Adrenaline by Deftones
Want to know about the dumbest thing I've ever done and how it permanently implanted Adrenaline by Deftones into my life? Read on!
Note: This project began about a year ago as a podcast. I then decided to launch it as an essay project with hopes of doing the podcast component later. I’m leaving some things in this particular essay even though I’ve cracked jokes about how I’m trying to leave the pandemic behind, and yet I keep mentioning it. This one is pretty special to me because for whatever reason, this was the first essay I wrote when I began the project. So, I want you to see it mostly intact without too much updating for continuity. As we head into the end of the year, I’ll be recapping my favorite albums from 2021 and then we’ll see. This essay also marks the official end of my pre-written essays. It’s kind of the end of Season 1 as it were. I appreciate you reading and hope you’ll stick around!
In September of 2020 after more than six months mired in a worldwide pandemic that impacted every part of everyone's lives worldwide, the Sacramento band Deftones released an album called Ohms.
That's O-H-M-S which is a unit of measurement for electrical resistance named after German physicist Georg Ohm. Thanks, Wikipedia! Back to the Deftones.
Yes, I know the band is called Deftones. Not The Deftones. Just Deftones, but I sometimes say The Deftones like I am your great grandfather recalling bands that released their singles on 45 records back in the 50s. I digress.
The band started teasing it in August 2020 and released the song Ohms, you know the same name as the album. That song sounded about as Deftones-y as Deftones have ever sounded, with a rhythmic drive and a melodic anti-chorus after a frenetic opening.
Shortly thereafter, Deftones released the album's opening track Genesis. It signaled that not only were Deftones back, but they defied all logic that a heavy band could still maintain their sound for more than 25 years since arriving on the scene in 1995 with their debut, Adrenaline.
The thing that we've all come to learn about worldwide pandemics is that there aren't really that many unique experiences because it's something we all went through. Unlike a hurricane or wildfire that hits just one region, the COVID-19 pandemic touched absolutely everyone.
I don't know about you, but the year heightened the importance of every piece of art that I took in. For me, Deftones releasing an album hit harder on the musical Richter scale than it otherwise would have. But I don't think it's blinded me from objectivity. With Ohms, Deftones managed to produce a classic and I felt extra lucky to have it when I needed it most.
But this essay isn't about Ohms, at least not yet. Ohms is what caused me to think more deeply about the band and my 25-plus year relationship with them. And of course, that's where I want to begin... you know... at the beginning. For our purposes, that's their major-label debut album Adrenaline.
1995 - 7 Words
In 1995 grunge was entering its awkward end. Kurt Cobain had died a year prior. Smashing Pumpkins was into the self-indulgence of releasing a double album -- which I love by the way -- but it felt difficult to defend at the time. Mad Season comprised of Layne Staley, and Mike McCready of Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam, respectively, released a beautiful, somber anti-grunge album. Foo Fighters released their debut and Dave Grohl was acting comedically in a music video for "Big Me" mocking ubiquitous Mentos commercials.
I turned 16 that February and I was yearning for the next thing. I was branching out into heavier music. I don't remember if it was 120 Minutes on MTV or Headbanger's Ball, but I saw the video for 7 Words by a band called Deftones. What I heard -- between the blanked-out profanity -- was a most powerful, percussive scream. The word "suck" was blasted out of singer Chino Moreno's throat more than 65 times. Not only did I love it, I needed to own this CD so that I could hear an unedited version of this song and whatever else this band had to offer.
I don't know this for a fact, but I bet I drove to the Best Buy in Mayfield Ohio to buy this album. As a suburban Clevelander with a car and a CD player, most of my experiences buying music default to this catch-all memory, sitting in the Best Buy parking lot using my keys to swipe a slit in the plastic trapping whatever new CD I just purchased so I could pop it into the CD player of my 1988 Plymouth Sundance.
Truth be told, I bought music all over the suburbs, but as you age into your 40s, you only have so many ways to remember how things happened. You take a few really common experiences and then those become the prevailing memory whether or not it's accurate or not. My trip to Best Buy is your trip to Tower Records, even if you happened to buy your copy at some long-gone chain like Coconuts or Camelot like we had here.
I popped the album in, but I was far too cool to go straight to the single, which was 7 Words -- track number 7 obviously. What I heard was Bored. Guitarist Stephen Carpenter and bass player Chi Cheng hit you with a lonely riff before Chino comes in with a mellow vocal barely above a whisper. The band hits you hard with a three-chord theme.
Can Angry, Screaming Bands Scream Forever?
Something I've long wondered back to my teenage years when I started listening to heavy music with screaming, growling vocals... Would I always like this kind of music or would I grow out of it at some point? Now that I'm 42 I can say that I'm still into it, even if I sometimes bob my head to this type of music in the family minivan. Beyond my own tastes, I long wondered if the angry bands of my youth would survive long-term and continue to find things to scream about after being around 20-plus years.
I wouldn't normally bring up Pantera in a conversation about Deftones, but it's relevant. August 15, 1996, I really wanted to see Deftones. I hadn't had the opportunity to see this band live and I wanted to know if they were any good at performing what I loved on their album. For me, that meant going to my local outdoor amphitheater venue for a couple of lawn tickets to see Deftones open up for Pantera. This concert left a huge impact on me.
I'm not a big guy. I am about 5'10" and less than 200 pounds. I went into my fair share of mosh pits in the 1990s, but I wasn't owning them if you know what I mean. I had listened to Pantera and I owned a couple of their albums. It's worth noting that Pantera's Vulgar Display of Power album cover is a picture of a face being punched by a fist. It's also worth noting that Pantera's Far Beyond Driven features a song called "5 Minutes Alone" which was written after the band called out an audience member for flipping them off during a show. Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul recounted the story saying, "Ten guys just jumped the guy and beat the shit out of him." The band eventually was sued over the whole thing and the father of the alleged victim asked for "five minutes alone" with Pantera's lead singer Phil Anselmo. Anselmo eventually wrote the lyrics for the song, and the rest is history.
So, I went to see Pantera, but really I was there to see Deftones. They played a pretty short set of probably about 30 minutes or so. I loved hearing Chino sing Bored live. That's about all I can remember though. Being on the lawn of a venue that size without any video screens or anything, I wasn't able to really see the band for any practical purposes. Other than my infatuation with the sound, as far as rock shows go, it was a pretty underwhelming experience.
That is until Pantera started playing.
We hadn't planned on staying very long to see Pantera, but we figured we'd check some of it out. According to Setlist FM, Pantera opened up with Suicide Note Pt. II from The Great Southern Trendkill. I honestly don't remember. What I do remember is that the crowd erupted into pure violence. Headbanging and moshing, sure, but this wasn't like most mosh pits I'd ever been in before. This was like every varsity football player in Northeast Ohio running around headhunting looking for someone to fuck up. They were trying to knock people down and eventually some of them started sucker-punching people for the pure enjoyment of it. That's when we decided to leave.
It was a confusing time in heavy music. Both Pantera and Deftones were heavy bands, but there were huge differences then that are even more apparent now. Pantera was a band that celebrated violence in a way that it pretty much had to create victims. They would then talk about it and it was a big violent cycle that fed itself over and over again.
I was never a big lyrics guy, but Deftones always felt more like art-rock than some of the brutal metal it got grouped up with. It looked inward and if there was a victim, it felt badly probably because it was auto-biographical. This is music that felt emotional and capable of regret as opposed to defiant and brutal.
Don't try this at home, or how I survived the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.
I don't know if I want my kids to hear this story or not. That's probably the best way to start a story about your youth, right? Maybe when I write my first novel that will be the opening line. "I don't know if I want my kids to hear this or not.”
I guess the truth is always more powerful and whatever you do with it is the most important thing. I'm sorry. I'm beating around the bush. One of my most enduring memories of Adrenaline occurred with one of the dumbest experimentations of intoxication in my life.
