Dark Star

New Deftones' album is as black and beautiful as the cosmos itself

Deftones
Saturday Night Wrist
Maverick Records

Holes in the earth. Anchors that hang around necks. Water that poses warnings. A rotting planet that witnesses lives going blank. It's all in Chino Moreno's brain, a massive swirl of angry suicide notes, screw-yous, and self-destructive mantras.

On Saturday Night Wrist, the Deftones' frontman finds ways to escape the dying planet using gravity and comets that guide him through space, black holes, and the earth's molten center. And as he waves his final goodbye to this cruel world, he makes sure to let all his friends know that he hates them as much as he hates himself.

Deftones, not yet in the mood for Christmas
Annamaria Disanto
Deftones, not yet in the mood for Christmas

Morose? Maybe—but it's far from the contrived ennui you might otherwise expect from a band that's always conjured images of suburban cutters, jean jackets on which drama is another proudly worn patch, and rusted-out cars that rock gas-station parking lots where June bugs cling to flashing Budweiser signs.

Admittedly, much of that has to do with homogenized music marketing and tours that are as packaged and planned as the band images themselves, from Korn to Limp Bizkit. And since Deftones' inception nearly 18 years ago, they've been easily and unfairly lumped into the nü metal category.

At a time when even darkness and death and self-hatred come prepackaged, Deftones have excelled at creating an honest and often beautiful album whose concept could be the grave Moreno is digging for himself. On the ethereal and bombastic opener, "Hole in the Earth," Moreno says it's too late for him now. "I hate all my friends (I'm out)," he laments in mournful wails from deep below and deep within.

Surprisingly, that song may owe more to early emo bands like Sunny Day Real Estate than to metal. What's even more surprising, however, is that "Rapture" sounds like it took inspiration from Fugazi and D.C. hardcore, and that the ghostly and creepy "Xerces," where Moreno finally finds safety in heaven, seems influenced by Radiohead's Pablo Honey.

Produced by Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Kiss, Lou Reed), the album is lush, cosmic, atmospheric, sludgy, and huge. It's loaded with its fair share of hardcore old-school thrash outs like the pissed-off "Rats! Rats! Rats!" But mostly, Saturday Night Wrist is an eerie foreshadowing, a warning to some unknown person in Moreno's life who wants promises he can't make ("Beware"). On the apocalyptic song "Mein," System of a Down's Serj Tankain fills in with the phantom warble, "the universe is breaking us down."

While exploratory and experimental, Saturday Night Wrist is far from schizophrenic. In fact, it's the Deftones' most consistent, ambitious, and cohesive album to date. At times, it's brutal in its honesty; at others, it's just plain brutal. When Moreno screams, "Everything's just fine" with enough power to make his eyes bleed, it's the only time you don't believe him. But at the end of the ballad "Cherry Waves," when the single sound you hear is Moreno's plea of "goodbye," you have to wonder what he was going through when he wrote this record, and if he's safely crawled out of it.

 
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