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The 50 best metal albums of 2020

1. Deftones – Ohms

With COVID-19. having thrown the world’s plans into disarray, it was a lifeline to hear that Deftones would be going ahead and releasing their ninth album, Ohms. If there was any trepidation, it came from the section of their fanbase who eschewed the multi-layered Gore, which leaned more heavily on the band’s ambient influences and less on straight-up riffs, after guitarist Stephen Carpenter confessed he hadn’t been particularly engaged in their initial recording sessions.

They needn’t have worried. Ohms saw the quintet renewed, each member contributing to a glorious whole that was more than the sum of their parts.

Back at rehearsal studio The Spot, and with producer Terry Date at the helm – both for the first time since the car accident that led to bassist Chi Cheng’s passing – there was a sense of homecoming. Stef’s riffs were often front and centre; Chino Moreno demonstrated his full crooning-to-screaming range, there was percussive beastery from Abe Cunningham, and Sergio Vega’s basslines were monumentally weighty, not least on the opening of Radiant City. In the moments of quietude, Frank Delgado’s synths hovered in the air like a heat haze, with a space-age sound that conjured a sense of journeying into the unknown.

And in many senses, they were. Alongside the expansive electronic augmentation, the unexpected sounds of seagulls and waves punctuated the thunderous Pompeji, at a beach somewhere deep in the mind’s eye. Elsewhere, Ceremony buzzed with Middle Eastern melodies. Chino’s vocals pushed into new territory as he emoted his way through his most personal lyrics yet. Revealing to Hammer that he’d undergone therapy, causing him to recalibrate aspects of his life and even move house, Ohms found him projecting a new openness – not least on colossal opener Genesis, its title and lyrics alluding to the dramatic upheaval of new beginnings and its composition fittingly epic. Even Urantia, a classic piece of impressionistic Deftones fiction, saw him hint at revisiting memories with the cryptic line: ‘With all these erased recordings, I’m rearranging parts.’ Meanwhile, words such as ‘time’ and ‘life’ recurred like breadcrumbs leading to his psyche, alongside imagery of floating and sinking. The closing title track saw him contemplating the big picture of the past, future and our enduring time on this Earth.

But if Gore was a lush, accomplished indulgence of 80s influences and post-rock swirls, Ohms left you in no doubt as to Deftones’ heavy persuasions. There was the urgent gallop of Error, with its sun-bursting-from-behind-the-clouds chorus, while The Spell Of Mathematics nodded to 9.0s Deftones, even though it melted into a head-spinning love song. This Link Is Dead barely let up, Chino’s serrated vocals pressing up against the speakers, reminiscent of When Girls Telephone Boys from their self-titled outing. Ballads on this record, there weren’t.

As with many Deftones albums, Ohms felt elusive on first listen. It was difficult to grasp onto the threads, bring them together, and hold them all in your mind without letting go. But with repeated listens, it coalesced into a beautiful work that was their most breathtaking since White Pony, and perhaps their most human – a remarkable accomplishment given it’s been 25 years since their debut. Ohms felt like being immersed in our fathomless universe. For those of us who’d been experiencing the ups and downs of the emotional corona-coaster, it was a space where we could confront the timeless questions of being human, safe in the knowledge that we are not alone.