Being 16 or 17 in suburban Cleveland Ohio, there wasn't always a lot to do. We could drive and we knew we wanted to get together and do something, but what? We'd name a time by exchanging calls on our home landlines. Remember this was pre-cell phone. We'd meet in a parking lot to figure out what we could do. There we'd stand around chatting near our cars, smoking cigarettes and clumsily suggesting the same three or four things that we almost assuredly didn't want to do again. "Coffee shop? Nah. Denny's? No. I had Moons over My Hammy yesterday. Bowling? Bowling sucks. Movies? Twister again? No."
Some nights we'd just stand there in the parking lot until curfew. Hanging out in the parking lot in Chesterland Ohio is sometimes all we did on a given night. One time, and only one time, we drove to the Super K-Mart in Mentor. I don't remember what the impetus was to drive there but someone knew they were open 24 hours, which was a novelty in those days. I don't remember if it was under the guise of someone needing to see if they had something, but we ended up wandering the aisles of the unnecessary Pokemon upgrade of a regular K-Mart. The Super K, which turned out to just be a K-Mart with a supermarket mixed in. Turns out Ohio was the home to the very first Super Kmart in Medina Ohio. No wonder we had to make the 35-minute drive to check it out!
So back to the aisles, someone had the idea that someone should try Robotripping. That's when you drink an entire bottle of cough medicine, usually the brand name Robitussin. I don't know why I decided to be the one to try it, but I did. It probably had something to do with me not being one of the people driving to Mentor, because we had to be responsible when doing something so irresponsible and stupid as to try and trip by overdosing on cough medicine.
I drank the entire bottle of Robitussin before we even got to the car. I just chugged the whole thing, dropped the bottle in the garbage can, and jumped in the back seat of my friend's car. I have no recollection of the next couple of hours.
Healthline.com describes the phases of Robotripping in plateaus.
In the first plateau, you get effects similar to ecstasy or molly.
In the second plateau, you end up feeling really drunk. Like really really drunk.
Third plateau? Effects similar to ketamine including strong dissociation, intense hallucinations, and loss of motor coordination.
Fourth plateau? Delirium and hallucinations that often lead to aggressive or violent behavior. I know I didn't get to this level.
All I could think about was going to bed and listening to music, so I bet I got to the second plateau with a half step into the third. Can I say once again for the record that this is one of the dumbest things I've ever done?
After I was dropped off at home and somehow made it to my bedroom, all I wanted to do was sleep and listen to music. Adrenaline was in my CD player. I have no idea how many times the album played through that night, but it kept repeating. It seems an odd album to sleep to with how heavy it is, but it sounded great as I moved in and out of sleep.
Once I really fell asleep, it was only temporary. I kept waking up at the same time when the hidden track "Fist" kicked in. It makes perfect sense now because that song is almost all instrumental. It's as quiet as can be for the first minute or so until it smashes you about a minute and 20 seconds. Then it quiets down again only to smash you again. It's probably the biggest dynamic contrast on the album. It's like a pitcher who can throw 102 miles per hour on the fastball and then drop a curve or changeup in the 70s.
Or maybe it only feels like it smashes you when you're completely messed up on cough medicine trying to sleep it off in your parents' house as a bored suburban teenager with too much freedom and time on their hands.
It seems important to note that I'm an insurance agent now. Other than some bourbon and a little beer, I'm a pretty straight shooter these days. That's to say two things. You can get lucky and survive the dumbass things you do as a teenager, but you probably also never really know how close you came to something really awful.
Back to Deftones... This music spoke to me and who I was and what I was feeling as a young man trying to figure out who he was going to be. No, I didn't have dreams of becoming an insurance agent, but that's what I do, not who I am. Unlike less complex metal bands or more shock-driven acts like Marilyn Manson, Deftones had enough vaguery in it that you could apply to whatever you were going through. It was less pure bile and unbridled rage and more frustrated introspection.
Last and most importantly, I really don't recommend robotripping. If for no other reason, the hangover is the worst kind of hangover you can imagine. Mine lasted at least a couple days where I felt like garbage.
I want to thank everyone again for reading. The feedback I’ve gotten so far is phenomenal. Ultimately this stuff has been a selfish endeavor, but it makes me happy that it’s dragging some of you down memory lane with me. Get your 2021 best-of lists together. I’ll tell you my favorite stuff, and you have to tell me your favorite stuff as well.