18 Years Ago: Deftones Leave Nu Metal in the Dust with ‘Around the Fur’
"It sounds like something sexual," Deftones frontman Chino Moreno explained during a 1997 Dutch TV interview. "But it isn't." He was referring to the title of the band's landmark second album, Around the Fur, which had just recently come out at the time. Moreno went on to discuss how he'd been mulling over the unattractive truth that lurks beneath glamorous surfaces. He talked about fur as a visible exterior that conceals skin, which appealed to him as both a metaphor for what people hide about themselves – and as an inverse analogy for the band's sound, which he described as "soothing" under its "ugly" and "abrasive" exterior.
Indeed, Around the Fur captures the first full blossoming of the duality that has come to define the Sacramento quintet's musical identity. The album also set a new standard for '90s alt-metal and opened doors to what's possible when bands find the motivation to get heavy away from the brutish impulses that typically drive aggressive music. Which is not to say that Around the Fur doesn't ooze with aggression, but that Moreno and company had learned how to marshal aggression in its broadest sense. As Around the Fur demonstrates, guitarist Stephen Carpenter and the rest of the band had already perfected their ability to warp heavy riffs to suit ambiguous moods. In moments where the music erupts like boiling lava, it's nevertheless clear that anger isn't its primary motivation.
When the 1995 Deftones debut Adrenaline first arrived, it cast the band as a slightly more speed-driven variation of the nu metal movement spearheaded by the likes of Korn. As Korn and Adrenaline made clear, rap's influence had soaked into metal all the way to the roots. Moreno's vocals on that album place him as a kind of quasi-rapper in a post-thrash, Helmet-influenced world, but the overtones of groups like Cypress Hill were also apparent in the overall sonic ambience and the grooves that both bands favored. On Around the Fur, however, Moreno's love of new wave groups like Depeche Mode and the Cure began to rear its head in earnest.
At the same time, Around the Fur sounds undeniably thicker and heavier than Adrenaline. When Carpenter locks-in with late bassist Chi Cheng and drummer Abe Cunningham, the three of them together sound gigantic as the music bounds forward with a dinosaur-like stride. Just as significantly, though, the production -- once again courtesy of producer Terry Date (Soundgarden, Fishbone) -- captures a much wider sense of space that leaves room for Carpenter's chords and Cunningham's cymbal hits to trail off into the air. (You can even hear this on low-bitrate MP3s.)
Around the Fur also marks the further integration of DJ-keyboardist Frank Delgado. A far cry from the ornamental DJ scratching favored at the time by groups like Incubus and Sugar Ray, Delgado would eventually become a full-time Deftones member and play an integral role in shaping the sonic character of every Deftones album after this. On Around the Fur, he brings an eerie sense of atmosphere to half the songs, including the darkly ethereal bridge section of the otherwise piledriving title track.
The final piece of the Deftones puzzle to fall into place, Delgado's contribution essentially consummates the band's ugly/soothing, crushing/delicate dynamic. His arrival dovetailed with the huge developmental leap forward the band took on Around the Fur, the moment where every aspect of their sound, style, and temperament came together. It's no surprise, then, that singles like "Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)" and "My Own Summer (Shove It)" -- the latter with its thrilling video -- broadened the band's audience.
Deftones appeared on both Warped Tour and Ozzfest in the wake of Around the Fur, but looking back it's easy to see why the album firmly entrenched them in the alt-rock firmament and earned them a place as commercial-radio staples. No small feat for such an uncompromising work, one that remains "heavy" in more ways than one.