The recent renaissance that Deftones have enjoyed serves as compelling evidence for how artistic brilliance can arise from tragedy and adversity. Since guitarist Chi Cheng was left in a semi-vegetative state after a car accident in 2008, the two records that the band have released – 2010′s Diamond Eyes and last year’s Koi No Yokan – have met with their most positive critical and commercial response since the halcyon days of the late nineties, when they made their mark with Around the Fur and White Pony. The question remained, though, of whether this reinvigoration would extend to the live arena, where the band have a reputation for the intense and the incendiary.
What sets Deftones apart – and makes them difficult, genre-wise, to pigeonhole – is the manner in which they veer between brutal, frenetic metal and slow, more atmospheric work and it’s this dichotomy which defines the success of the last two records, where they pulled off the impressive feat of blending the two with the characteristic confidence of the old hands they’ve become. On paper, this cohesion should be difficult to replicate live, particularly in front of a baying crowd of mostly metalheads who, you might imagine, could have their patience tested by some of the band’s more understated efforts.
Appropriately, one of the few tracks to showcase both sides of Deftones,’Diamond Eyes’, opens the set, bruising guitars crashing over Chino Moreno’s melodic vocals. The band use the evening’s early stages to race through some vintage material, with an unforgiving double bill of Around the Fur big hitters ‘Be Quiet and Drive’ and ‘My Own Summer’ being the best of a formidable bunch. Moreno is on sparkling form; this is a man with little regard for the traditional concept of slowing down as you get older. I remember thinking, on the band’s last Manchester outing at the bigger Apollo, that the huge stage had perhaps tamed his almost disconcertingly energetic stage presence; in the more intimate confines of the Academy, he’s unstoppable.
The evening’s mellower moments are worked into the set remarkably well; the shimmering guitars and delicate, yearning vocal on ‘Sextape’ really shouldn’t work so well immediately after ‘Rocket Skates’ crunches through the room, but there’s something strangely therapeutic about these quieter, more reflective intervals punctuating what is, in essence, a blisteringly heavy metal set. It’s a formula well-replicated elsewhere, especially with the new material; Koi No Yokan cuts ‘Entombed’ and ‘Tempest’ both see the band in more restrained territory, with the latter simmering before giving way to a riff-driven breakdown late on.
It’s just a shame that more of the back catalogue’s gold standards can’t make the grade tonight; ‘Change (In the House of Flies)’ is present and correct, but the brooding ‘Minerva’, a career highlight, is criminally omitted, and whilst ‘Back to School’, arguably the band’s most successful single, sounds a little dated in 2013, there’s no question as to the mayhem it would’ve sparked amongst the audience. Instead, it’s ‘Nosebleed’ and the traditional one-two punch of ‘Engine No. 9′ and ’7 Words’ that comprises the encore, closing out proceedings on an adrenaline high. Deftones have perfected a potent balance between rawness and polish that stands them alongside the world’s most thrilling live acts; twenty years on, their signature blend of chaos and catharsis shows few signs of rust. Revelatory.