Is Deftones Rock or Metal? All You Want to Know

by Patria

Deftones is a band that has defied easy categorization since their inception in the late 1980s. Their unique sound, which melds elements of rock, metal, alternative, and even shoegaze, has made them one of the most distinctive and influential bands of their generation. The question of whether Deftones should be classified as a rock or metal band is one that has been debated by fans and critics alike for years. In this article, we will delve into the musical evolution of Deftones, analyze their discography, and explore the various elements that contribute to their sound in order to address this question comprehensively.

The Origins of Deftones

Deftones was formed in 1988 in Sacramento, California, by vocalist Chino Moreno, guitarist Stephen Carpenter, bassist Abe Cunningham, and drummer Dominic Garcia, who was later replaced by Chi Cheng. The band’s early years were spent honing their sound and playing in the local underground scene. Their music during this period was heavily influenced by the aggressive energy of hardcore punk and the heavy riffs of metal bands like Metallica and Slayer. However, even in their earliest recordings, there was a sense of experimentation and a willingness to incorporate diverse influences.

Early Albums and the Nu-Metal Label

Deftones’ debut album, Adrenaline (1995), was released during the rise of the nu-metal movement, which included bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Slipknot. Adrenaline features raw, aggressive riffs and a powerful vocal delivery from Moreno, characteristics that align with the nu-metal genre. Songs like “7 Words” and “Bored” are marked by their heavy guitar work and intense, angst-filled lyrics.

The band’s second album, Around the Fur (1997), further cemented their association with the nu-metal scene. Tracks such as “My Own Summer (Shove It)” and “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)” are known for their heavy, downtuned guitars and the dynamic interplay between aggression and melody. Despite these characteristics, Deftones always stood out from their nu-metal peers due to their ability to incorporate atmospheric and experimental elements into their music.

The Shift Towards a Unique Sound

With their third album, White Pony (2000), Deftones began to distance themselves from the nu-metal label. White Pony is often considered a watershed moment in the band’s career, showcasing a more mature and experimental sound. The album blends heavy, distorted guitars with ethereal, ambient textures, creating a sound that is both aggressive and haunting. Tracks like “Change (In the House of Flies)” and “Digital Bath” highlight this duality, with Moreno’s versatile vocals ranging from whispering croons to intense screams.

White Pony also introduced elements of shoegaze, trip-hop, and new wave into the band’s music, demonstrating their willingness to explore beyond the confines of metal. This album was a critical and commercial success, earning the band their first Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance for the song “Elite.”

Exploring Deftones’ Diverse Discography

Following White Pony, Deftones continued to evolve their sound with each subsequent album. Their self-titled release in 2003 features some of their heaviest material to date, with songs like “Hexagram” and “When Girls Telephone Boys” delivering crushing riffs and ferocious vocals. At the same time, the album includes more melodic and atmospheric tracks such as “Minerva” and “Anniversary of an Uninteresting Event,” showcasing the band’s ability to balance heaviness with beauty.

Saturday Night Wrist (2006) further expanded Deftones’ sonic palette, incorporating electronic elements and experimental song structures. The album’s opening track, “Hole in the Earth,” combines a driving, anthemic chorus with intricate guitar work and ambient soundscapes. Songs like “Cherry Waves” and “Rivière” highlight the band’s continued exploration of atmospheric and melodic elements.

In 2010, Deftones released Diamond Eyes, an album that marked a return to a more straightforward, yet still innovative, approach. The title track and songs like “You’ve Seen the Butcher” and “Rocket Skates” feature heavy, chugging riffs and Moreno’s intense vocal delivery, while tracks such as “Sextape” and “Beauty School” emphasize the band’s melodic sensibilities.

Koi No Yokan (2012) and Gore (2016) continued to showcase Deftones’ ability to blend heaviness with atmosphere. Koi No Yokan features songs like “Leathers” and “Tempest” that juxtapose aggressive guitar work with lush, ambient passages. Gore sees the band further embracing their experimental side, with tracks like “Prayers/Triangles” and “Phantom Bride” incorporating elements of post-rock and shoegaze.

