THERE ARE MILES and miles of treacherous acreage between Rock and Roll Lamesville and Four Star Rock City. The Deftones have been subletting a cramped 1/1 in the outlying suburbs of the latter for years, but damn do they get off on slumming.
Yeah, their undisputed status as Best N Metal Band in the World is only slightly less dubious than Miller High Life being the "champagne of beers," yet the Sacramento quintet is capable of exhibiting grace, power, beauty, and intellect, minus the genre handicap. They're also capable of accepting a plum slot on the knucklehead cash cow Summer Sanitarium tour opening for now-sucky Metallica and forever-sucky Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, only to let outspoken vocalist Chino Moreno clumsily eviscerate the literacy-challenged headliners in Revolver ("Two bands that wouldn't exist if it weren't for me, straight up"). They're also capable of making the absolute best out of that unworkable 3 p.m. slot opening for notoriously impatient, beer-bellied Seek & Destroyers.
"You know what's rad?" Deftones DJ Frank Delgado posits via phone from Sacramento. "Playing for, say, 20,000 kids in the middle of the day and opening with a Depeche Mode song ["To Have and to Hold"]. That's probably the first and last time you're gonna hear a Depeche Mode song at a Metallica show. It was fun winning over their fans."
With every album, the Deftones quietly inch further out of their pioneering, if retrospectively wack, sphere of rap rock influence and closer to joining Tool in representing big-concept metal in the pantheon of artists they truly cherish: Beth Gibbons of Portishead, Bj� Mogwai, and Tricky. Fourth album Deftones (Maverick) is a conflicted, sloppy, inconsistent, but ultimately vital evolution into a world where suffocatingly black balladry coexists with battering-ram metal. What the record lacks in continuity and sequencing expertise, it compensates for with sparks of rambunctious intellectual creativity, much of which stems from Delgado's atypical samples and scratches.
"I think we're all trying to pull in the same direction," he asserts. "We're just pulling in different ways, and we don't even know what that direction is. Early on, even on [debut album, the now pass頭etal/hip-hop hybrid] Adrenaline, there were [those kind of] dynamics; it's just that we didn't know how to harness themthe highs, the lows, the angry, the soft, the harsh. I think we've gotten a lot better at taking one of those elements and just riding with it, as opposed to shoving them all into one song."
So goes the latest incarnation of Deftones, ignoring the faux tuff "Get the fuck up" antics of imitator Bizkit in favor of nightmare-world lullabies "Lucky You" and "Anniversary of an Uninteresting Event," both of which have more fragile emotional discord than mentor Korn's entire, notably codependent catalog. During the tortured "When Girls Telephone Boys," Moreno shrieks "If you'd like that we can ride on a black horse, a great new wave Hesperian death horse." Fatalistic equine imagery in a future circle-pit mainstay? What sort of imbalance is this?
"I think I like writing the crazy, heavy shit just as much as Stephen (Carpenter, guitarist) does, and I know Chino does too," Delgado claims. "Like 'When Girls Telephone Boys'that's a pretty heavy song, and I'm right along in there with Stephen playing samples throughout the whole thing. There's kind of a breakdown solo, but it's not like a guitar solo: It's actually me. It's hard to make Stephen's downtuned guitars work with samples and Chino's crooning, but that's the learning process, making things work."
Vague terminology to be sure, all this "learning process/making it work" rhetoric. But after numerous questionable movesa wack, largely acoustic, New Age-y MTV Hawaii set, Moreno's honest but bitter-sounding Revolver interview, the ensuing Sanitarium cheapness ("Me and Chino didn't want to do the tour coming out of the box with a new record," Delgado admits)Deftones are indeed "making it work," kind of. They believe their still-young audience will baby step with them through polysyllabic, dense metaphors and trip-hop-spiked metal. They believe the fans will accept a national tour that features openers as diverse as hesher veterans Clutch and as anonymous as Portishead torchbearers Denali.
According to Delgado, Deftones' opener picks are "pretty representative of the new record. We wanted to try and bring out bands we think our fans would like and have fun with. You can go out with whoever's hottest on the charts, but everyone sees right though that, you know what I mean? And we've done that. You have to do that in this business. It's give and take.
"If our fans were 14 or 15 when they caught on to [1997's] Around the Fur, they're 20 now, and they can appreciate the growth we've made. Some may be there for the pure aggressiveness, others for the sheer beauty. And if they're new to this, welcome."
Deftones play the Paramount Theatre with Clutch at 8 p.m. Fri., Oct. 24. $25. All ages.