01. Genesis 02. Ceremony 03. Urantia 04. Error 05. The Spell of Mathematics 06. Pompeji 07. This Link Is Dead 08. Radiant City 09. Headless 10. Ohms2020 Warner Bros. Records
In the early days of peer-to-peer file sharing I downloaded an MP3 that claimed to be a song from the much-anticipated, and still yet to be released third Deftones album. It wasn't. It turned out to actually be a track by Relative Ash, a band who were, in fact, taking Deftones' style and image and dumbing it down into a mediocre tribute act. But for the week or so that I didn't know that, I listened to the song a number of times, noting that it sounded like a paint-by-numbers version of their style. Luckily, that third record, White Pony, ended up being the band's pivotal turning point, marking a shift from their nu-metal roots to a more cerebral, artistic approach. But the idea of that song — something that could be such a hollowed out version of an already existing sound — stuck with me, particularly after Deftones released their self-titled album three years later. Suddenly, the group sounded like a mock-up version of their own style, forcing characteristics into their songs strictly to sound like what they must have thought their audience wanted. Sure, Deftones have done a better job mimicking themselves than Relative Ash – whose sole album has now been relegated to a footnote of the JNCO era - and most of their post-White Pony output has been pretty good. But there's always this feeling of a sound the band is looking to achieve that is just beyond their reach. Perhaps it's the push and pull of guitarist Stephen Carpenter's heavy to vocalist/guitarist Chino Moreno's mellow, or maybe it's the fact that members of the band have admittedly been checked-out for certain periods, but for nearly two decades, the influential alternative metal band has sounded mostly... decent. Their ninth full-length Ohms is really no different. To be fair, there's a lot to like about Ohms. The band does a good job blending their spacier, more atmospheric aesthetic with the crunch of Carpenter's guitar. Particularly on tracks like "Ceremony" and "Urantia," Moreno's breathy croon complements the darker, mellow vibe as much as his rasp contrasts with the distorted guitar. In these moments, the group plays to the singer's strengths - waves of melodic hooks unfold into memorable choruses. Turntablist/keyboardist Frank Delgado's accompaniment is particularly felt with moody synths and samples, supplying a dreary undertone that gives these songs richness and depth not felt since 2010's Diamond Eyes. Deftones sound best on Ohms when they stretch out and take risks. The closing section of "The Spell Of Mathematics," with its rolling drums and chorus of finger snaps shows the band achieving a level of ambiance they have always just hinted at. And the album closing, title track shows the type of creative riffing that made the band's earlier work, particularly Around The Fur so intriguing. In fact, "Ohms" is so different sounding from the rest it actually feels a little out of place. But where the group comes up short is in their heavier moments. Most of the louder riffs sound like leftovers from the 90s era, simple bouncy grooves the likes of which Sevendust built their name on. "Error" is perhaps the most blatant example, a track that would be filler if not for some fantastic drum work by Abe Cunningham. Moreno sounds disengaged in his screamier moments, forcing his piercing howl through vocal patterns that seem like rough drafts. The band never reaches the level of ferocity they're capable of. Most of the songs on the record are half and half, though. The synth-driven chorus of "Headless" shines amongst its bland single-chord verse while "Pompeji" stutters through disjointed shifts sounding like a patchwork of outtakes before veering into an oddly placed two-minute segue. The only time the band sounds entirely in command of their various approaches is on the opening track, "Genesis." It's been clear for some time now that the members don't always agree on a direction, but when they pull it together, they can be great. Unfortunately, when they don't, they aren't. Bottom Line: Ohms is the best Deftones album since 2010's Diamond Eyes, but what does that really mean? The band hasn't left their comfort zone in twenty years. Like every record they've released since 2003's Deftones, Ohms offers a few excellent songs, but mostly just more of the same.
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