Deftones White Pony Review

Released 2000.  

BBC Review

Band's ambitious third LP still sounds remarkable a decade on.

Mike Diver 2010

The year 2000 saw some pretty special rock releases hit stores. Queens of the Stone Age’s Rated R and At the Drive-In’s Relationship of Command were one and two on Kerrang!’s year-end chart respectively. At three was this: the third album from Californian quintet Deftones.

Despite personal tribulations and bassist Chi Cheng’s serious car accident of 2008, Deftones have proved to be the longest-lasting act of the Kerrang!-approved 2000 trio. QOTSA are currently looking backwards, Rated R already re-issued and their eponymous debut due for similar treatment; ATD-I, meanwhile, imploded before many a fan had peeled the price sticker from their breakthrough album. Deftones, though, remain a critical and commercial force: this year’s Diamond Eyes, their sixth LP, has excellent reviews and debuted in the Billboard top ten.

And it’s White Pony that really began their genre-scrambling ascendency. Although previous albums Adrenaline (1995) and Around the Fur (1997) had sold well, neither really stretched the band in terms of ambition; they relied on raw thrills over the cerebral intensity that’s characterised Deftones albums since this set. White Pony introduced new textures into the mix, traces of The Cure and Nine Inch Nails evident on slower numbers and greater levels of gloom and dread apparent across its 11 tracks (12 on a limited-run edition, see listing to the left). It can be a suffocating experience, its density sometimes threatening to engulf the listener entirely. Pink Maggit, Change (In the House of Flies) and Passenger – the latter featuring Tool’s Maynard James Keenan in a spotlight-stealing guest role – are dense, sprawling epics, far removed from the primal punch of past hits.

Such was the label’s worry about just that – the lack of an obvious hit – that White Pony was soon re-released with a Pink Maggit re-work, Back to School (Mini Maggit), opening proceedings. The song didn’t fit the spirit of the band’s original document, though, and they conveyed publically how their vision had been compromised. (A Youtube comparison between Change and Back to School shows just how different they are in tone, musically and visually.) The track ticked the MTV-friendly box, but White Pony wasn’t without bite in the first place. The ferocious Elite, on which frontman Chino Moreno channels the ghosts of 1980s cartoon Transformers for his vocal effects, won a Grammy in 2001; and Korea is as rough-and-tumble as anything the band’s ever recorded.

Not everyone got White Pony at the time – Select magazine damned it with a one-star review, claiming it unlistenable. That such a progressive, risk-taking LP wasn’t celebrated across the board for its gutsy reinventing of a band thought pigeonholed wasn’t that surprising, though – this is a difficult album. But today’s widespread appreciation of it is testament to just how envelope-pushing White Pony was a decade ago.

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Earlier this month, Radio 1 Rock Show presenter Daniel P Carter marked White Pony’s tenth anniversary by speaking to drummer Abe Cunningham – listen to the interview here

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