10 years of 'Diamond Eyes' - Deftones
Bearing the distinctive image of an owl as the artwork; Diamond Eyes is both elegant and ethereal, wised yet shrouded in darkness. In 2008, Deftones bassist Chi Cheng was implicated in a car accident, leaving him comatose; he died three years after the album’s release. Every moment here is a cathartic expression of pain caused by the absence of their friend, and a biting reflection upon death and lifecycles. To long term fans, these messages may seem like emotive pieces of artistry that have gradually etched themselves into your understanding of the world. Acting as a reckoning for Chino Moreno and his bandmates, they would prove themselves capable of evolving past the genres with which they had become associated, even developing upon the shoegaze extremities of ‘White Pony’ and self-titled. Ten years on, let's take a track by track analysis to examine why the record has held up gracefully, retaining the signature poignancy and experimentation which made for such a unique experience in 2010.
“Time will see us realign, Diamonds rain across the sky, shower me into the same realm” unfurls the chorus, the transparent texture of the tears many must have wept when they heard the news of Chi Cheng, transformed into beautiful imagery. The discordant ambience of the opening effects diverges with the euphoric melodies and distorted guitars, lending to the ideas of catastrophic change and the perplexing, anxious sensations that an alteration in one’s life can create.
Visceral screams and wraithlike melodies permeate, as the instrumentals cascade, feeling more like a waterfall in perpetual flow than a set of ideas in a sequence. The song talks of contact with an otherworldly being. Poetically, these allusions to the spiritual, alongside the alien qualities of the music are not only a direct allusion to being between the conscious world and the dreamlike one, yet an illustration of the strange dystopia that disaster brings. It’s an element that Moreno and co. always bring to their music, and one with a lasting permanence.
A pure struggle for control while circumstances writhe and fall from your grasp accentuates the fury exhibited. Making the track cutting is the fact that every word feels firmly aimed at us - the fans who beg for writing fuelled by rage and despair, careless of the mental toll that act imparts. Contempt for one’s audience in the face of catastrophe has been performed before, yet with the chaos and turmoil that swirls around the frustrated wordplay, we see the destruction of a signature sound, by the very musicians responsible for its creation. From here, the experience takes on a sinister and forbidding quality.
‘You’ve seen the Butcher’
Debates continue to rage about the ‘true’ meaning of the ‘butcher’. Whether intended literally, through the character of a killer who lures their victims, or a metaphorical cutting away of insecurities through intimacy, that ambiguity aids the sneaking and asphyxiating feel. Traditional instrumentation lurks, stepping creepily in time with the asymmetrical descants. Ever-present synths lay the sensory foundation, seeming expressly chilling when the chorus refrain fades into their ominous atmosphere. A principal single, the track reinforces the dark curiosities at play.
Continuing the narrative of an unmasking, everything is kept bitterly melodious – a crestfallen ballad, we open with the words “I like you when you take off your face, put away all your teeth, and take us underneath”. There’s desperation present in the exposed images – to see someone how they truly are, beneath the facade. The humble arrangement carries a cosmic sense of honesty, never once seeming embellished or insincere. A moment of splendour in a discography imbued with solemn compositions.
Not a long way from the world of idol worship is that of cultism. That’s the notion one may take from the erratic playing, and parochial writing giving track no.6 a cynical though furious scorn. Starting off slowly, a riveting disturbance splices the quietness in half, beginning a progression to an impassioned refrain. That dissonance is the chief element rendering this band an acquired taste. For those who have learned to love those abnormalities however, there's a sorcerous allure. “Mindset of a killer. With your gaze, you paint the room, blood-red with your tears, pouring from the stage”
“Guns! Razors! Knives!”. One of the most frighteningly memorable moments, and another cut with multiple readings attached. Macabre fantasy, an expose of personal vulnerability or a scathing critique of America’s consuming love affair with violence, all are arguable. Vitally, the sheer brutality fused with the expectantly ferocious nature of Carpenters guitars and Cunningham's percussion makes for a fiercely striking experience, which has justifiably become a staple of live performances.
Sensual or violent metaphors have always served as a way for Deftones to make a point, inducing the primal desires within the human psyche to route a compelling and serious story. “Fragmented” is one description our frontman gives to his writing; “Pieces of information are in different places—under the water or in the city”. His exact intention cannot be clear, yet perhaps he’s drawing contradictions between the buzz of a metropolis and a surreal and out of body experience; using sexual acts as a catalyst. The unearthly soundscapes which encircle aid in creating a trance-like sense of escape.
Steadily and painfully, we circle back to where we began. All the attempts to throw blame, to escape to another plain, to shun reality are laid bare – their bandmate and friend Chi was still in a Coma. A tone of suffocating desperation belays the sudden rhythmic devices and candid confessions. “I’ll find a way. I’m confused though. I think I can try. I will save your life”. The words stutter out like the testimonial of a man trying desperately to find the right words – conveying a scattered yet emotive message.
Portraying an eroding relationship of two previously close people, there's been speculation that this could be an observation of Cheng’s disaster from another perspective – a friend, his partner, or indeed his son. That sensory element is still present, except rather than pervasive, the focus is on defining traits: a gaze in the eyes, a subtle smile, a wink - “I feel like I’m losing you to you”. In tune with their signature skill for surrounding atmospherics, a myriad of melancholic textures embroils, imparting that feeling of caressing sadness, which only arises from tragedy.
‘This Place is Death’
Always ones to end on a brilliantly sentimental note, there's a sweet chaos to the closer. A sizzling fire of guitar effects reminisces on engines as if those of a train pulling through neighbourhoods and cities as weary passengers look-out and contemplate the concrete which they once had a personal attachment to. Transcendentally, there’s a gloriously optimistic feel of withdrawing from one stage in your life, into the anonymity of another. Each reverberating note and carefully penned word reminds us that those experiences, positive or negative, need savouring. “We go out together, we weave our own web. Tangled in the waves with you, we spray the scene in red, we both erupt in colours, then carve out our names”
So, has Diamond Eyes held up after ten years? I’d say brilliantly so. Deftones are releasing another new album in 2020 – their ninth, and third since the death of their friend. Knowing how they react to circumstances in crafting their albums – be that the tiredness caused by touring, or a tumultuous political background, the work is improbable to be a retread of past glories and tribulations. Rather, another progression in a career of twisting and changeable circumstances.
Watch the newly released full album performance of ‘Diamond Eyes’ below: