One of my favorite bands, the Sacramento-based Deftones, are preparing the release of their sixth full-length album, Diamond Eyes, on May 18. In light of this, I am going back, re-listening to, and analyzing their previous albums to gain a perspective of the band’s past while waiting in anticipation of the band’s future.
Adrenaline by Deftones (Warner Bros., 1995)
Allmusic’s one-paragraph review of Adrenaline does the album no justice; simply put, the review calls the album a “promising debut” and that’s about it. While I would agree with most that the band had not hit their stride yet (that happens later with Around the Fur and White Pony), Adrenaline serves its purpose as an introduction to a band ahead of their peers in terms of melody, songwriting, and groove.
Many tend to lump Deftones in with the dreck of nu-metal that hit its commercial peak in the late 90′s, along with powerhouses like Korn, Staind, and Limp Bizkit. This, of course, is a crime against humanity; Deftones were around before all of these bands, honing their sound less on rap and more on ethereal sounds produced previously by the Cure and Tool. Of course, rap is an obvious influence in the early years of Deftones work, especially in the vein of Faith No More and Rage Against the Machine. This is apparent on Adrenaline, with spoken-word and hip-hop-influenced tracks like “7 Words” and “Engine No. 9.” Strong tracks on their debut, no doubt, but this sound disappeared a few albums later – the band’s strength was running against the grain of their genre by focusing on Chino Moreno’s crooning rather than rhythmic screaming and growling. Korn’s Jonathon Davis had eventually worn that sound out anyway.
Looking to the future of the band, hints of the music to come can be found in Adrenaline tracks “Fireal,” “One Weak,” and the haunting opener “Bored.” Here we find the birth of Deftones’ signature sound – a racous, loud metal band fronted by a soft, beautiful voice – Moreno is calm in the midst of chaos.
Unlike their peers, Deftones always take the high road when approaching production and melody – guest appearances on albums are few (unlike Korn and Limp Bizkit) and feature more prominent figures of talent than a random rapper. However, on Adrenaline, the product is pure Deftones, at the time only a quartet crunching out riff after riff coupled with Abe Cunningham’s precision drumming. The album is definitely more raw in terms of song structure and production – Terry Date decided to make the band’s sound more crisp on future releases, and it works. The focus here is, appropriately, pure adrenaline on every track, with emphasis on sudden outbursts of energy from Moreno’s vocals, sporadic tempo changes from Cunningham, and reverb-soaked riffs from Stephen Carpenter.
Calling Adrenaline a “promising debut” is certainly accurate, however broad. The band certainly had a way to go before they reached their musical peak, but the entirety of Adrenaline is a thrill, a rush to the head, and an exciting first effort from a band already miles ahead of any label they would eventually be given.