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Ecstatic Ephemera: Be Def and Tone (For Ever)
Aural moodscapes inspired by Sacramento's alt-metal icons.
I make a lot of playlists. (Editor’s note: Like, a lot.) One of the more curious trends I’ve noticed from a crop of new releases this year is a decidedly Deftones-inflected revival of 2000s alt-metal.
You know the deal. Stop-start sections. Heavy drops. Whisper vocals. Guttural screams. Maybe the odd turntable scratch throwback. It all seems very sincere, and—coming from someone who was never a massive Deftones fan to begin with—I am nonetheless here for it.
So, here’s a list of some of the best acts mining that deep well of coloured horses, weekend limbs, and solid carbon organs. Enjoy!
Deftones – “Change (In the House of Flies)”
VEXES – “Lush”
“VEXES strike that fine line between ambience and aggression, emotion and energy; or, for that catch-all journey comparison: add two parts White Pony-era Deftones, to one part latter Northlane, and you’ll find yourself holding a shiny new copy of Ancient Geometry.… Album highlight “Lush” rocks a stratospheric chorus with a sublime vocal melody that penetrated my brain and refused to leave. Also, the lead/rhythm/double kick pattern in the bridge is totally sick too.” (Killyourstereo)
Fleshwater – “This, If Anything”
Thornhill – “Arkangel”
“Imagine my surprise then when I didn’t immediately hate “Casanova”. Sure, the splicing of down-tuned riffage with a Matt Bellamy vocal range, along with a music video that could best be described as emo “Sexy Back,” threw me off a little—but I didn’t hate it. The power of “Arkangel” sucked me right in with its Dark City noir aesthetic and a huge, stratospheric chorus. The atmospherics of “Hollywood” continued to build the hype, and the band’s naked “Raw” aggression solidified it. That’s it. I guess I’m a Thornhill fan now. So listen to Heroine. It’s dark and heavy and sexy in all the right places.” (Weekly Roundup)
Deftones – “Hole in the Earth”
Spiritbox – “Sew Me Up”
“As one of alternative music’s hottest prospects, it appears that Spiritbox can simply do no wrong. The former metalcore quartet may be back down to a trio, but there are no signs of discord on the group’s latest release, the surprise-dropped Rotoscope. This latest three-track EP finds the Canadians pushing the sonic envelope once again, seamlessly blending industrial and nu-metal inclinations with down-tuned mosh mayhem and frontwoman Courtney LaPlante’s indomitable vocal range.” (Weekly Roundup)
Loathe – “Two-Way Mirror”
Moodring – “SYNC.wav”
“Alt-metal quartet Moodring appear to be continuing their plans for world domination as the definitive Deftones cover band. (Note: fans of Vexes and Loathe sit up and pay attention.) The group’s new album, Stargazer… [explores] themes of pain, loss, sex, addiction, love, and death with a moody hard-on for grunge crunch and mid-2000s hard rock melodies.” (Weekly Roundup)
VOLA – “Straight Lines”
Sleep Token – “Alkaline”
I had the privilege of seeing this bad boy performed live and in the flesh last month, and man… what a fucking show. Anonymous pop-metal collective Sleep Token are the real deal, and certified banger “Alkaline” is easily the strongest cut from 2021’s This Place Will Become Your Tomb. Frontman and possible cult leader Vessel’s soaring croon floats over the track’s bludgeoning down-tuned guitar riffage as shimmering synth lines and booming percussion cascade in the background. It’s pure bliss—trust me.
Deftones – “Diamond Eyes”
Moon Touch – “Alpha Howl”
On Phototroph, Long Island prog-metal quartet Moon Tooth aren’t afraid to get weird with their sound. Tracks like “Alpha Howl” throw hooky melodies, danceable grooves, and ample servings of guitar shred together, making for a unique and indelibly fun concoction. As guitarist Nick Lee stated in the album’s press cycle: “We will flirt with any genres we want, and it will still sound like us.” Hmmm, interesting. That sounds like another popular alt-metal outfit I know…
Dir En Grey – “13”
Love Is Noise – “Azure”
While Love Is Noise are the group that I’m least familiar with in this list, there’s no denying a direct throughline between the 00s-era output of Deftones and the curious heavy blend of “Azure”. It’s all here—anger, despair, aggression, violence, angst, and deep emotional range—suffused with a delicate melodic touch and a dash of blackgaze introspection. Fans of latter-day ‘Tones material, aka the oft-maligned Gore or Ohms, will likely find something here to sink their teeth into.
Vexes – “The Dream Disease”
Deftones – “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)”
Of all their records, 1997’s Around The Fur might be Deftones at their most cohesive and self-descriptive. It’s a now-iconic record packed full of ripping tunes, one that harnesses the group’s penchant for stop-start, loud-soft rhythmic flexing while also letting bassist Chi Cheng’s (RIP) unstoppable grooves shape and distort Chino Moreno’s indomitable vocal range. Case in point: album standout and midnight solo road trip staple, “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)”.
Stream the full playlist on Spotify below: