Tuesday, May 25, 2010
In 2000, experimental metal band Deftones released White Pony, an album lauded by many to be the "greatest album ever" or something like that. While I thought it was good, great even, it took me forever to get into and even now I shy away from such a hyperbole. Their next two albums, a self-titled and Saturday Night Wrist brought a lot more to the table, I thought, and gave them an easier aesthetic. What's more, they made me understand why the band was so great. Heavy metal riffing combined with alternately soothing and maniacal vocals and thrilling ambiance made them something few bands can lay claim to: Completely and totally unique, and completely and totally unclassifiable.
With the release of Diamond Eyes, Deftones have made the journey from the dark metal of White Pony to the dreamy soundscapes of Saturday Night Wrist, undeniably growing in quality and scope with each release. So before the release of Diamond Eyes, it was reasonable to assume that there would be a natural progression, an adjustment that would refine and expand upon the melodic aesthetics of their previous release, while retaining that edgy heaviness that has defined them from the beginning.
Diamond Eyes shatters that assumption.
Where White Pony trudged in doom-y anticipation, Diamond Eyes lurches forward with a gleeful immediacy. Where Saturday Night Wrist simmers in paranoid beauty, Diamond Eyes transcends to make something truly gorgeous. In short, Diamond Eyes is all over the place in every aspect except quality. Every Deftones album has its highlights. Who can forget set pieces like "Knife Prty", "Battle Axe", or "Rats! Rats! Rats!"? Perhaps the most unexpected part about Diamond Eyes is how nearly every song is a highlight and a masterpiece. Tracks like "976-Evil" and "Diamond Eyes" throw out unbelievable melodic hooks that bleed effortlessly into ambient bridges or chugging verses. Songs like "CMD/CTRL" assault the listener with heavy verses, then somehow pull off an electronic swell when it's least expected, then capitalize on the surprise by following up with a catchy alt rock guitar riff.
With all the variety being discussed, it's easy to imagine Diamond Eyes as overbearing or too eclectic. And to me, that's the greatest part about it. The musicians have mastered the art of combining their influences into something completely seamless. Not only do Stephen Carpenter's 7-string metal chords sound completely appropriate in the ballad-y "Beauty School", they contribute heavily to the dreamy ambiance of the song. Frank Delgado's electronics and turntables have never sounded better than when placed alongside the violent heaviness in "Risk" and "Royal". The rhythm section is also ridiculously talented as always, with headbanging catchiness from both drums and bass, most notably in the otherwise sub-par "Prince".
But as always, the number one defining feature of Deftones' sound is and always will be vocalist Chino Moreno. His soothing croons in "Beauty School" are goosebump-inducing. His rabid shrieks in "Rocket Skates" are somehow brilliantly juxtaposed with a high-pitched "WHOO!" that would sound more fitting in a pop-rock song if they were coming from anyone else. His screams of "It's okay, I'm alright" in "Prince" both drive the song forward and make it readily apparent that neither statement is true. And he even experiments in new vocal territory by successfully belting in a mainstream rock-like voice in "976-Evil"s uplifting chorus.
In many ways, this is the Deftones that we've all come to know and love over the years. They're still highly experimental, wonderfully eclectic, and cohesive as a band. Yet somehow this is a new Deftones, artistically unrestrained and triumphantly, almost cockily brandishing the success of their new songwriting skills with every track. It feels like they've hit their potential after years of fine-tuning. Yet I also said that about Deftones and Saturday Night Wrist, so it would possibly be more accurate to assume that with every new release, they've used their enormous potential to reach new creative heights. Deftones have finally completely outdone themselves and created something few artists have achieved. They have crafted a perfect artistic manifesto; a perfect album.
Sample Track: Beauty School (download)
One song is sadly inadequate to get a full picture of this album. This song displays approximately one tenth of the territory covered in Diamond Eyes. Just know if you listen that it's equally as awesome as the rest of the album.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
So far this year, I've been pretty obsessive about three albums: Eyes Like Brontide by Lights Out Asia, Precambrian by The Ocean, and the Galilean Satellites by Rosetta, featured in my first blog. If you've been reading so far (haha! as if!) you'll remember that that album consisted of two discs, one spacey drone metal and one ambient, that could be played simultaneously to create a beautiful, layered effect. So I decided I'd post another song from that album, in its (instrumental) metal form, its ambient form, and in its gloriously combined form. At around 5:00 in, the sound gets so dense, it sounds like it's about to roar out of your speakers. You just need to hear it...
Buy this album (hint: it's worth it):
Buy this album (hint: it's worth it):
Monday, May 3, 2010
For those not totally up to date on scenester trivia, Saosin was originally founded by a guy named Anthony Green, who was the original vocalist, began the hype around the band, and quit before they were able to record their first full-length. Green then went on to begin five million side projects, but it was clear that his heart was with Circa Survive. Much to the disappointment who thought Green would be the salvation of Hot Topic-era hardcore, Circa Survive had nothing in common with any type of -core. In fact, it was pretty mellow. It was also pretty boring, unless you were a sucker for a few catchy hooks backed up by decently complex instrumental performances (I was).
Enter Blue Sky Noise. For those familiar with Circa Survive's past efforts, expect a kick in the face right off the bat with the opening salvo that is "Strange Terrain". It's immediately apparent that this is different. Gone are the monotonous verses and ponderous song structures. Instead, it feels like this is what Anthony Green was trying to achieve all along: layered, complex alternative music with an experimental twist. Again looking at "Strange Terrain", it has that wonderful but all-too-rare quality of being immediate yet deep. The hook-laden chorus is backed up by a chorus of Anthony Greens providing delicious vocal harmony yet adding a hint of aggression to the song. The instruments have improved drastically, with the guitars never for a moment sacrificing that noodling harmony that made them so appealing back on "Juturna". The drums actually carry the weight of the song and drive it forward instead of being a formality like they were on "On Letting Go".
But for all this, the most drastic improvement comes from Anthony Green himself. His signature high-pitched vocals are as flawless as ever; even the most hardened Circa Survive hater would admit that the vocal performance on the last two albums was pristine. No, it's the lyrics that really shine through on "Blue Sky Noise". I've always thought Anthony Green's lyrics had a certain poetic appeal to them. They didn't make sense, but somehow they were deeply resonant. This time, it seems Green's abstractions have been combined with a down-to-earth relatability associated with indie lyricists like Ben Gibbard. The newfound transparency of the lyrics allows them to add to that wistful melancholy that Circa Survive have always been aiming for and brings the music to a more personal level. Take "The Longest Mile" as an example:
I must admit now going down within this ship/I couldn't have a better crew to travel with/If I make it in one piece back to land/I will never sail again.
Gems like that coalesce perfectly with the summery, mournful aura of the song. In short, this is everything Circa Survive has been trying to make since "Juturna". It finally feels like Anthony Green's reasons for leaving Saosin have been realized; and the payoff is something nobody expected at this point.