The phrase “nu-metal” tends to carry some negative connotations. Fair or not, the genre that dominated rock radio in the late ’90s and early 2000s isn’t remembered fondly by most. It tends to be seen as an era defined by cartoonish vocals, cringe-worthy rap-rock, and lyrics that aspired to be angsty, but were nothing more than mindless, directionless anger. Of course, that might not be entirely fair, and some people may get more mileage out of Korn and Limp Bizkit than others. Still, the genre has a decidedly bad reputation, which is why it would be a shame if a band that had little to do with the genre was placed into it unfairly. This leads us to the question of the day: Where did anyone ever get the idea that Deftones were a nu-metal band?
To be fair, on the band’s Wikipedia page, it states that Deftones were only classified as nu-metal during their early years, and not on later albums, where the sound became more experimental. Still, even when looking at the band’s first few albums, it’s hard to say how much the label really applies. Consider “Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away),” from the 1997 album Around The Fur. Chino Moreno’s vocals are subtle and reserved, much different than the howls of, say, Korn’s Jonathan Davis. Also, the guitars are layered and atmospheric, showcasing that even in the band’s ’90s beginnings, they were influenced by the sound of shoegaze.
It’s generally held that the last Deftones album to have any traces of nu-metal was 2000’s White Pony, which was also where the band is often seen as becoming experimental. In this case, the association is even harder to understand. The big hit from this album, and probably the most famous Deftones song, is “Change (In The House Of Flies),” which was all over radio in 2000. It’s interesting to consider the dynamics of this song. Moreno’s vocals once again begin subtly, then become louder in the chorus, but even there, the swirling guitars are the main focus. Elsewhere, the band is joined by Tool’s Maynard James Keenan, who adds his decidedly un-subtle vocal style to “Passenger.” At this stage in the band’s career, the band certainly seemed closer to Tool’s progressive metal sound than any act even remotely affiliated with nu-metal.