Do the Dew

Bill Clinton wanted to feel your pain (and, depending on who you were, maybe your breasts as well). Groups like the Deftones can also feel their audience's pain, and they've successfully managed to bottle it, press it on plastic and sell it back to them.

As on their previous two stabs at tantrum-fueled emo-metal, White Pony finds this Sacramento, Calif., five-piece crew painting the perfect picture of angst-filled male adolescence. If singer Chino Moreno sounds like he wears his heart on his sleeve, it's because he's probably ripped open his chest with a broken beer bottle and stuck it there, just to prove he's earnest about this "tortured artist" business.

When you can make out their lyrics (which, especially on riff-filled scream-fests like "Elite" [RealAudio excerpt] can be a daunting task), you realize that these guys are really the artier, more nuanced and textured cousins of Korn. If you want to put it in an SAT-formatted statement that their target demographic might understand, I guess you could say that the Deftones are to Korn what Jane's Addiction was to Metallica. Ostensibly smarter — but equally bottom heavy and emotionally scarred — the Deftones marry caged-animal howls to relatively complicated time-shifting melodies in a manner that makes the tones of their "new metal" comrades seem, well, daft.

Rather than hit any nails square on the head, Moreno prefers oblique interpretations of things such as the complexities of romantic relationships. For instance, during "RX Queen" (RealAudio excerpt), he sings, "We'll fly farther cause you're my girl/ And that's all right if you sting me/ I won't mind/ We'll stop to rest on the moon and we'll make a fire." Right. And the band's lyrics as a whole often read like a snowboard ridin', Mountain Dew-chuggin' stab at mysticism — the Gen-X equivalent of singing about hobbits, trolls and unicorns. "I could float here forever/ In this room we can't touch the floor/ In here we're all anemic," he sings during "Knife Prty," adding, "Come get your knife/ Come get your knife/ And kiss me."

That said, as far as song structure goes, the Deftones have more in common with prog-rock outfits of yesteryear than they do with most contemporary bands. Many of these new metal bands would never get experimental like the Deftones do on their seven-and-a-half minute final track, "Pink Maggit" (RealAudio excerpt). Beginning with about three minutes of subtle feedback, ambient noise and freaky shrieking, it lurches into a mid-tempo duh-duh-duh-duh-drone that slowly spirals upward in vocal and instrumental intensity before crashing and burning back into unstructured noise. Here, they are essentially an amped-up, shirtless and brooding version of Kraut-rockers Neu! or Faust, filtered through a few evolutionary years of indie-rock noise and sludgy metal. "Digital Bath" contains both the sparse, open-tuned chiming guitar tones and the dense, layered dissonance that characterized Sonic Youth when they were still trying to write traditional rock songs, and both "Change (In the House of Flies)" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Knife Prty" are reminiscent of the slow-paced quiet-loud-quiet dynamics of Fugazi and other American post-punk bands. This doesn't mean the Deftones don't get down and dirty on riff-a-ramic powerhouses like "Elite" and "Korea," with their jackhammer powerchords and bottom-heavy beats.

Unfortunately, it is the same lyrical and instrumental indirectness that blunts the impact of their music (and, perhaps, the potential size of their audience) in ways that Neanderthals such as, say, Limp Bizkit will never have to worry about. As Jane's Addiction said twelve years ago, "Idiots Rule." The Deftones, it seems, are too smart for their own good.