Deftones’ ‘Ohms’ review — a top-tier album from a band who never stop moving forward
Deftones haven't been classifiable as nu metal in decades, but still, for a band who ever had "nu metal" attached to them at any point in their career, they've pulled off an impressively unusual amount of longevity. Even many of the best nu metal and nu metal-adjacent bands have long coasted on nostalgia, but Deftones have been gaining new fans and keeping old ones interested off the strength of their new music for pretty much their entire career. There aren't really any major lulls in their discography, but 2010's Diamond Eyes -- which is now widely considered one of their strongest albums -- marks the moment when Deftones solidified themselves as a band who would be just as significant in the 2010s (and now 2020s) as they were in the 1990s. That's only grown in the decade since then, as Deftones continue to keep making great music, get positive critical re-evaluations for older albums, and be namedropped as an influence by rising bands. Even in the time since their last album (2016's Gore), Deftones' influence on modern music has become more prevalent. Like Deftones' own heroes Hum (who released a fantastic album this year, their first in two decades), you can hear their influence on up and coming metal/hardcore bands like Higher Power and Loathe, and in basically any heavy band who crosses over into shoegaze. So Deftones aren't in need of a "comeback" album or anything, but the anticipation for Ohms that's been building over the past four years makes it feel like even more is riding on this album than is usually the case for Deftones. And that anticipation is even more heightened by the fact that it's their first with producer Terry Date -- who helmed their classic albums Around the Fur (1997), White Pony (2000), and Deftones (2003) -- in 17 years. Even before we heard a note out of it, Ohms seemed like it could be an exceptionally significant Deftones album, a highlight of a consistently great, 25-year-long discography. It's here now, and not to rush judgement, but that's exactly what it is.
Deftones told Kerrang! earlier this year that they've always had a volatile relationship with Terry, who either quit or came close to quitting every time he worked on an album with them, but it’s impossible to deny that he knows how to make Deftones sound better than anyone else does. From a pure production standpoint, Ohms is easily the best sounding Deftones record in a long time. As good as the songs on the last few albums are, the production could veer off into polished radio-rock territory, but on Ohms they sound like the band they were always meant to be. It has a rawer, more modest sound, but Terry still perfectly captures Deftones at their biggest, clearest, and most atmospheric. Even with Deftones' influence being heard all throughout the current metal and hardcore underground, it'd be understandable if Deftones' own new albums still felt a little too radio-friendly, but that won't be the case with Ohms. Songwriting wise, they still sound ambitious enough to headline arenas, but the overall vibe of the album has them sounding like the cult band they've been for a very long time. In that sense, Ohms reminds me of Tool's 2019 album Fear Inoculum, another hugely anticipated album album where a '90s-radio-metal band made exactly the music they wanted to make, with seemingly no interest in how it would fare commercially. Not that it's off-putting or anything -- Ohms is actually one of Deftones' catchiest batches of songs -- just that it sounds like creative, artistic decisions took precedence over mainstream acceptance at every turn. Like Hum did earlier this year, Deftones have made a new album that pushes the envelope for today's forward-thinking heavy rock scene that they themselves paved the way for.
Not that Deftones' music needs to be compared to other bands this far into their career, but when Ohms does bring other stuff to mind, it's stuff like the atmospheric post-hardcore of Alchemy Index era Thrice or the dreamy stadium rock of The Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness. Like both of those albums, Ohms fully transcends genre. It exists at the crossroads between sludge metal and dream pop, between art rock and post-hardcore, between poppy and experimental. If it feels familiar, it's because Deftones have such an unmistakable sound and Ohms adheres to it, but even with Ohms sitting firmly within Deftones' comfort zone, it still feels fresh for them. It nails the balance between a band staying true to the music their longtime fans know and love and also shaking it up enough to keep things interesting. It also has a momentum that never lets up and never drags. It's around the same length as your average Deftones album, but it manages to feel like some of their quickest, leanest work. Every time Ohms gets to the already-iconic opening riff of the album-closing title track (which was a great choice for lead single), it's hard to believe it's already almost over.
Ohms is out now on Reprise/Warner. Stream a video playlist of the whole thing below...