Anyone who stuck with Deftones once the whole nu-metal thing died down (only to come roaring back in recent years with the revival of acts like Limp Bizkit) knows well enough that the Sacramento band’s MO was never to simply recycle the characteristics common to the genre.
Early LPs ‘Adrenaline’ and ‘Around The Fur’ showcased stylistic elements entirely connected to drop-tuned riffs and rapped verses – but 2000’s ‘White Pony’ incorporated prominent electronics, while covers of material by Cocteau Twins, Depeche Mode and Sade highlighted the broad palette of influences informing the five-piece.
Frontman Chino Moreno has been particularly vocal regarding his wide-reaching tastes – when picking 13 favourite LPs for The Quietus (link), he selected sets by Brian Eno, Bohren & der Club of Gore, Fever Ray, Pantha Du Prince and Tortoise. No offense to ol’ Red Cap, but one can’t imagine Fred Durst opening up as a fan of German avant-jazz.
So it’s no surprise that Moreno has frequently dabbled in side projects, avenues to further explore his creative urges that Deftones just isn’t the right vehicle for. He’s fronted Team Sleep, a vaguely dream-pop ensemble featuring Zach Hill (Hella, Death Grips) on drums, and worked beside former members of post-metal titans Isis as Palms, releasing an eponymous debut LP in the summer of 2013. And now Crosses (stylised as †††), founded in 2011, releases its first album after a couple of well-received EPs.
Crosses finds Moreno’s vocals – crisp and clear, right at the front of the clean mix – backed by Far’s Shaun Lopez and the rather more mysterious Chuck Doom, who’s clearly the man charged with bringing these tracks their beats-and-buzzes background textures. Preview reports of the trio delivering witch-house sounds are somewhat wide of the mark, as while there’s ingredients enough here to have the listener expecting something savagely tearing at the envelope of experimentalism, ‘Crosses’ proves to be a most-accessible collection – perhaps the most ‘pop’ record Moreno has realised to date.
Guitars are consistently bright and chunky, contrasting neatly against the digital haze of a track like ‘thholyghst’ and the static crunch of ‘blk stallion’. Moreno rarely reaches the throat-shredding screams of his ‘day job’ – there’s nothing like the aggression of Deftones tracks ‘Elite’ or ‘CMND/CTRL’ here. And that’s the point, entirely: the singer’s spoken of Crosses as being “minimal and soothing”, comparing it to what he enjoys listening to personally when not performing with Deftones.
‘death bell’ bears this objective out – it’s a slow-shifting, percussively delicate number which has its guitars set to drone rather than destroy. ‘prurient’, too, is a light-of-touch track which doesn’t sting the senses in the slightest, its beats fizzing like antacids and Lopez’s guitar lines getting solo-savvy without tripping into over indulgence. Every so often, Moreno’s love for acts like M83 is clear as a bell.
But then the anger rises, and the pulse quickens. ‘this is a trick’ stamps its impression on the listener where tracks around it choose to leave traces, and ‘bitches brew’ (video below) encourages comparisons with Nine Inch Nails’ more commercially minded moments, or Depeche Mode’s ‘Violator’-to-‘Ultra’ period, where gnashing guitars mixed menacingly with macabre keys. Moreno’s vocals mostly remain short of a scream, but there’s no doubting his powerful, metal-rooted presence on these efforts.
Chino’s side-project ventures to date have proved adequate but hardly memorable next to the best Deftones material. ‘Crosses’ undoubtedly represents the strongest effort of its kind yet, an album which can hold a good clutch of candles up to its makers’ high water marks prior to its production. Is it in the league of ‘Diamond Eyes’ or ‘White Pony’? Probably not, but it’s in fine company rubbing shoulders with Far’s ‘Water & Solutions’ and the same band’s celebrated 2010 comeback, ‘At Night We Live’. It meets its pre-release hype head on, and comes away the winner.
Words: Mike Diver
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