate comparisons to the deceptively mature likes of Helmet and Quicksand. Gore’s defining strength is all in those backend rhythms, and that’s coming not just from Abe and Sergio; it finds Stephen just outside of a comfort zone he maybe didn’t even care to purposely venture out from, form following tone more than ever. It all adds up to, structurally, the most consistent Deftones album in nearly a decade.
Lyrically and vocally, Chino isn’t breaking much new ground on Gore, following the music with the esoteric howling and screaming we’ve come to expect, with all of the familiar keywords; shapes, waves, (the) violence. There’s even “a new realm” on (L)MIRL, among one of many passages that don’t seem to connect to song titles that are probably all inside jokes and references not worth hunting down. I know what Pittura Infamante is thanks to a couple of years at art school, but even a formal education couldn’t help me figure out what it could possibly have to do with praising a savior’s ascent at an altar.
One outstanding exception, vocally, is Acid Hologram, with an indecipherable, guttural, inhuman growling between the verses unlike anything we’ve heard before. It isn’t translated in the lyric insert, so there’s no way to be sure what demon they were trying to summon or if they succeeded. It’s easy to miss if you’re focusing on the riffs, but all the Chino junkies are surely latching onto this one.
Regardless of how subtly it shows its strengths through most of the journey, it’s indisputable that Gore ends boldly, starting with the title track, which lunges into a vicious ravaging after establishing a thematic centerpiece of not just the album, but arguably of the band’s whole catalog. Opening with the lines “Deep in this dream we are locked in, I’ve pulled you in / Now our bodies are wet, there is blood on the beaches…,” as always, Deftones are juxtaposing warm embrace with cold execution. The album cover follows this model, pink flamingos in graceful formation, behind a synonym for carnage set in stark type. The color of the soft feathers on display quietly foreshadows the opened flesh promised by the album’s title.
The track closes with sustained Chino shrieking followed by a guitar’s impression of death throes, before a colossal Phantom Bride ambles in over the wreckage. As I mentioned at the outset, Bride is an immediately apparent and unassailable display of power and depth, aided by Jerry Cantrell of Alice In Chains, whose soaring, melodic guitar work contrasts against Steph’s more brutalist rhythms in another perfectly designed dichotomy. Chino’s vocals glide throughout, maintaining that yang, and continuing as such almost seamlessly through the album’s closer Rubicon.
Sonically, the final track works as an aftermath of Phantom Bride, with a more reserved, majestic tone and a more definitive ending, as if to bring justice or at least closure to the massacre that preceded. Lyrically, it’s an odd fit, though, drawing a picture of embracing spotlights and a crowd, and referencing the famous river crossing that started a war, rather than ended it. But again, not much good is likely to come from scrutinizing Deftones song titles so closely.
So while first impressions of Gore can be deceiving, and snap judgment far too easy, there’s intricacy and depth that comes into focus if you give it a little more time. You’ll have to ignore your sweet tooth for cheap hooks and gimmicks; there are none to be found here. But in terms of craftsmanship, Deftones have raised their standard. This album is a masterpiece of progressive alt-metal engineering, and it’s built to last.
Gore's defining strength is all in its backend rhythms, and that's coming not just from Abe and Sergio; it finds Stephen just outside of a comfort zone he maybe didn't even care to venture out from, form following tone more than ever. It all adds up to, structurally, the most consistent Deftones album in nearly a decade.