Deftones are an absolutely huge band, yet they still feel kinda underrated. Maybe the UK doesn’t give them as much love and that’s why I feel that way? Despite the Nu-Metal scene being long dead (thank God), I think, certainly here in Britain, that they’ve always been considered a Nu-Metal band, which they definitely are not. They aren’t given the moniker the Metal Radiohead for no reason.
A Metal Duran Duran would be a more apt description, at least musically, but Radiohead is a good comparison when it comes to how the bands’ styles have changed over the years. If you think of Pablo Honey and The Bends, they are pretty standard (but outstanding) indie albums. Deftones’ first two albums, Adrenaline and Around The Fur are pretty standard (but outstanding) Nu-Metal albums. If you think this band are anything like the horror that is Limp Bizkit, then no. Just no. Stop what you are doing right now (actually don’t because you’re reading this) but after this listen to the following tracks and then download their entire back catalogue if you don’t already own it. If you know Deftones better than you know your own mother, then come fight me about my Perfect 10 picks. I won’t fight back. I won’t fight because honestly, I don’t think they’ve ever done a bad song. Literally all their music is so great to me that this was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve spent three whole days antagonising over this list (and I might have cheated, but don’t tell anyone).
So here it goes, my Perfect 10 tracks by Deftones:
Track 1: “You’ve Seen The Butcher”, Diamond Eyes (2010)
Diamond Eyes is my favourite album by Deftones I think. It changes all the time, but this one always pulls me back into its clutches, and that is mostly down to this track. “You’ve Seen the Butcher” is one of the sexiest songs in the world to me. The lyrics are pretty explicit as to what it’s about, “I want to watch your face, creep across my skull. You slowly enter because you know my room, and then you crawl your knees off before you shake my tomb”.
Theories abound that this track is about a man killing a woman, perhaps a sex worker, or a casual lover who has been with him several times before so isn’t expecting him to kill her, while he films it. I’m not convinced. Deftones have gone down the murder route before in “Digital Bath” (a woman is electrocuted when an electrical appliance is thrown into the water while she bathes), but “You’ve Seen the Butcher” just sounds so sexy—that groove, the chunky bass sound, the way the voices peak and harmonise during the chorus, the unusual time signatures. It’s filthy. The video shows the band in a library with many scantily clad women (Deftones fans, who replied to an ad on social media), getting completely drenched in blood and writhing around orgasmically. Kinky.
Track 2: “Cherry Waves,” Saturday Night Wrist (2006)
“Cherry Waves” is an absolute beauty of a song. Uplifting and heartbreaking simultaneously, it was written by Chino Moreno at probably the most challenging time of the band’s career. Chino had problems with drug addiction, and his marriage was crumbling, both of which led to strained relationships between band members. Saturday Night Wrist took two years to complete and is said to have been an arduous and stressful creative process. Yet, some of the best songs they’ve done are on this album, in my opinion. “Cherry Waves” is about testing the trust a person has in someone else. Chino sings that he would follow his love under the water if she were to drown, but would she do the same for him? When it comes to drug addiction, and in particular being heavily into that lifestyle with your partner, it is hard to know if you can trust them to really have your back.
Saturday Night Wrist was the last album to feature bassist Chi Cheng before he was in a car accident that left him in a coma for five years. He died of cardiac arrest in 2013. The accident changed everything for Deftones, but it did not finish them.
Track 3: “Minus Blindfold,” Adrenaline (1995)
Deftones’ debut album, Adrenaline turns 25 this year! God, I feel old. The sound is very much of its time but really does bring back some great memories of my misspent youth. Bands such as Korn were just hitting the scene, Grunge was sort of fading away after the death of Kurt Cobain, and the term Nu-Metal was coined to describe this heavy guitar music, but with a hip-hop beat and a focus on guitar riffs rather than whining solos. “Bored” and “Engine No.9” were played regularly in the nightclub that I pretty much lived in at the time. I have chosen “Minus Blindfold” however, a) because it’s so Faith No More-esque it brings me much joy. And b) because Chino sounds so young it’s adorable. Even back then you could hear that Deftones were something different. This wasn’t cheesy metal with in-your-face lyrics about sex, drugs and hanging out with your mates. They were young, but they weren’t stupid.
