In the year 2000, nu metal was experiencing its heyday; this hybrid of rap and metal with a skate punk aesthetic had taken the world by storm, made a household name out of Fred Durst and led to Korn appearing on the wildly popular South Park. Sacramento natives Deftones also found themselves pigeonholed as poster boys of this loose alliance of loose-trousered, noisy nihilists. But nu metal was never a moniker that sat comfortably on their shoulders and White Pony was the album that saw Deftones set themselves apart from the rap pack, showcasing a more experimental sound which saw them outgrow and ultimately transcend the limited shelf-life of their chest-puffing, self-conscious contemporaries. White Pony sets out its stall with the razor-sharp precision pummeling of opener ‘Feiticeira’, propelled with lethal force by the guitar of Stephen Carpenter and his canny knack for producing riffs which manage to be crushingly heavy and expansive at the same time. In ‘Digital Bath’, frontman Chino Moreno’s vocals slide fluidly from an eerie whisper to a soaring intensity, then the band shift gears effortlessly into the short blast of Grammy-winner ‘Elite’, where Moreno bellows and squeals like a wild boar pursued by the kids from Lord of the Flies.
A dynamic pacing continues through the possessive longing of ‘Rx Queen’ into the tightly concussive, sarcastic missive of ‘Street Carp’. In ‘Teenager’, we find a bona-fide ballad, complete with vinyl crackle and a whispering falsetto from Moreno, who is able to walk the tightrope between heartfelt and schmaltzy without falling off. The spaced-out squall of ‘Knife Prty’ and the biting ‘Korea’ showcase the pulverising power of Deftones’ rhythm section, with the late Chi Cheng’s subsonic, rumbling bass a muscular counterpoint to Abe Cunninghams quite frankly incredible drumming. Unencumbered by unnecessary ostentation, Cunningham’s oh-so-punchy style goes to show that it’s how you hit them that counts, and he hits those skins so hard that he’s got Satan himself screaming the safety word on their behalf! Ninth track ‘Passenger’ features vocals from James Maynard Keenan of Tool and, despite its slight departure in tone from the rest of the album, features a killer breakdown which recalls the raw intensity of the band’s formative work. To find Deftones’ most commercially successful single so far into the album may be surprising to some, but penultimate track ‘Change (In the House of Flies)’, is perfectly placed to preface the finale, with a simple motif which scaffolds an extended paranoid insectoid metaphor from Moreno before emerging like a butterfly, releasing repeated harmonised sighs of longing as the song melts into a bruised euphoria. Final track ‘Pink Maggit’ remains the longest in the band’s repertoire and is a clarion call for confidence in the face of torment, slowly building tension with a lone guitar joined by Moreno’s breathy crooning before finally exploding with a titanically heavy riff which retains a contradictory beauty.
And it is exactly these contradictions which make White Pony, and Deftones’ work in general, so compelling, a band whose heavier moments assault you with an imperious machismo, but who are unafraid to roll over and present their soft underbellies. An experimental band with pop sensibilities who can make a righteous noise but still give each element vast amounts of room to breathe. A band who can make you want to wear your baseball cap backwards and stomp the bottom of your baggy cargo pants to shreds with the heels of your skate shoes one minute, and make you want to cry the next. In short, if it wasn’t blindingly obvious already, I am a big fan of this album. Denuded of the rap-metal cash grab of ‘Back in School (Mini Maggit)’ and superfluous bonus track ‘The Boy’s Republic’, it is presented here in the pure form that it was intended, which is refreshing given that most reissues seem intent on overegging the pudding with endless demos, live versions and alternative mixes. And in the contradictory spirit of this album, completely contradicting what I just said, I give you an entire album of remixes! In my defence, it does have a different name…
Black Stallion follows the track-listing of parent album White Pony to the letter, beginning with a couple of middling deep trap interpretations from Clams Casino and DJ Shadow (of all people!), before the bizarre doom-laden synth laser of Blanck Mass’ remix of ‘Elite’. Things don’t really get kicking until the fourth track, with Salva supplying a tense, claustrophobic drill ‘n’ bass version of ‘Rx Queen’, keeping the spirit of the original whilst adding buzzing analogue bass, horror-filled organ and choppy, glitched-out beats into the mix. A trilogy of dream-pop tinged reworkings follows, with Phantogram’s remix of ‘Street Carp’ and Purity Ring’s takeover of ‘Knife Prty’ following a similar formula of softly sparkling synths and added female vocals, sandwiching Robert Smith’s remix of ‘Teenager’, where the Cure frontman retains the starry-eyed feel of the original whilst adding soothing piano.
Trevor Jackson’s lacklustre ‘Korea’ doubles the length and renders it unrecognisable, trading tight intensity for crushed beats and turgid bass pads. Surprisingly, Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda provides one of the highlights, with the rousing bro-step of ‘Passenger’ returning a sense of gusto with the unabashed impact of its heavy drops. The ethereal fidget of Tourist’s crack at ‘Change (In the House of Flies)’ is another enjoyable diversion, with shuffling beats thrusting through a landscape of soothing pads and pitch-shifted vocals. Which leaves us with Squarepusher’s remix of ‘Pink Maggit’, extending the climax of White Pony to a full ten minutes Chino Moreno’s vocals are gated and timestretched into near oblivion. But any sense of building tension is lost as we are treated to various cut and paste patterns which are aesthetically pleasing without being emotionally engaging, before being warped back to the opening minutes of the original with very little ornament, making for a confusing denouement.
Metal songs and EDM remixes often make strange bedfellows but, all in all, Black Stallion is worth an inspection. There is something to please most sensibilities within its diverse contortions, and some tracks may even reach your post-club playlist, but if you are looking for someone to take these songs by the scruff of the neck and really drag them through the wringer, you may not be entirely satisfied.
Header image: Deftones – White Pony / Black Stallion. Credit: Consequence of Sound.