It's never easy to admit, but there was a time when I liked Korn. And Limp Bizkit. And Coal Chamber, Static-X, Orgy — all the dregs of the late-'90s genre belch that came to be known as "nu metal."
I was in high school at the time. But by my first or second year in college, I'd come to my senses about nu metal. I could no longer ignore that its bands played the same three power chords. That they rhymed every other line with "hate" or "insane." And that they did it all with the same rehearsed, camera-ready anguish on their goateed faces.
The primitive file-sharing programs that introduced me to Radiohead and Sleater-Kinney sped up this process, yeah, but there was as much pushing me away from nu metal as there was pulling me elsewhere.
There were exceptions, of course. To this day, I still find time for forefathers like Faith No More, Rage Against the Machine and Nine Inch Nails. And even some bands born of nu metal, like the batty and politically charged System of a Down, are still listenable.
Then there's Deftones.
If Faith No More (regretfully) drew the blueprint for nu metal, it was Korn, Limp Bizkit and Deftones that built the foundation. Despite the three bands' friendship and stylistic similarity, however, Deftones always commanded just a little bit more respect. Sure, "Bored" and "My Own Summer (Shove it)" were textbook quiet-loud songcraft and the albums they led off weren't hard-up for embarrassing lyrics. But the Sacramento band proved itself capable of more than angst, more than crunch.
On songs like "Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)" and "Digital Bath," Chino Moreno could soothe as well as he could screech, and the band — guitarist Stephen Carpenter, bassist Chi Cheng, drummer Abe Cunningham and, later, keyboardist Frank Delgado — was versatile enough to color in every mood Moreno's voice evoked. I could never imagine Korn or Limp Bizkit creating a song like "White Pony's" "Passenger" — let alone the notoriously discerning Maynard James Keenan, of Tool, agreeing to guest on it, as he did on Deftones' 2000 smash.
After "White Pony," though, as self-parody and stagnation turned Limp Bizkit and Korn into (even bigger) college radio punchlines, it seemed Deftones would meet a quieter, but similar fate, if only by association. Its "White Pony" follow-ups, "Deftones" in 2003 and "Saturday Night Wrist" in 2006, lacked hooks, focus, hunger — everything that made the band's first three albums special. Cheng's coma following a 2008 car accident seemed to consign Deftones to the same circuit of clubs, state fairs and video game soundtracks that claimed its nu metal cohorts.
But then, in 2010, "Diamond Eyes" happened. In 2012, "Koi No Yokan." And, April 8, "Gore."
More and more on each album, Deftones has rediscovered how to walk the tightrope between Moreno's melodic ambitions and the band's rougher-edged ones. On "Gore," it yields moment after terrific moment: when Carpenter's brooding guitar becomes a murder weapon on the chorus of "Hearts/Wires," or when Moreno croons his way into your memory banks on "Phantom Bride."
With "Gore," for the first time since "White Pony," Deftones feels essential again. "Doomed User" stands with the most aggressive of the band's catalog, but without the mawkish lyricism. ("[L]MIRL" succumbs to that a little bit, though.) Meanwhile, "Xenon" is as feel-good catchy as anything in that catalog, but it's not the least bit gimmicky. "Gore" is just 11 really great alternative metal songs, as luscious as they are lacerating.
Which brings us back to nu metal.
These days, I don't know what Korn is doing — maybe dubstep or something? Ditto Limp Bizkit. And I'm sure a lot of the smaller players are still robotically hunching over their guitars in the clubs, maybe in bands that took up the sword of nu metal's flavor-of-the-week successor, metalcore.
Deftones, however, with "Gore" and the improbable resurgence it sustains, continues to defy nu metal's grim reaper — and grow bigger and more meaningful than the term ever was.
LISTEN: Deftones, "Gore"