“It’s beauty meets aggression.” Read an interview with Abe Cunningham about Deftones’ massive ninth album.
“My bags are still packed,” Deftones drummer Abe Cunningham tells Apple Music. The California band was set to embark on a two-year touring cycle when the pandemic hit. “We were eight hours away from flying to New Zealand and Australia,” he says, when they received the news that the festival that was to signal the start of their tour had been canceled. The band had spent nearly two years before that chipping away at their ninth album, Ohms, while also planning to celebrate the 20th anniversary of 2000’s White Pony with a remix album, Black Stallion—which is to say, they had more than a few reasons to take their show on the road. “There was talk of delaying the album,” he says, “but we were like, ‘Shit, if we can help somebody out, if we can get somebody through their doldrums and their day-to-day shit, let’s stick to the plan.”
Ohms is a triumph that serves the stuck-at-home headphone listener every bit as much as it would, and eventually will, the festival-going headbanger. It reaches into every corner of Deftones’ influential sonic repertoire: chugging grooves, filthy rhythms, extreme vocals, soaring emotions, experimental soundscapes, and intentionally cryptic lyrics, open for each individual listener’s interpretation. “We try to make albums,” Cunningham says. “Sequencing is definitely something that we put a lot of thought and energy into.” Opening track “Genesis” begins with an eerie synth, a slow, wavering riff. And then, with a hint of reverb and Cunningham’s sticks counting it in, there’s an explosion. Guitars and bass pound out an enormous, droning chord as Chino Moreno screeches: “I reject both sides of what I’m being told/I’ve seen right through, now I watch how wild it gets/I finally achieve balance/Approaching a delayed rebirth.” “Ceremony” opens with staccatoed guitar and muffled vocals, followed by a feverish riff. “The Spell of Mathematics” is an epic album highlight that combines doomy basslines, breathy vocals, and screams, before a midsection breakdown of finger snaps that you can easily imagine resonating across a festival field or concert hall.
“It’s one of those things that just happened out of nowhere,” Cunningham says. “Our buddy Zach Hill [Death Grips, Hella, and more] happened to be in LA when we were tracking everything, so we all walked up to meet him and had one beer, which led to three and four. He came back to the studio with us. The snaps are our little attempt at a barbershop quartet. It just worked out organically, and we have one of the baddest drummers ever just snapping.”
The band took time off after touring their 2016 album, Gore, allowing them to take things slow. “In the past, it’s been, ‘All right, here’s your two months, you’re off tour, take a break. All right, you’ve got studio coming up, go, be productive!’ And we’re like, ‘Okay, but what if I don’t feel productive today?’ Tensions can come in. So we decided to take that year off.” Each band member lives in a different city, so they’d get together for a week or so once every month to jam and write songs, ultimately creating Ohms, in the order it was written. “Each time we would jam, we started making songs and we treated it as a set list,” Cunningham says. “We’d go home, stew on that for the month and see what we had, live with it, then come back and play those songs in order.”
Summing up their approach, Cunningham says, “It’s beauty meets aggression. We’re trying to make a lovely mix of things that flow. I think we have more to offer than that, but it’s definitely one of our trademarks. I think our frustration is just trying to fit all these things that we love into one album.”