Track 4: “Minerva,” Deftones (2003)
“Minerva” is one of Deftones’ most anthemic songs. A single released from the self-titled fourth album, released in 2003, it stands as an uplifting and enlightening track on an otherwise very heavy record. I think if I were to see them play this live, I’d probably just cry for the rest of time. Deftones’ style changed to almost shoegaze here, and I am not complaining at all. Minerva was the Roman goddess of music and wisdom (amongst many other things), so Chino’s lyrics here, “So God bless you all, for the song, you saved us”, appears fairly straight forward, in that this is the band giving thanks to the universe for the gift of music, and their own musical talent which brought them success. It is probably an ode to the fans for their support. Whatever it is, this track is a soaring, textured masterpiece.
Track 5: “Passenger” (feat. Maynard James Keenan), White Pony (2000)
Ah, White Pony. The release of this album totally changed things for Deftones. Gone was the Nu-Metal sound, and in came an increasingly more experimental tone, with dream pop, new wave, trip-hop and shoegaze influences. “Passenger” is such a great track; Chino’s voice alongside the unmistakable vocals of Maynard James Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle, Puscifer) is porn to my ears. It’s such an interesting back and fore between them, with Chino playing the part of a captor of sorts, who drives Maynard’s character around places unknown to him. It appears that he is being held captive, but that he enjoys what is happening. A sexual kink maybe? Whatever the case, their vocals together sound incredible.
Track 6: “Romantic Dreams,” Koi No Yokan (2012)
“Romantic Dreams” will always hold a special place in my heart, as will the whole of Deftones’ seventh album, Koi No Yokan (which is the Japanese term for the moment you know you will fall in love with someone) as it was released two days before my son was born, on 12th November 2012. It became the soundtrack to the first (nerve-wracking) few months of his life. My son had heart surgery and was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at just five months old. While the songs could trigger some trauma, they don’t. If anything, remembering what my little boy went through, and how strong he (and we, his parents) were then, gives us strength today. If we can survive that, we can survive anything. He’s seven years old now and fighting fit. Coincidentally, he absolutely loves Deftones! And especially “Romantic Dreams” because the video follows the skateboarder, Jason Park, through downtown LA at night. It’s therapeutic to watch and directed beautifully by Brett Novak. My boy loves it. I love it. Everybody loves it!
Track 7: “Xerces,” Saturday Night Wrist (2006)
Saturday Night Wrist doesn’t get as much love from Deftones fans as it should. It is packed with amazing tracks like “Xerces”, which is so gorgeous. This could be Duran Duran, but even better. What is Xerces about? It’s hard to say exactly, but Xerces Blue is the name of an extinct Californian gossamer butterfly. This was written around the time that Chino was facing his speed and alcohol addictions, and his long-term marriage to wife Celeste was dissolved. It seems that Chino felt very alone then, that no one really knew him, and that it was time to say goodbye—to end some major issues in his life. Reportedly, Chino wasn’t sure if he would return to Deftones, after taking a hiatus to make the debut album by Team Sleep. Then tragedy struck when Chi was in a car wreck, and the band assumed that was it for them, they couldn’t go on without Chi. Thankfully, that did not turn out to be the case.
Track 8: “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away),” Around The Fur (1997)
“Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)” brings back all the memories. That humming riff, very similar to the guitar sound of Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream, transports me right back to the late ’90s. It’s a bittersweet feeling; the memories of youth, summers without worry, getting drunk and high with your friends in dunes at the beach. My, how things have changed. And how Deftones were changing too. The musical influences of Depeche Mode and The Cure were emerging here, and it worked so well. While the lyrics and Chino’s delivery of, “I don’t care where just far away”, feel angsty and youthful, the band were growing up and were about to free themselves of the shackles of the Nu-Metal label.
