Tuesday, August 18, 2009

#135. 'God bless you all for the song you saved us'

Deftones "Minerva"

History time: In grade 9-10 Deftones were my favorite band ever. I had gotten both Adrenaline and Around the Fur as Christmas gifts in '99 and played them relentlessly throughout the first half of 2000. I forced them on my more metal-inclined friends to mixed results, and its easy to see why. Despite their dubious association with the core nu metal bands they stood well apart from the rest of the genre. In hindsight both those albums are much more expansive and melodic than anything my other favorites from this time. I probably didn't realize that consciously at the time, but although I focused on the catharsis in their songs I don't think the effective transistions into them were totally lost on me. Anyway, White Pony was the first album I can recall anticipating the release of with any sort of fervor. It holds a special place in my musical development too, as unlike the previous two Deftones albums the more textured and melodic songs were the ones that jumped out at me as being the obvious highlights. I loved the whole album, and 9 years later I still do pretty much unreservedly, but it was the stuff like "RX Queen" and "Knife Prty" that spoke to me more so than say, "Korea" or "Street Carp." About 7 months later Relationship of Command pulled me the rest of the way out of the nu metal hole but White Pony was the initial step in that direction and I can't thank it enough.

When the self-titled follow up to White Pony was released 3 years later I wasn't as anticipatory though. In the intervening time I'd gotten into sort of the beginner level indie rock cannon (Pixies, early REM, 'Mats etc.) so my anticipation was pointed more towards Radiohead's Hail to the Thief at the time that Deftones hit the street. I did pick it up shortly after its release, but more out of a sense of obligation than any sort of need for it. I'd moved on, and as a result I was heavily disappointed by most of the album back then. "Minerva" and the unsettling "Lucky You" aside it sounded like a big step backwards for the band, a regression to the more metal-influenced days of Adrenaline as opposed to a step toeards more textured and interesting waters. More recent listens have made it rise in my estimation, but for the longest time I only had time for the two tracks mentioned above.

"Minerva" especially was what I was looking for. I always think of Deftones as having a slight shoegazer lean to them even back as far as Adrenaline (the guitars on "Birthmark" especially) but I can't think of another time where they were made this explicit. Stephen Carpenter and Chino Moreno create a crushing wall of guitar, not one as impenetrable and feedback laced as the classic 'gazers but lush and all encompassing none the less. It crashes in after a short, discordant interlude and just never lets up for the next four minutes. Truth be told, I was seriously torn between this one and "Digital Bath" for the Deftones song on here, but the wall of guitar pushed it pretty decisively in "Minerva"'s favor, though "Bath" does have Chino's best vocal performance.

That's not to say that his vocals here aren't good as well. I always prefer him in ethereal croon mode as opposed to the more shouty tone his voice takes in the band's more aggressive songs, and the verses of "Minerva" illustrate why pretty perfectly. The tone his voice has in the upper end of his register is similar to Ride's vocalist, albeit after a few years of heavy drinking and smoking in it's ethereal yet strong sound. In the chorus he tones the ethereality down and does the closest thing he can to full on belting. It's not as intense a performance as he could give in the early years, but it works so well in the song's context that it's hard to fault him on that. Given that he spends a lot of time on Deftones shredding his vocal chords even more than in the early days it was a nice bit of respite, and one that didn't carry the detachment of his other calm voiced songs there. In short he was as invested in the vocals here as on the harsher tracks, but applied it in a much nicer way and it payed off greatly. The wall of guitar may be the primary attraction, but a less involved vocal could have sunk the whole song so it's a good thing Chino was up to the task here.

Coming up tomorrow: Canadians do new wave better in all eras, just admit it.

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