Awash in alternatingly hard crashing and softly caressing waves of sonic beauty, the best album of the Deftones’s career, Koi No Yokan is more than just a great alt/art metal album from a great alt/art metal band; it is a work of high art. Koi No Yokan is, quite simply, the Sistine Chapel of metal.
For a band that almost ceased to exist when long-term bassist Chi Cheng suffered severe injuries and was left in a coma after a serious car accident, Koi No Yokan is a triumphant statement of resilience in the face of adversity. While Cheng has yet to rejoin the band and the Deftones wrote and released an album without him on bass already (2010’s Diamond Eyes), Koi No Yokan (loosely translated from Japanese as “The sense one can have upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall in love.”) differs from “love at first sight,” as it does not imply that the feeling of love exists, only the knowledge that a future love is inevitable. It is the album that is laced with the gravitas that such a tragedy, experienced by someone you are close to, can illicit. It’s a heavy and thready album of intricate sounds, rhythms, and lyrics. Deftones have always had a little more than a passing resemblance, musically and thematically, to TOOL, but finally achieve that level of grandeur and relevance here.
“Tempest,” the album’s strongest and most complete song, is their “Lateralus.” Opening with some beautifully haunting atmospherics, it quickly launches into a heavy driven riff while lead vocalist Chino Moreno sings about taking “out the stories that they put into your mind.” Then describing the desire for enlightenment (or rebirth): “Turning in circles/Been caught in a stasis/The ancient arrival/Cut to the end/I’d like to be taken/Apart from the inside/Then spit through the cycle right to the end…thrust..ahead.” The similarity to, but not necessarily emulation of, Maynard James Keenan’s similar spiritual lyrics is evident, but the music is all Deftones and is much heavier and layered than TOOL’s. Lead guitarist Stephen Carpenter’s alternatingly ascending and descending chords metaphorically tell the story of the journey that Moreno is singing about while Abe Cunnigham (drums) and Sergio Vega (continuing to fill in for Cheng on bass) provide the foundation that Carpenter surfs upon sonically. “Tempest” just might be the most powerfully uplifting, and just plain beautiful, song the band has ever written.
But this isn’t the only powerful and incredibly well orchestrated and arranged song on the album. “Swerve City,” with its stomping open and immediately recognizable vocals from Moreno is pure and unadulterated Deftones’ style alt-metal in the vein of many of their previous recordings. “Romantic Dreams” is a heavy dream of a slog through the dark romanticism that the band is often enamored with. It’s descending guitar chord chorus penetrates you to the bone with its deft heaviness. “Leathers,” the album’s lead single, is a massive bone cruncher of an opening salvo that both reminds listeners what the Deftones are all about musically while hinting at where they are going to take their listeners this time out. “Poltergeist” continues the full on metal assault, but begins to display the upward direction of the album’s sound. “Entombed” lightens the album’s sound while making great use of synth beats in between Carpenter’s warmly enveloping chords. “Graphic Nature” brings back the sludgy slog through some thick laid riffing. “Tempest” (see above) follows. “Gauze,” the album’s most mosh-worthy song, leads into the album’s second most powerful track, “Rosemary,” a six minute and fifty three second long saga of a song, encapsulating every mood, emotion, and movement of the album in one song. It’s uplifting, heavy, slogging, hard and soft at different points. It’s the type of song (like “Tempest”) that is completely enthralling and made to heard and experienced personally through your headphones or communally with a live crowd. “Goon Squad,” the only song on the album that falters and feels more like a rehash of the Deftones’ sound than something that progresses them forward, begins to bring the album to an end. “What Happened to You,” the light and somewhat airy (for the Deftones) album finisher is a rhythm focused track that lays the album to a soft rest.
Koi No Yokan is the type of album that is astonishing in its complexity and accessibility as well as its darkness and light, both sonically and thematically. It’s the type of crowning achievement of an album that Achtung Baby was for U2, Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was for The Smashing Pumpkins, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was for The Beatles. We may never hear anything better than this from the Deftones, or any other alt/art-metal band.