Track 9: “Phantom Bride” (feat. Jerry Cantrell), Gore (2016)
“Phantom Bride” from the eighth and most recent Deftones album, Gore, is devastatingly beautiful. The lyrics are some of the clearest-cut they’ve written. The song is about addiction to alcohol or drugs, and how some people just choose to stay in that toxic relationship with it, because it’s easier to do that than to face up to your demons with a clear head. The track features Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains, who pulls off a guitar solo that would make Slash weep on a clifftop. It is kind of surprising to hear this on a Deftones album, as they’ve never really gone down that cock rock path, but my gosh this solo is so, so good. The production is the cleanest they’ve ever sounded too, which is not necessarily a bad thing, though I am aware some fans didn’t like just how polished this album sounds. If it’s any comfort, I have heard that Deftones’ forthcoming album later this year is going to be White Pony style. Whatever the case, I love Gore, so whatever direction Deftones go in next I am sure it will be just exactly where they need to be.
Track 10: “Sextape,” Diamond Eyes (2010)
Another beauty here. It might be obvious what “Sextape” is about, but it may be a little more metaphorical than it appears. Diamond Eyes was the first album by Deftones without Chi, who was still in a coma in 2010 when it was released. Their good friend Sergio Vega from Quicksand, joined the band in Chi’s place and they decided not to carry on with what was to be their next album Eros, but instead, start a whole new album with Sergio. And so Diamond Eyes was born. It was created with an optimistic and positive vibe, with the band at their most unified and inspired after Chi’s accident. Ironically, the loss of Chi probably prevented the demise of Deftones.
So while “Sextape” seems like a sad song as Chino pours his heart out mourning the loss of someone he wants to be with just one more night, the feel of the song is celestial and hopeful. The video of two young women underwater and in love is gorgeous. In my mind, “Sextape” is about all those beautiful memories you store in your head of those passionate moments with your loved one, that you relive over and over. It’s a beautiful thing.
Bonus Hidden Track: “Pink Maggit,” White Pony (2000)
Ssh! Don’t tell anyone. I just couldn’t get rid of any of these tracks to make it a Perfect 10, I would have cried and no one wants to see that horrible mess. So I’m taking the stance that if Spinal Tap can crank it up to 11 then so can I. Just this once.
“Pink Maggit” is an anthem that fits perfectly on this imaginary album as a hidden/bonus track. The way it creeps up on you slowly, almost sinisterly, then ploughs into this powerful chant—a hymn for the bullied kids at school; intended to inspire people to stand up for themselves. Last FM quotes that Chino said this:
“It started from this interlude that we wrote that goes into the heavier part at the end. The title comes from a Kool Keith song. We just thought it was some funny sh*t. The song is meant to be triumphant. I just imagined being the sh*t in school—just holding your hands in the air and knowing that nobody can take anything from you. It’s one of those things where, if you tell yourself that you are the sh*t, then you will be the sh*t. I’m trying to spread a little confidence, a lot of artists try to make songs for the kids who are tormented in school, telling them its ok to be tormented. But it’s not okay. Don’t be lazy. Don’t be ridiculed. Become the leader of your surroundings. Confidence is one of the most important things in life. If you are confident, you can do whatever you want. ” – Chino
This track got reworked into “Back to School (Mini Maggit),” which has the same chorus but is a totally different beast. It’s nowhere near as good, and about as Nu-Metal as it gets with its fast pace from the outset, scratching and beats from Frank Delgado, and whiny, white, Limp Bizkit-style rap lyrics. The band didn’t want to do it, but their record label wanted a single to make them huge like Papa Roach and Linkin Park. So they did it just to prove a point. “Pink Maggit” however, ends my perfect Deftones album in a triumph. The off-key singing tone and slow, cocky swagger of the guitar riffs and bass make for an uplifting yet ominous feeling. Like you have been rooting for the underdog all the way, then the underdog turns out to be a serial killer.
So there is it! I hope you enjoyed my choices, though I am sure there will be many disagreements. Fight me! Let us know what your Top 10 (secret 11) Deftones tracks would be in the comments or on social media.