The ghosts of Chino Moreno’s new-wave past have floated into the present for his newest project dubbed, ††† (“crosses”). The Deftones frontman linked up with old friend Shaun Lopez, from Far, and Chuck Doom for their self-titled, debut album–a collection of songs both hazy and guttural.
Each track is kicked along by crisp, pricking hip-hop beats, but every noise around it is from the gallows. The opening track, “†his is a †rick,” strikes the speakers with an incessant trap beat while Moreno sings tenderly against loops of feedback growl. The groove of premonition on “†elepathy” is darkly funky and so good it hurts. Lyrically, Moreno is prowling with his usual obscurity, dealing with shape-shifters, witchery, ghosts and demons like it’s just another walk through the graveyard on a foggy evening.
The Deftones relation is never lost. The songs exhibit the same groove and crescendo of Moreno’s prime-time act, but without the thrash-metal and punk bursts. Instead, the release is consumed by a thick layer of electronic atmosphere and distorted vibrations, something always leaking in the cracks of Deftones’ music, especially on songs like “Cherry Waves,” “Digital Bath,” and “Lucky You.” Here, though, it’s the focal point, not merely an embellishment.
††† first started constructing songs in 2011. They released EP †, in 2011, and EP ††, in 2012, each consisting of five songs and each one appearing on this 15-track debut. The previous songs are subtly remastered with some added sonic flourishes, but they’re basically the same. Unfortunately, the anticipation was dimmed somewhat to learn only five songs were actually new.
The big surprise–and mild disappointment–here, is the real lack of experimentation. Given that this is Moreno’s third project outside Deftones, there was an expectation of something beyond the folds of his previous work. It’s sharper and more focused than his first non-Deftones outing, Team Sleep, and less expansive than Palms, his project with members of Isis, but, in the end, it’s not a great departure.
Many songs are centered on choruses chock-full of rock-and-roll grandiosity, not too dissimilar from the single “Minerva,” off Deftones’ self-titled album. The big pummeling drums on “†hholyghs†” rise like oncoming waves before dissipating into haunted house sound effects.
“Nine†een Eigh†y Seven,” “Prurien†” and “†rophy” move like a snow drift on a slow-wafting breeze. The album finishes in hushes with “Dea†h Bell.” Moreno’s voice sails from the next room over, while a meek piano plays against a gear-cranking drum pattern.
The best song, “Bi†ches Brew,” was released with a video late last year. The pulse of a wavering bass moves with a lock-step drum groove through the shadows against the moonlight. It’s one of Moreno’s most haunting melodies with whispers looming from the corners. For pure metalheads, not exactly keen on the lightness of movement, there’s a quick dash of Deftones unrelenting at the end.
Moreno may be one of the fiercest screamers in all of metal, but Deftones have always been more than a metal band, fusing melody and atmosphere with crushing riffs. It’s a formula that has kept them ahead of their grouchy, nu-metal counterparts and that lies squarely on Moreno’s early inspirations and his persistence in staying out of the mold.
He’s made no secret about his admiration for the emotion behind early Eighties new-wave and groups like Depeche Mode and The Cure. This new project takes those first musical awakenings and blends them with the modern day equivalent of moody, down-tempo acts like Burial, the xx, Zomby, even Massive Attack. †††, then, is a worthy extension of Chino Moreno’s musical mind.