Deftones, Round Two

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Vocalist Chino Moreno and guitarist Stephen Carpenter of Deftones. Photo by me.

I’m extremely blessed to have gotten a chance to see my favorite band a second time – on a Friday in a nearby city, no less. I’m very much aware how unusual it is to get consistently excellent metal shows to come through or near your hometown, and after Deftones, I get to see Killswitch Engage this week and Opeth and Gojira (Both on Fridays!) in October. I am one lucky metalhead. Deftones dropped a new album in April – that would be Gore – and of course, that means lots of touring. I spent a great deal of late spring and early summer excessively checking their tour dates for any Northern California shows, until they finally announced one: Aug. 26 at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley.

I had previously seen Florence and the Machine at the Greek and I got to see Alabama Shakes there in early August. At this point, it’s easily my favorite outdoor venue (sorry, Shoreline). This time around, I showed up nice and early and scoped out a spot reasonably close to the stage at about 7 pm. I had previously eaten dinner and done some pregaming at Townie, so I had no intention of waiting in the booze or merch lines, which can sometimes take up to half an hour. Around 20 or so minutes of sitting and socializing with my neighbors followed before the first act came on.

The opening act was an electronic duo formerly known as Sister Crayon but who are now going by the moniker Rituals of Mine. With extremely rare exceptions, electronic music really isn’t my thing; I would never be caught dead at a place like EDC and Dubstep didn’t die off nearly fast enough for my liking. That being said, Rituals of Mine wasn’t half bad. Vocalist Terra Lopez has a lovely voice that doesn’t get drown out by all of the electronics and she’s an engaging performer. They were an interesting, if unconventional, opener for Deftones.

The second act was the one I was really worried about. Not that I was concerned I’d have a bad time that night; Deftones rocked when I saw them with Incubus last summer and I fully expected that to be the case here. It was just the prospect of having to endure some truly awful music before getting to the main course that made me feel queasy. Rapper Yelawolf was every bit as dreadful as I feared. I don’t know nearly enough about rap to make a quality judgment on this dude’s flow, but every single thing about him was excruciating. His clothes, his tattoos, his lyrics, his impromptu cover of Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” and the stuff he said in between songs was all cringe-inducing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a musical act in a live setting as terrible as Yelawolf. I tried so damn hard to give him a chance and enjoy myself but I just couldn’t. The kindest thing I could say about Yelawolf was that he gave me a chance to take a bathroom break and drink some much needed water.

Once that ordeal was mercifully over, it was time for Deftones. Obviously, I’m already super excited to watch my favorite artist perform again, but the prospect of them washing the taste of Yelawolf’s bullshit out was a nice bonus. After a sound check that was almost too long, the lights dimmed and the fog machines came on and out stepped Deftones. They carved right into the set with “Rocket Skates,” which always induces violent head banging; it didn’t take long for the mosh pit to commence. I haven’t been in a pit since I saw Amon Amarth back in May and it felt so damn good to slam into some people again.

Deftones’ setlist was diverse; from Gore, they played “Geometric Headdress,” the title track and “(L)MIRL,” but not not any of the big singles (“Prayers/Triangles,” “Doomed User,” and “Hearts/Wires”). They played material from every album except for their self-titled record and they peppered in some rarer tracks like “Rickets,” “Kimdracula,” and “Prince,” which Chino appropriately dedicated to the memory of Prince Rogers Nelson. I was absolutely stunned and delighted when they pulled out “Rosemary,” the near seven minute long, proggy masterpiece featured on Koi No Yokan that ends with one of Stephen Carpenter’s crunchiest guitar riffs.

Chino was in excellent form all evening. While his vocals were a bit low in the mix at first he was coming through loud and clear towards the end of their set. His singing, screams, wails and even those “Dr Alan Grant tries to impersonate a velociraptor” noises he’s sometimes known for all sounded great. Everyone else in the band killed it too: Stef was making pure magic, bassist Sergio Vega (clad in a Venom t-shirt and cornrows, of all combinations) held down the low end in style and drummer Abe Cunningham was crushing his kit all night. The standout of the show, however, was Frank Delgado. Easily the most overlooked Deftones member (what kid interested in music says “I want to play the keyboards one day!?”), Delgado’s keys and samples really pop out in a live setting. That dude knows how to create atmosphere.

