All the music sites I frequent keep telling me about new albums I really, really want. And I want them now. First off, we have the upcoming Deftones release, Diamond Eyes. Then we have an album I am cautiously anticipating: Coheed and Cambria's Year of the Black Rainbow. (Yes, I'm aware of everyone's opinion of C and C, but I remain a big advocate of the band's first two releases). Later on in the year my ears will also be graced by new material from Brian Vaughan favorites The Hold Steady (Heaven Is Whenever), Broken Social Scene (Forgiveness Rock Record), and The National (High Violet). So anyway, go music!
Two of these records, Diamond Eyes and Year of the Black Rainbow, have already made their way to my ears. Reviews of these two albums will now proceed to make their way to your eyes. We'll start with Diamond Eyes first.
Diamond Eyes (2010)
Rating: 7.5 (out of 10)
If the world were a nicer place, Diamond Eyes might not even exist. Deftones initially began working on a different project, an album called Eros, before a car accident sent bassist Chi Cheng into a coma. Cheng still has yet to fully recover, and while the band doesn't name Chi's condition as a reason for delaying the release of the Eros material, surely the tragedy that befell their friend and fellow musician held some sway over their decision.
While Deftones singer Chino Moreno alluded to Eros as something a bit removed from the band's general direction, Diamond Eyes feels a lot closer to home, and maybe that's what the band needed during such a turbulent time. Fortunately, Deftones happen to be a band that (for me at least) are still plenty enjoyable when they don't venture far from their wheelhouse. Sure, the one time when Deftones really tried to venture away from their tendencies (White Pony in 2000) they struck utter gold, but that doesn't take away from efforts like Around the Fur that mostly just bring the fucking pain. And I guess that's really what Diamond Eyes does and does well: it brings the fucking pain.
Things start off in punishing fashion with the burrowing, low verse of the title track. Thing is, that dark verse gives way to a deliciously smooth chorus that works well to create a sonically-pleasing duality. A lot of times, when bands (even this band on a couple of occasions) try to shift from mass to melody, things feel a bit too saccharine, but "Diamond Eyes" avoids any problems. "Royal" doesn't leave any openings for issues, as it starts out pummeling and doesn't relent until a brief pause with 45 seconds to go that gives way to even more ferocity. "CMND/CTRL" and "You've Seen the Butcher" are fairly standard-order Deftones songs; they don't offer anything new, but they're pleasant enough.
The middle section of Diamond Eyes offers a little variety in terms of anger and tempo. "Beauty School" boasts a chorus driven by jittery drums and guitars, as well as a wise to decision to head up rather than down on a key bass note by band friend and temporary Chi Cheng fill-in Sergio Vega. Unfortunately, the song's chorus gets a little too airy: think "Minerva" without the hook. "Prince" sounds incredibly like an Around the Fur outtake, and as such it succeeds wildly. "Prince" lets its wavering verse build into a big, buzzsaw guitar chorus. It's a tried-and-true Deftones tradition, so why fuck with it? Speaking of fucking with things, Chino implores us to "fuck with him" on "Rocket Skates," one of the album's most kick-ass songs and its first single. So yeah, the lyrical content of "Rocket Skates" isn't ideal, but it's hard to care, especially when Chino's shredding his vocal cords.
The last section of the album feels like its weakest. "Sextape" comes off as a bland attempt at lightening things up, while album closer "This Place Is Death" doesn't really go the places it feels like it should. It sounds like it's supposed to be the last song on the album, as if it fits that bill solely because it's kind of slow and moody. "Risk" and "976-EVIL" work better than the rest of the late album fare as a result of better songwriting, but neither holds up to the strongest material here.
Looking at Diamond Eyes as a whole makes it a little but underwhelming, though it's still quite an enjoyable listen. At its best, the album really kills. Some moments are so fiendishly badass that it's almost easy to overlook the fluffier songs that pollute the album's conclusion. And it's not like the material near the end of the record is pointless; with a few directional shifts, those songs could become infinitely more interesting. It's in these moments that it seems like maybe Diamond Eyes was rushed, which it probably was. What we're left with is a good record that I know I'll be listening to from time to time. What we don't have is any sort of definitive statement. We don't have the unsettling gaze of White Pony. We don't have the crush of "Beware"'s ending or the swagger of "Hexagram." But we do have a new Deftones record, and I wasn't sure we ever would. So cheers to that, and here's to hoping for plenty more.