Why, hello there! Welcome back to another episode of A Scene In Retrospect! I’ve said this a few times over the course of the past installments, but this time around, we finally get to talk about a very special album, one that drastically altered the trajectory of the metal scene (or even the music scene in general) of the 21st century. I am talking, of course, about White Pony by the allmighty Deftones. Please enjoy the musings of It Djents PR/social media manager Inter and staff writers Jake, Pete, and Vidur about this incredibly influential and monumental record!
I have so many feelings attached to White Pony. I was 17 when Deftones dropped this beauty on the world. “Change (In The House Of Flies)” and “Digital Bath” were inescapable, but their ubiquity never annoyed me. Alongside the feelings of nostalgia for the songs themselves, these songs remind me about life around the turn of the millenium. The most significant world-changing event of my lifetime, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was still yet to come. The playful optimism and carefree attitude of the 90’s was still hanging around, and this thing called nu-metal was taking over the airwaves. But Deftones bucked trends and refused to march to the beat of the mainstream sounds. On White Pony there are tracks that do give away the time period, most notably “Elite” with its groovy down-beats and punchy bass. But songs like “Teenager” refused to just pander to the masses.
Chino Moreno’s elastic voice has always been one of the major attractions to this band, and on White Pony, it toys with subtlety more than on their previous outings. One of my favorite tracks on this record is “Knife Prty” and its subdued melodicism during the verses. Then that chorus comes quaking in and all is lost to chaos. The post-rock bridge just lingers on with squealing vocals and guitars; how this never was a single is beyond me. Then there’s the Maynard James Keenan feature on “Passenger” with its spacey intro and progressive riffing. This record is a gift that keeps on giving. In the history of heavy music, few records encapsulate the essence of a band as well as this. It’s diverse, heavy, melodic, and reaches a lyrical depth that eclipsed much of the output of the time. White Pony is essential.
White Pony was one of the defining albums of university for me, one which was churned for months on end, its perfect blend of heavy, experimental metal and emotionally gripping melodies taking me to sonic planes I hadn’t experienced before. I was a late bloomer to Deftones, even though they were on one of my favourite compilation CDs as a kid, which featured “Change (In the House of Flies)”. I found the song dull compared to the nu metal that infatuated the disk and didn’t pick them back up until my late teens, loving Diamond Eyes before delving backwards.
The tunes are unbelievably well-crafted from start to finish, and the mix so raw, but so precise and perfect that it brings each song’s atmosphere to life. It tugs at your heartstrings, gets you banging you head, singing along and grooving at all the right moments, something hard to find in every song on a twelve-track album. The whole thing is iconic: the album art, the tones used by Stephen Carpenter, the thunder of Chi’s bass, and the brilliant backing music from Frank Delgado.
The shift between genres is so fluid; styles are mixed and blended effortlessly, each song coming off as much more mature and thoughtful than their previous material. Listening back to “Knife Prty” as I was longboarding home yesterday, I found even more appreciation than I had five years ago. The vocals are mixed with the shoegazey backing music and alternative rock so well, and the soundscape mesmerises, carrying a unique sonic signature which no bands I’ve heard come close to.
My favourite song is “Passenger”, featuring Maynard of Tool. I feel this is a favourite I don’t really need to explain, but I’m a journalist, so I’m going to spill my guts here anyway. This song just stuns me each time. I can only describe the atmosphere as midnight fog, this enveloping blanket which clouds the senses and lets you slip through the cracks of this magnificent hymn to darkness. The bass is absolutely magnificent, its low tone haunting in the build-up to the finale. Even the monsters on Diamond Eyes can’t come close to this song!
“Change (In The House Of Flies)” grew on me over the years, but is certainly not my favourite of the album. The following track “Pink Maggit” is glorious, however. From its trippy introduction to its rousing chorus, it’s not only experimental as fuck, but also a slamming anthem by the end. Let us also not forget “Digital Bath” and the equally trippy “Teenager”. This album sounds like the work of a collective, something which I feel Deftones have lost (especially if Carpenter’s interviews are to be believed), but I hope that one day Deftones can return to this magnificent standard. And if they don’t, we’ll always have this timeless classic to explore and love over and over again.