Analyzing the Elements of Deftones’ Sound

To understand whether Deftones should be classified as rock or metal, it is essential to analyze the various elements that contribute to their sound. Deftones’ music often features the following characteristics:

1. Heavy Guitar Riffs

A hallmark of Deftones’ sound is the use of heavy, downtuned guitar riffs. Stephen Carpenter’s guitar work is characterized by its use of dissonant chords, palm-muted chugs, and complex, layered textures. These riffs are a staple of metal music, contributing to the band’s association with the genre.

2. Dynamic Vocals

Chino Moreno’s vocal style is incredibly versatile, ranging from aggressive screams and growls to melodic croons and whispers. This dynamic range allows the band to convey a wide array of emotions and moods, from anger and intensity to melancholy and introspection. The use of harsh vocals is a common feature in metal, while the melodic aspects are often associated with rock.

3. Atmospheric and Ambient Elements

Deftones frequently incorporate atmospheric and ambient elements into their music, creating a sense of space and depth. This is achieved through the use of reverb-drenched guitars, synthesizers, and layered vocal harmonies. These elements are more commonly associated with alternative rock and shoegaze than with traditional metal.

4. Experimental Song Structures

Deftones are known for their willingness to experiment with song structures, often eschewing conventional verse-chorus-verse formats in favor of more fluid and unpredictable arrangements. This experimental approach is a hallmark of progressive rock and post-metal genres.

5. Lyrical Themes

The lyrical themes in Deftones’ music often explore introspective and abstract concepts, with a focus on personal and emotional experiences. This contrasts with the more overtly aggressive and confrontational themes found in much of metal music.

The Influence of Deftones

Deftones’ unique sound has had a significant impact on the music world, influencing a wide range of artists across various genres. Their ability to seamlessly blend elements of rock, metal, and alternative music has inspired countless bands to push the boundaries of genre conventions.

1. Influence on Metal

Within the metal community, Deftones are often cited as pioneers of the alternative metal and nu-metal subgenres. Their incorporation of atmospheric and melodic elements into a heavy framework has influenced bands like Chevelle, Taproot, and 10 Years. Deftones’ willingness to experiment and evolve has also resonated with progressive metal bands such as Tool and Mastodon.

2. Influence on Rock and Alternative

In the realm of rock and alternative music, Deftones’ impact is equally profound. Their use of shoegaze and ambient elements has influenced bands like Circa Survive, Thrice, and Deafheaven. Deftones’ ability to blend aggression with beauty has also resonated with post-hardcore and emo bands, contributing to the evolution of these genres.

The Debate: Rock or Metal?

Given the diverse elements that make up Deftones’ sound, the question of whether they are a rock or metal band is not easily answered. Instead, it may be more accurate to describe Deftones as a band that exists at the intersection of multiple genres, drawing on the strengths of each to create something uniquely their own.

1. Arguments for Rock

Those who classify Deftones as a rock band often point to the following elements:

Melodic Sensibilities: Deftones’ music frequently incorporates melodic hooks and choruses, which are hallmarks of rock music.

Atmospheric Elements: The band’s use of ambient and shoegaze influences aligns more closely with alternative rock than with traditional metal.

Lyrical Themes: The introspective and abstract nature of Deftones’ lyrics is often more akin to the themes explored in rock and alternative music.

2. Arguments for Metal

On the other hand, those who consider Deftones a metal band emphasize:

Heavy Riffs: The band’s use of downtuned, distorted guitar riffs is a defining characteristic of metal music.

Aggressive Vocals: Chino Moreno’s use of harsh, aggressive vocals is a common feature in metal.

Nu-Metal Roots: Deftones’ early association with the nu-metal movement and their influence on the alternative metal genre support their classification as a metal band.

See Also: What Frequency Is Heavy Metal Music?


In conclusion, Deftones is a band that transcends simple genre classifications. Their music incorporates elements of rock, metal, alternative, and beyond, creating a sound that is both diverse and cohesive. Rather than fitting neatly into the categories of rock or metal, Deftones occupies a unique space that allows them to continually evolve and experiment with their sound. This genre-defying approach has not only set them apart from their peers but has also cemented their status as one of the most innovative and influential bands of their generation. Whether you consider them rock, metal, or something else entirely, there is no denying the profound impact Deftones have had on the music world.

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