In 2008, Sacramento's Deftones were sitting on Eros, a dark, powerful record overseen by hard-rock producer extraordinaire Terry Date and the follow-up to their 2006 album Saturday Night Wrist, when bass player Chi Cheng suffered a near-fatal car accident that left him in a persisting state of semi-consciousness.
After a respite, and a chance to see that their fallen friend had at least begun (slowly) to recover, the band did the only thing that made sense to them at the time: They put Eros on the shelf and made Diamond Eyes, an entirely new record. With a new producer, no less—Foo Fighters Grammy-winner and former Knoxvillian Nick Raskulinecz.
"There was no agenda whatsoever to make another record," says keyboardist Frank Delgado, noting the band decided that Eros no longer reflected their feelings at the time. "It just came together organically and pretty fast. And we decided to roll with it, just see where it would take us until we had a whole record."
Delgado says that Cheng is seeing specialists and making slow "but positive" progress. He suffers an unusual condition known as a Minimally Conscious State, wherein the afflicted have a certain baseline of cognitive response, unlike those thrust into a coma. Delgado notes that the band is most concerned about helping with Cheng's considerable medical bills, and have started a website, One Love for Chi toward that end.
Working anew with Raskulinecz proved to be the right move, Delgado says. "We wanted something new, production-wise too, and all the stuff he had done recently was sonically great," he continues. "We were late-night guys, who'd go into the studio late and work all night, and Nick kind of changed it all up for us. He helped us focus.
"The record evolved, and he was very much part of the process. It's not like we gave him a finished product to work with; he was there from the writing. It was the best thing we could have done. He's a great guy and a great producer."
Maybe it should come as no surprise that Diamond Eyes has been critically lauded. The Deftones have always stood apart from other metal groups, particularly acts that came up alongside them through the 1990s.
The band has never been afraid to use big riffs and layers of fuzztone in the service of emotions not typically communicated through the medium of heavy rock—depression, reverie, ambivalence, joy. Whereas most metal acts have two modes—on and off, like a switch—the Deftones present a whole volume knob's worth of moods and dynamic ranges.
"We have the typical aggro machismo thing, the heavier riffage," says Delgado. "But we also achieve the opposite side of that. We're always trying to juxtapose different things to make it fun. And I feel like we've gotten really good at it. We've always thought that even though we're in a metal or hard-rock band or whatever you want to call it, we still want to be teachable, and not be stuck."
He says the band has perhaps been influenced by a broader range of music than many of their peers. Many rock critics, for instance, are likely to point out vocalist Chino Moreno's Cure fixation.
"We've had such wide influences, from the early thrash metal and the San Francisco scene and Faith No More and Mr. Bungle and shit like that, to our youth in the '80s when hip-hop was fresh and new," Delgado says. "If you sat in our dressing room before a show, you'd hear everything from the most abstract music to pop, from Perry Como to some indie-rock shit. It's all over the map. I think that's important, because kids today like to take it all in, not just one thing."
The Deftones have sometimes been lumped in with so-called nu-metal acts that arose from the mid'-90s on, Limp Bizkit and Korn and any number of other outfits that seemed to have little in common with the Deftones other than perhaps some nominal hip-hop influence. Delgado believes the band has far outlived that comparison, having forged a career and a body of work that little resembles that of any alleged peers of the same era.
"I thought we really separated ourselves from that nu-metal thing with White Pony [the band's third record in 2001]," he says. "I think we're way beyond any of that; a lot of those types of bands, for the most part not too many of them are around. We're still growing and making records.
"I think that's one of the things we're most proud of, to be our age and still making records. A lot of other bands now, even if they get a hit or some radio support, they can't fill a club. I feel really good about what we've done."