There are essays about the Deftones‘ masterpiece White Pony, and I can’t tell you anything about its influence and meaning for modern rock and metal which hasn’t already appeared in countless praisings, analyses and columns. Widely considered as a milestone, the only possible new and original insight I can give you is my personal one.
When I first discovered the album, I was 14-15 years old, and just recently started getting deeply into music. The shaping of my musical identity was weird. My friends were listening to a lot of the ‘trendy metal stuff’ for our generation: Slipknot, System Of A Down and up to In Flames, Killswitch Engage, As I Lay Dying and stuff like that. On the other hand, I had a relative who supplied my fledgling musical needs with old-school death and black metal. Around this time, I was also starting to get into hardcore, mostly based on my first and very defining experiences at hardcore shows. I was torn between various musical ‘worlds’, and somehow, the Deftones‘ White Pony stepped in as some sort of wildcard. I didn’t realize its artistic depth back in the days, and I didn’t have the experience to ‘get’ the albums cultural relevance. During the constant progress of my musical taste and identity, Deftones were always a staple for me, but it took some years and an intense process of discovering what music meant to me to fully perceive the greatness of the album, apart from its obvious place in music culture. No, I’m talking about greatness and the role it had in my life.
One of the starting points of my now nearly six years-long relationship with my girlfriend was listening to ‘Digital Bath’ with her. I know every gainy crisp in the guitar intro of ‘Change’; I counted it, delved into it, disappeared in it. “Passenger”, “Change” and “Pink Maggit” are probably the best three-songs-in-a-row combo ever created. White Pony is nostalgia, a gateway to cultural relevance, understanding why something with such a mainstream appeal can feel so intimate and special. It’s also part of my identiy as a human being, a shapeshifting experience which gave me what I needed, but never in a fulfilling way. It just left space for more. And more. And more. I’m still discovering it despite knowing all about it. It feels warm, familiar, new, fresh, outworldly, and instrinsic. And that’s amazing.
As surprising it may be to many, I never truly delved into Deftones and their commendable discography, the only exception being White Pony. This is one album that I hold in high regard. I first came across White Pony almost a decade back at the peak of my teenage years. The perfect mix of hardcore moments interlayered with more somber melodic parts that Deftones delivered was a perfect reflection of the ever so confused teenage mind.
While listening to the album opener “Back to School” may make one think that this is another 2000’s era nu-metal album, one could not be more wrong about White Pony. Instead, the fact that the album came out when nu-metal bands like Korn and Linkin Park were selling like hotcakes is a testimony to the daring experimental nature of Deftones. To write something like “RX Queen”, a track built around harsh noises that sees Chino Moreno go into a full on pop-laden Dave Gahan (of Depeche Mode) mood, is not only a sign of a clear sense of musical direction but also courage. With the band truly experimenting with their softer side on tracks like “Teenager”, they did not leave their heavier half out. “Digital Bath” features Moreno reaching the highest notes, perfectly complementing the over-distorted guitar riffs of Stephen Carpenter.
But the real memories of the album lie in its all-powerful second half. “Knife Prty”, a song driven by a drugged state of mind, literally bellows out despair via Rodleen Getsic’s chill-inducing screams. “Passenger” takes the cake, though, as the perfect collaboration of Maynard James Keenan and Moreno sounds truly epic. Moreover, Maynard brings in touches of Tool’s progressive sound that takes the alternative metal sound of White Pony in an all-new direction.
What truly makes this a standout record is how perfectly the musicians come together on the record. Abe Cunningham delivers the perfect beat every time, giving power when asked and receding into the background in the more etheral moments. The same holds true for late bassist Chi Cheng’s solid delivery on the low end of the spectrum. This allowed Frank Delgado on the synths and Stephen Carpenter (guitars) to truly take the sound by the reins and drive it into all the directions it goes on White Pony.
It’s not easy to take the road not taken, and only those who venture into new territories stand a chance to stand apart from the rest of the world. Deftones did that with White Pony. 18 years later, it’s hard to argue the fact that White Pony still stands as one of the best works in the alternative metal subgenre, aging like a fine bottle of wine.
Aaaand that’s all for today, folks; I hope you felt as nostalgic reading this article as we did working on it! What are your thoughts on this album? Are there any particular ones you’d like to see included in this feature? Leave it all in the comments!
See you all back here in fourteen days for more ASIR-age! Until then, stay safe out there, and as always…
…thanks for reading!