Across nine studio albums and a handful of compilations, EPs and live offerings, Sacramento's Deftones have firmly established themselves as leaders, not followers, in the world of heavy music, constantly seeking, always pushing boundaries. From the fiery, churning alt-metal of 1995's Adrenaline to the seething, slithering atmospheric rock of 2020's Ohms, the band have never satisfied themselves with treading familiar ground. They've made some of the heaviest nu-metal of all time and some of the most beautiful and ethereal cuts of any band to ever graced the stage of Ozzfest.
Every Deftones fan has their own favorite album — with 2000's watershed White Pony often rising to the fore — but we believe the following least-good-to-greatest ordering is where their catalog currently stands. If there's one thing you take away, let it be this: Deftones aren't a band who've ever had to rest on their laurels.
Deftones were in a dark place during the making of 2006's Saturday Night Wrist — in particular, singer Chino Moreno was struggling with drugs, alcohol and the collapse of his marriage and, while splitting time with side project Team Sleep, began questioning his desire to return to his main band. The turmoil is reflected in the album, which feels more formless, dreary and unfocused than other Deftones efforts, despite standouts like fan favorite "Beware." Sadly, darker times lay just around the corner, when, in 2008, bassist Chi Cheng was left in a coma after a serious car accident, dying five years later.
One of the major ingredients to Deftones' high-contrast sound is the tension between Moreno's more shoegaze and New Wave-inspired inclinations and guitarist Stephen Carpenter's urge to just fucking crush like Meshuggah. By all accounts, Carpenter was particularly uninvolved in the writing of 2016's Gore, and his formidable presence is missed. Songs like the shimmering "Hearts / Wires" and the Jerry Cantrell-assisted "Phantom Bride" remain jewels in the Deftones crown, but overall, there's a key piece too clearly missing.
Following up a universally hailed masterpiece like White Pony would be a challenge for anyone, but Deftones gave it their all with 2003's self-titled offering. It's the band's most diverse and eclectic album to that point, veering from the irresistible hook of shoegazing lead single "Minerva" to the post-hardcore ferocity of "When Girls Telephone Boys" to the smoky trip-hop of "Lucky You." The jarring transitions sometimes verge on discordance, but it's a captivating ride nonetheless.
Adrenaline is Deftones' most nu-metal album, but even on their raw 1995 debut, these Sacramento sons were already proving they had much more to offer than just JNCO-sized riffs and rap-inflected vocals. Songs like opener "Bored" and closer "Fireal" (on the LP's original release, "First" was a hidden track) hint at more expansive and experimental things to come, while "7 Words" and "Engine No. 9" have a youthful, speaker-shredding, metalhead-thrilling ferocity that Deftones would never quite match. All in all, it's an album that satisfyingly delivers on its title.
In 2020, with the pandemic in full swing and the world shut down, many bands were sitting on their new songs and standing on the sidelines. Deftones, meanwhile, with little pre-hype, offered up the surprise gift of Ohms. Following up the somewhat disappointing Gore with a healthy dose of down-tuned Carpenter riffery, Ohms was at once comfort food — a beloved band returned to form — and a dark, desperate reflection of the times, ominous but still hopeful, with a new surreal, sci-fi-inflected edge. In both ways, it was the album fans needed, and still need.
If Deftones' debut, Adrenaline, impressively lives up to its title, the band's seventh album, Koi No Yokan, does so, too — but the title, this time, is much more nuanced (an "untranslatable" Japanese phrase roughly meaning "a premonition of love"), as is the music. Coming off the brilliance of Diamond Eyes, and with Quicksand bassist Sergio Vega, who stepped in for Cheng after his accident, contributing more as a songwriter, Deftones operated as a tight unit, crafting some of the most mature, well-rounded compositions of their career, all of which congeal to make a gorgeous, ghostly whole.
What can you say about White Pony at this point? It's iconic. A true landmark of alternative metal. An easy default No. 1 when ranking the Deftones catalog. And in any other band's discography, it would be the apex. Whether or not you include the controversial rap-metal add-on "Back to School (Mini Maggit)," the album's scope and impact cannot be denied. The radio-ruling single "Change (In the House of Flies)." The epic duet with Maynard James Keenan, "Passenger." The band-redefining trip-hop of "Digital Bath." The only thing more remarkable about White Pony than the album itself is that the band actually topped it before and after.
It's Chino Moreno's own favorite Deftones album, and we almost agree. 1997's Around the Fur was the turning point when Deftones truly became Deftones, expanding on the primal nu-metal of Adrenaline with jaw-dropping nods to shoegaze, New Wave, post-punk and more. As such, it captures the group in beautiful mid-evolution, still heavy as shit but also enigmatic and ineffable. After all, what other band could span from the Max Cavalera-assisted sonic exorcism "Headup" — which would give the band Soulfly its name and be quoted onstage by Muse — to the textured, yearning "Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)," a song worthy of the Cure?
Sometime you need a wakeup call. Deftones got that in Chi Cheng's car crash and coma. The group had been on the ropes, near breakup. Cheng's accident crystallized for his bandmates the need to make a new beginning — they scrapped an album, Eros, recorded before the tragedy — and seize the day. Joined by bassist Vega, they did just that with 2010's triumphant Diamond Eyes, an album Revolver named the finest of the decade that followed. For Deftones fans, it contains the best of all worlds: the youthful adrenaline of their earlier material ("Royal," "Rocket Skates"), the sultry atmospherics of White Pony ("Beauty School," "Sextape") and a new doomy, bluesy heft (the title track, "You've Seen the Butcher"). Younger 'Tones die-hards like Loathe singer Kadeem France agree: Diamond Eyes is the one.