Scrumpy-Music: Deftones - Koi No Yokan


Scrumpy-Music Review

Deftones - Koi No Yokan (2012)

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Deftones are probably the very definition of a band with a 'cult following'. It's a kind of 'insider band', you have either never heard of them (or have a very passing knowledge) or you are are a fan who follows their releases. As they have mutated from being lumped in with the 'nu-metal' crowd (A label that in my mind was always horribly out of place in my mind) into some calling them a fully fledged art/experimental metal band. People have shoved them in so many pigeon holes it's hard to tell you exactly what Deftones is without some preconceptions getting in the way.

The best i can come up with is "A relaxing punch in the face". Their influences come more from the likes of "The Cure" and it's this background that informs much of the feel of their music. Every since 2001s "White Pony" is been quite clear that there is much more to Deftones than shouty vocals and blaring guitars. Whilst the likes of Korn have been throwing their lot in with Skrillex, (a match so poor and music so angsty and thin that it strips what shreds of dignity their earlier work had.) Deftones have been pushing, experimenting and honing a pretty unique sound. It's metal Jim, but not as we know it.

Right that out of the way; what the hell is "Koi No Yokan"? Well it's a pretty unpronounceable and hard to remember title for one (i'm ctrl+Z-ing myself). But in terms of meaning it refers to a Japanese concept akin to "love at first sight". This seem to be quite fitting, the album is much more concerned with seducing you than getting angry. On their 2010 release "Diamond Eyes" there was a refreshing, uplifting edge to many of the songs and this is certainly on show here. "She breaks her horses.... With strange distant voices" Moreno 's soaring vocal drifts between crushing guitars and soaring sythns;

And it's really all uphill from there. Their work has always had an edge of brutal beauty about it, many metal acts have experimented with the quiet and melodic/loud and frantic dynamic but the real gift of Deftones is that they can do both at the same time. The production tweaks and addition of samples and syth sounds like a horrible gimmick to most metal purists but they are able to pull it off seamlessly here. Unlike some of the more baffling moments of "Saturday night Wrist" or their self titles album where the two sat a little uncomfortably here both compliment and add to the other. 'Koi No Yokan' has a very big, even grandiose, sound to it that gives the de-tuned roar of Steven Carpenters 7 string a kind of epic framing. It's easy to denounce much of the crop of 90s 'metal' bands as "Shouty guitar sludge" but Deftones have elevated it to an art-form. Bruce Springsteen's producer once called his dense arrangement style as the "Wall of Noise", i submit to you that he had obviously never heard Deftones.

Special mention really has to be given to Frank Delgado and their producer for showing the right mix of indulgence and restraint in the use of the Syth. Tracks like "Entombed" and "Rosemary" are really able to soar specifically because of small but weighty additions of just the right amount. "Entombed" especially is shows of keyboard riffs they you really wouldn't expect to find here. And always it never feels forced or, worse, pandering as some recent bands reliance on electronic/studio based additions has. There is no danger of Deftones turning out top 40 club-bangers or easy listening any time soon. Post 80s Metal fans have always had a fear of keyboards and sythns as 'the enemy' dreading they would drag us back into the dark days of bad hair metal or, worse, straight synth-pop.

The album definitely has it's more more harsh moments though, Moreno has never been one to let a good scream and shout go to waste and whilst there is a lot less on display than the likes of "Hexagram" there are still moments of where this album goes full bore "Polterhesit" for example opens with a stomp and plows into a shout as does "Good Squad". In fact i would say this album has a bit more gnarly guitar on display than their previous album but it feels more like a fusion with their previous work than anything else. They are able to pull pieces and textures from their, rather spotty, 2003-2007 period, and really make it work with their new, more confident, sound.

It's also hard to ignore how well it hangs together as an album. "More than the sum of it's parts" is a bit of a a cliche but here it holds very true. The surrounding tracks actively lift each subsequent one that shows off some good old fashioned album-craft. Each track sounds better 'in context' with the interplay between harsh and beautiful. An album this 'heavy' has no right being so much of a joy to listen to. The culmination of this is "Rosemary", a track that oozes with dark power, ambient echoes and snarling guitars.

The album isn't perfect though, this less of a massive departure for deftones as it is a good refinement. This what they do best, their home turf, and has been for the best part of a decade. Boundaries are nudged a little here and there for the band but never really pushed at too hard. But musically they exist in such an interesting world it's hard to fault them too much for that, they have a pretty unique sound. The market is hardly flooded with deep synth-edged soaring alternative metal.

I also take a bit of issue with the production, especially through headphones. it's got a bit too much top/middle to it meaning it takes some special EQ adjustment to get the best out of the album (even on even a non audiophile setup). It really shouldn't be necessary to do that and seems a bit baffling. It's technically great on a recording/mixing level but the final master is left a bit muddy through a small but annoying bias to treble. It seems like a nit-pick and maybe it's just my setup but it's given me endless fiddling and annoyance. The album is thankfully not horribly compressed which is a BIG production plus.

Conclusion

Koi No Yokan is a great album. Deftones has a sound that airs towards the 'acquired taste' for less metal based music fans, but beneath the harsher edges is real beauty and scope that helps but the genre and sound of what is regarded as 'metal' forward into much more melodic and modern territories. Koi No Yokan feels like an epic, sweeping drive through the city more than ride through an angsty teenager's bedroom. This isn't "I won't tidy my room" music like most of their 90s contemporaries made (at best). This is a grown up and utterly mesmerizing album that earns deftones their continuing reputation as a genuinely interesting creative force. It just sounds so good. The best metal bands know you don't have to choose between power and melody. Noisy metal has never been so relaxing.

9/10

 

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