Granted, at every concert I’ve been to – without exception – there comes I time when I just start to feel over it and I hope it ends soon so I don’t have to go home early and feel like a loser. I figure this is due to fact that I’m getting older. That Yelawolf’s horrendous set induced a “Got off my lawn!” reaction from me certainly didn’t help matters. Plus, an hour of continuous moshing takes a lot out of you. Deftones wound down their set with “Knife Prty,” “Change (In the House of Flies),” and “Passenger,” before launching into an extended encore consisting of fan favorite cuts “My Own Summer (Shove It),” “Headup,” “Bored,” and “Engine No. 9.” The timing was perfect; I was absolutely ready to begin the long trek back to my hotel. “Purple Rain” was pumped through the speakers as the crowd at the Greek began to file out. It was quite lovely.

Thanks, Deftones, for yet another incredible show. And for God’s sake, if you absolutely have to get a rapper to open for you, get Run the Jewels.

 

 

 

 

 

5 New Metal Bands You Need to be Listening to Right the Hell Now

I love metal. There’s pretty much no such thing as too much metal and I’m never not it the mood for it. It’s the one genre – or rather, group of genres; metal is pretty fragmented these days – that never lets me down. Since I have a job that allows me to listen to music at my desk, I’m consuming almost 40 hours of metal a week. I am a happy camper.

Of course, metal isn’t perfect. A lot of metalheads tend to be stuck in the past and are generally uninterested or outright hostile to anything that is new (something that they share with more than a few superhero comics readers). Since most of the greatest of all-time legacy acts have all but cemented their places in the pantheon and not-super-old-but-still-kind-of-old bands like Mastodon, Gojira, Lamb of God and Deftones continue to produce solid work, it can be hard to find quality new stuff. Thankfully, I’ve got five new bands that the adventurous metalhead needs to check out.

These bands are described as “new” in my headline and the only criteria for that is they have all been around for less than 10 years and are still active. All five of them have gotten a fair share of press coverage from outfits such as Metal Injection and MetalSucks, so they aren’t exactly hurting for exposure. But seeing as they are still obscure enough to escape the notice of the casual and/or novice metalhead or someone who doesn’t spend any time reading industry press articles, I feel like they should still be brought to your attention.

And the best part? All five of these bands are from the good old USA. ‘Murica!

Rivers of Nihil

Based out of: Reading, Pennsylvania

Formed in: 2009

Genre: Technical death metal

Label: Metal Blade Records

Discography: Two EPs and two albums

Technical death metal can be tough to get into at first, but holy crap, it is so damn worth it once you’ve learned to appreciate it. You sort have to already be onboard the tech death train in order to listen to Rivers of Nihil, so they aren’t a band I’d recommend to a beginner. But if you are into the “br00tal” stuff? Look no further than RoN. If you aren’t a metal person at all, I still recommend you sit through the above music video, because the ending is so worth it.

Black Crown Initiate

Based out of: Reading, Pennsylvania

Formed in: 2013

Genre: Progressive death metal

Label: eOne Music

Discography: One EP and one album

Clearly there is something in the water in Reading. Black Crown Initiate is similar to their peers in RoN, though slightly less technical and more atmospheric. Hell, they even have clean vocals in some of their songs. Anyone who’s listened to stuff like Killswitch Engage is probably used to the scream-sing-scream approach, but it becomes cool and novel again when done with death growls. Granted, not every BCI song uses that formula, but their slightly less heavy approach could presumably get more people into death metal. To answer your not-yet-asked question, yes, these guys have toured with RoN, and this piece of perfection was used as the tour poster.

Toothgrinder

Based out of: Asbury Park, New Jersey

Formed in: 2010

Genre: Progressive metal

Label: Spinefarm Records

Discography: Three EPs and one album

Good things come out of New Jersey after all (that’s mean; my dad is from there). Toothgrinder bring a bit of hardcore flair to their brand of progressive metal, as if to reassure listeners that you can still mosh to prog. These guys just put out their first full-length back in January, Nocturnal Masquerade, and it’s easily their most accessible work. The whole thing just screams “workout playlist.” Masquerade reminds me of Deftones’ self-titled album, which was their heaviest record. Clearly, Toothgrinder knows the way to my heart.

