Conventional wisdom holds that Deftones peaked well over a decade ago with the 2000 release of White Pony. Less genre-defining than genre-transcending, the Sacramento-based quintet’s third album proved what their first two merely hinted at: that they were never just another nü-metal band. Toning down the hip-hop and screechy vocals of those early efforts in favor of an emphasis on atmosphere and mood, they took the first, but by no means most accomplished, steps toward achieving the balance that has since defined their sound. Repeatedly tweaking this formula has proven unusually rewarding: The band grows with each new LP, but never in a way that makes their previous work feel dated or under-realized.
As they did on both 2006’s Saturday Night Wrist and last year’s Diamond Eyes, Deftones have once again made a case for their newest release being their best. Their second album released since bassist Chi Cheng went into a car accident-induced coma in 2008, Koi No Yokan (loosely translated from Japanese as “Love’s Premonition”) is both airy and weighty, with the push-pull dynamism between Chino Moreno’s trip-hop-inflected vocals and Stephen Carpenter’s down-tuned riffing remaining as complementary (and catchy) as ever. That these two main components manage to coexist without either one feeling watered down continues to impress. Songs like “Entombed” and the endlessly re-playable “Rosemary” are as heavy as they are pretty, often at the same time: Chino gently crooning over layers of slow-moving guitars is almost always a winning formula, and on this song it finds one of its clearest expressions yet here.
Not everything works quite as well. Deftones’ more overt attempts to sound aggressive remain their weakest quality, with Chino’s growls coming off as increasingly misplaced and token. Slip-ups such as these are becoming rarer as the band accepts, apparently somewhat begrudgingly, that they’re usually better at being pretty than abrasive. Even when they forget this in, say, the first verse of “Leathers,” they quickly correct it via a much more fluid chorus; even in the two or three flawed tracks on Koi No Yokan, the good always far outweighs the bad. It improves noticeably after getting the throat-clearing “Swerve City” out of the way, with the entire latter half of the album consisting of uniformly excellent songs.
What’s most remarkable about this continuing evolution is the way the band has managed to incorporate new elements into its repertoire without abandoning its core sound or giving into fads. (Compare the way they’ve come to embrace influences like the Cure and My Bloody Valentine to genre forebears Korn’s recent—and embarrassing—collaboration with the likes of Skrillex on a heavily dubstep-inspired album.) This is as evident in axeman Carpenter’s newfound yen for eight-string guitars (no doubt a result of his avowed love for Meshuggah) as it is in the band’s ever-spacier interludes and refrains. It’s subtle touches like this that make Koi No Yokan feel less like Deftones have picked up new tricks along the way and more like they’ve learned how to more evocatively convey certain moods and feelings that were always present. Taken as both a culmination and a sign of more good things to come, it further solidifies the band’s status as far and away the most long-lasting and consistent act of the maligned subgenre from which they came.