Something about cars always unnerved me, from as far back as I can remember, but it wasn’t until I wrote my first car off that I truly understood why.
Blink, just once, let your concentration lapse for the briefest moment at the wrong time and the resulting bang you hear on collision will be etched into your mind so deep that thinking back on it will give you the shivers.
If you’re lucky.
Chi Cheng was driving back home from his brother’s memorial service on November 4th 2008 when he was involved in a car accident that would have killed him if it weren’t for the three off-duty paramedics that happened to stop at the scene of the crash moments after it happened.
They saved his life that day, but many would argue it was in vain. Chi slipped into a coma shortly after they found him that he has yet to wake from, a fact that some feared would spell the end of one of the most innovative bands to emerge from the Nu Metal scene of the late 90s and early 2000s.
But the good news is that Deftones are back with a new bassist (Sergio Vega, formerly of Quicksand) and a new studio album, Diamond Eyes, which is their sixth album to date.
Anyone familiar with Deftones’ previous albums would be justified in maintaining a healthy level of scepticism as to whether or not Vega could ever match Cheng’s natural flair as a bassist. Cheng’s thick and mean basslines played a huge roll in defining Deftones’ sledgehammer-heavy sound and he sure as hell wasn’t afraid to step into the spotlight and let his bass lead when a song called for it.
That single fact is probably the only point I can fault on Diamond Eyes. It’s a great album and one that I honestly believe fans will enjoy and critics will give an approving nod to, but there is definitely a Chi-shaped hole where the formidable bassist used to fit and you can hear it.
The new material is heavy as ever – guitarist Stephen Carpenter’s riffs grind fast and heavy for the most part and drummer Abe Cunningham pulls no punches on his kit, but with the exception of three or four tracks on the album, the rhythm section feels a lot looser than it was with Cheng at the helm.
The opening tracks “Diamond Eyes”, “Royal” and “CMND/CTRL” are pretty standard Deftones fair and didn’t make much of an impression on the first listen, though the soaring chorous of “Diamond Eyes” starts to grow on you fast and the syncopated rhythm of “CMND/CTRL”, coupled with frontman Chino Morino’s screeching vocals (which, by the way, have never sounded better) will definitely get you sitting up and listening.
From there on in the album just gets better and better.
The softer and slower “Beauty School” is a great example of what Vega is capable of when given some space to work with and is reminiscent of the killer track, “The Passenger” which the band did with Tool singer Maynard James Keenan on arguably their best album to date, 2000’s White Pony.
The lyrics “You’re shooting stars / From the barrels of your eyes / It drives me crazy / Just drives me wild” are poetic in their simplicity and come across as being sincere without sounding gag-inducingly cheesy.
There are two other tracks recorded in a similar style on the album, ‘Sextape’ and ‘976-EVIL’ and to be honest these are my three favourite tracks on the album.
The simple fact is that the new lineup just seems to handle the quieter tracks better. The heavier tracks like ‘Rocket Skates’ (the first single), ‘Risk’ and ‘This Place Is Death’ do have their strong points, but without Cheng’s signature basslines, they lack the punch that made albums like Around The Fur (1997) and White Pony (2000) truly great.
The song ‘Prince’ is perhaps the closest the band gets to capturing that old, badass Deftones sound. It builds to a powerful chorous and makes no apologies as it tears through you like a bone saw.
In my opinion, there are three possible futures for a band like Deftones after Diamond Eyes. The first is to stay in safe territory and record a follow-up to Diamond Eyes that sounds much the same, but the formula will get old fast and chances are the band will slowly start to drop off the radar.
The second would be for the band to explore the sound they’ve perfected on the quieter tracks on the album and take their material in a direction that is slightly more chilled out (by Deftones’ standards) and more widely accessible.
The third future, sadly, is probably the least likely because it would only happen if Cheng woke up from his coma. He would become a rock legend instantly and, if he was still able to record and tour with the band, could finish working on the album they were recording prior to his accident, Eros, which according to Morino was their most experimental, unorthodox and edgy project to date.
Sure, it’s idealistic, but for the sake of his fans and family I hope he recovers. In the meantime though, hats off to the guys for sticking to their guns and recording an album which, while it might not be their best, still kicks a whole lot of ass and proves without a doubt that no matter what happens, you can’t keep a good band down.
Final verdict: 7/10