Fallujah

Based out of: San Francisco

Formed in: 2007

Genre: Technical death metal, progressive death metal

Label: Nuclear Blast America

Discography: Two demos, two EPs and two albums

I’m kind of mad at myself for not getting into these guys earlier, seeing as they are right in my backyard. They’re mostly a tech death band, but 2014’s The Flesh Prevails (their breakout album) was delightfully weird and sometimes defied categorization. Listening-wise, I’d say Fallujah is the most challenging of these five bands to get into, so start getting some tech death under your belt before firing up Flesh, The Harvest Wombs or Nomadic. They are one the hottest young bands in metal right now, so don’t miss out on Fallujah. I’ll be keeping my eye out for local dates; it’s about time I see them live.

The Contortionist

Based out of: Indianapolis, Indiana

Formed in: 2007

Genre: Progressive metal

Label: Good Fight Music

Discography: Three EPs and three albums

These guys are, without a doubt, my favorite of the five, and they are only band on here that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing live – twice. Their sound has evolved quite a bit over their three full-length records; they’ve gone from being a tech death/deathcore hybrid to being this monstrously trippy prog metal outfit. Their most recent effort, Language, earned The Contortionist heaps of praise and all of it was well deserved. It’s significantly mellower than their previous albums while still recognizably metal, and it’s an excellent jump on point for newcomers. These dudes make awesome prog and I can’t wait to see what The Contortionist does next.

 

Here’s that New Lamb of God Song Featuring Chino Moreno

I’ve never been a Lamb of God fan. I don’t think they are bad by any stretch; they’ve just never done anything for me. However, I got a feeling I’ll be eating my words when “VII: Sturm und Drang” gets released and I will be happy to do so. LoG have so far released five singles from this upcoming record and they have all delivered. I guess there’s something about being on trial for manslaughter in the Czech Republic that ignites your creativity.

This latest single, “Embers,” features Chino Moreno of Deftones as a guest vocalist and since Deftones are my favorite band, I’m compelled to give it a listen. It’s just about as good as I was hoping; it’s your standard brutal LoG song with organs from Deftones grafted onto to it near the end. If I’m making it sound like “Embers” is forced, I don’t mean to. Chino’s haunting, soaring cleans blend quite well with Randy Blythe guttural screams and yells. It’s a helluva lot better than that collaboration Chino did with Whitechapel, that’s for damned sure.

“VII: Sturm und Drang” drops on July 24 via Epic Records and Nuclear Blast. In addition to Chino Moreno, it will also feature a guest appearance from Greg Puciato of The Dillinger Escape Plan.

‘White Pony,’ 15 Years After the Fact

I think I might be breaking some rules of Deftones fandom when I say that “White Pony” isn’t my favorite album from Sacramento’s Finest Sons. That distinction goes to “Diamond Eyes,” which turned five in May (Yay for landmarks! Even tiny ones!). But even though I was pretty damned late to the party – my first Deftones song was “Diamond Eyes’” haunting title track, heard on a long but scenic commute to some thankless internship – I certainly can’t deny the groundbreaking importance of “White Pony.”

This was the record that enabled Deftones to break away from the nu metal pack they emerged from in the 90s and basically put them on track to becoming the artsy, alternative metal outfit that they are today. It’s the first record to feature keyboard player/sampler Frank Delgado as a full-time member. It’s the first time frontman Chino Moreno started playing guitar on certain tracks, which he still does today. The songs themselves continue to hold up, with the slight exception of “Back to School (Mini Maggit),” which still feels like it has one foot rooted in the decadent nu metal past. Other than that, the “Pony” is still a beast. “Feiticeira,” “Digital Bath,” “Rx Queen,” “Street Carp,” “Korea,” “Change (In the House of Flies),” and “Pink Maggit” are all as awesome now as they were 15 years ago.

Of course I would be remiss not to mention their famous collaboration with the Toolman himself, Maynard James Keenan: “Passenger,” my all time favorite duet in music.

So if you got some time today, throw on some “White Pony” to celebrate the 15 years of continuing excellence from Deftones. I’ll be seeing them in concert come August, where they will be co-headlining with Incubus (see the full tour dates here). Their still untitled eighth studio album will be dropping in late September. Check out the music video to “Change” embedded above. If you can get past the dodgy compositing and Chino’s questionable haircut, it’s still pretty cool.