As the guy behind the racks of keyboards and the big tables full of electronic samplers and turntables, Frank Delgado is the vital auxiliary man for Sacramento, Calif rock band Deftones. Through a battery of buttons, faders, knobs, and needles, he fills in the musical gaps, polishes the roughest spots, and enhances the noisiest transitions. It's a unique role that he enjoys immensely. He takes his status as the band's secret weapon seriously, too, utilizing opportunities to help push the group's style into new sonic territory.
"A few years ago, a lot of music industry people wanted to tag the nü metal thing on us," Delgado says. "I can understand that, but I think good bands have to take chances in order to survive and succeed."
Fresh off of a month-long European tour, Deftones head to the Music Farm this weekend in support of their sixth and most recent album, Diamond Eyes (Reprise). This headlining tour began in early August and continues through mid September, when they kick off the BlackDiamondSkye tour with Alice in Chains and Mastodon.
"I think it's one of our best efforts," Delgado says of Diamond Eyes. "We are always trying to outdo what we did previously, move forward, and get better. It's a dynamic collection of songs. There's some real heavy moments and some prettier songs, too. The title track demonstrates both sides."
The album's lead song leaps to life after an eerie keyboard intro, trudging through gritty guitar riffs from Stephen Carpenter and newly enlisted bassist Sergio Vega, and a muscular drum pattern from Abe Cunningham. It's an elegant headbanger anthem in 6/8 time, propelled as much by Chino Moreno's passionate singing as much as the heavy rhythm section action.
"Diamond Eyes works the way good records used to," says frontman Moreno. "There are so many emotions that music can give you, and if you explore all sides of those, it can be really amazing. We connect with different emotions because we listen to everything out there. It's not a real conscious thing, but the emotion builds and it takes us in a lot of different ways when we play. I think that's what music's supposed to do."
While old-school Deftones fans still connect with Moreno's emotional screams, vocal stylings, and personalized (and often anguished) lyrics, Delgado's sense of sound effects and subtle atmospherics catch the ears of newcomers. There's plenty of metallic rockin' and riffin' on the new disc — from the low-toned drones of "Prince" and screamy rap and maniacal syncopation of "Cmnd/Ctrl" to the dense intensity of "Rocket Skates," one of the heavier, more grinding tracks on the album. The closing song "Ghost" features the album's heaviest synth work of the bunch.
"In pre-production, we worked on a lot of song ideas," remembers Delgado. "It was healthy and very spontaneous."
The extra effort worked — especially on the heels of a tragic episode in 2008 while the band began working on a recording titled Eros. Their original bassist Chi Cheng suffered injuries in a car accident that left him comatose (he's currently in a "minimally conscious" state and recovering slowly). The band and their fans continually contribute funds to help Cheng get the best possible care available. One dollar from each ticket sold during this summer's tour will be donated to the Chi Ling Cheng Special Needs Trust (oneloveforchi.com).
After the band shelved the Eros project, they took some time off and decided to embark on a totally different studio project with Vega (formerly of Quicksilver). Things shifted more smoothly than expected. They recorded Diamond Eyes in a surprisingly quick, three-week blast with producer Nick Raskulinecz (Alice in Chains, Foo Fighters, Velvet Revolver), who helped them develop a more atmospheric sound than 2006's more straightforward Saturday Night Wrist.
"We've had really great feedback on this new album," says Delgado, who seems relieved and encouraged by the band's big step ahead. "This project was different for us. It's hard to put us in one place."