13 Essential Songs By DEFTONES
If you’re just getting into the music of DEFTONES, or you’re a fan who wants to explore their catalog further, then read and listen on.
We have compiled a list of 13 of the best DEFTONES songs (top ten songs lists are overdone. And 13 is just a cooler number), from the group’s early days as a Sacramento rock band through to their iconic present-day status.
Each DEFTONES song on this list has been carefully chosen to represent the influential band’s unique sound and style. It is impossible to declare one track to be the best DEFTONES song, however, we feel this list represents some of the group’s finest work. They are beautiful songs. Great songs for that matter. Many people still see the band as falling under the shadow of “nu-metal” or “rap metal” along with bands like KORN and LIMP BIZKIT, as they came to the forefront amidst that genre, while most DEFTONES fans embrace them with such a devout passion as their sound continues to evolve, yet stay uniquely “Deftones”.
When it comes to most DEFTONES fans, from the first song they heard, they were hooked. Whether it was “Rocket Skates”, “Around The Fur”, “Diamond Eyes” or a deep album cut from “Koi No Yokan”, there was always that first one. That one song that took you for a ride on an emotional roller coaster upon hearing it. The “face song” with the sick riff and pure Chino scream that instantly became one of the best songs you ever heard.
Whether you’re a metalhead or not, there’s something for everyone on this list.
Formed in 1988 by vocalist Chino Moreno, guitarist Stephen Carpenter, drummer Abe Cunningham and bassist Dominic Garcia, DEFTONES adopted their moniker by combining the hip hop slang term “def” (which was used by artists such as LL Cool J and PUBLIC ENEMY) with the suffix “-tones,” (which was popular among 1950s bands such as DICK DALE AND THE DELTONES, THE QUIN-TONES etc.)
The budding rock band began playing locally in the Sacramento area and would end up getting signed while closing for another band in L.A. On a night when the majority of the audience had already left, the band impressed a Maverick Records representative and were signed to the label after performing three of their songs. Soon after, DEFTONES released their debut album, “Adrenaline”, in 1994.
The band’s sound at this time was brutal and heavily influenced by metal bands of the then modern-day like PANTERA and SEPULTURA. However, over the years they evolved into something truly unique, blending elements of alternative rock, shoegaze, post-rock, and even hip hop into their music. They didn’t exactly set out to prove a record company wrong or try to bust out of any genres. DEFTONES just became their own genre, solidifying their individualism even more with every album they released.
The result is a sound that’s heavy, atmospheric and oftentimes dark. While some fans lament the band’s evolution away from metal, others feel that it’s allowed them to explore new sonic territory.
DEFTONES have had their share of internal turmoil over the years. In 2008, the band’s bassist, Chi Cheng, was in a serious automobile accident that left him comatose for four years. He eventually passed away in 2013 while the band was in the midst of recording the incomplete and unreleased studio album, “Eros”.
The oftentimes tumultuous relationship between lead singer Chino Moreno and guitarist Stephen Carpenter has also been well documented.
However, after almost 35 years as a band, they continue to tour extensively and release stunning new music, with “Ohms” being their latest offering which arrived in 2020.
What are your favorite DEFTONES songs? Let us know in the comments below! And be sure to check out our other articles on essential metal albums and bands.
Check out what we consider some of the best DEFTONES songs from their illustrious career below.
13 Of The Best Deftones Songs
Considered by numerous fans to be their personal best DEFTONES song, ‘Minerva’ was released as the second single from DEFTONES’ self-titled, fourth studio album. The song was written by guitarist Stephen Carpenter and vocalist Chino Moreno and takes it’s title from the Roman goddess of wisdom, war, art, schools, and commerce.
Musically, “Minerva” is easily considered to be one of the best DEFTONES songs. It features a catchy chorus and melodic guitars, in contrast to the heavier sound of much of the album.
“Minerva” is an instantly recognized song from the DEFTONES catalog that sounds like it could have easily been on “Around The Fur” or “White Pony”.
This next song features the dueling vocals of TOOL singer Maynard James Keenan and Chino Moreno and has been called the band’s “best song” by throngs of fans. “Passenger” was the third single from the band’s illustrious “White Pony” album.
The song is not only about parking lot intimacy, but also the thrill of letting go and letting somebody else “take the wheel”. The track also features some of DEFTONES’ most atmospheric and ethereal sounding music found on “White Pony”.
Helping the band and Maynard James Keenan work on the track was “White Pony” producer Terry Date, known for his work with numerous metal and alternative metal bands. Keenan’s appearance was initially somewhat controversial at the time, as he was not well known for being a “metal singer”. However, his performance on “Passenger” is stunning and perfectly complements Moreno’s vocals.
Appearing on the 2000 album “White Pony”, “Knife Party” is slower and more atmospheric than tunes like “Elite”. It showcases the band’s ability to create brooding soundscapes that are just as engaging as their heavier tracks.
This song was allegedly inspired by a party on DEFTONES’ tour bus, where everyone had a knife from drummer Abe Cunningham’s blade collection and was dancing around the bus while brandishing them. Chino then created an imaginary scenario from it about a secret knife society. “I made up this fake scenario of some kind of underworld society of knives, people who just get off on these erotic fantasies,” he explained. “Or something like that. An “Eyes Wide Shut” kind of thing.”
Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away)
A favorite among DEFTONES fans, this track is easily one of the best songs ever released by the Sacramento, California based band.
The song initially dropped as a single in 1997 and appeared on the band’s second full-length album, “Around The Fur”. There may not be any other song that so perfectly encapsulates the feeling of driving down a desert highway at night than this choice “Around The Fur” cut.
This song was the band’s first single to chart in the US, peaking at number 29 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, and within the top 50 in the UK Singles Chart, which is certainly not an easy achievement. This heavy, rhythm guitar-driven song helped landmark “Around The Fur” as not just a great album, but as essential DEFTONES listening.
The lyrics for the DEFTONES song ‘Digital Bath’ were written by Chino and come across as quite dark. dealing with themes of violence and isolation. Moreno has stated that despite the “prettiness” of the song, Digital Bath is actually about “electrocuting a girl in a bathtub”
This track appears on the band’s third album, “White Pony”, and was recorded live on KXTE’s back patio in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2000. Chi Cheng wrote in the DEFTONES’ B-Sides and Rarities booklet that this song was “recorded during peak hangover time, early afternoon. It was a modest deal, and I’m pleased we were able to do this song stripped down because I always imagined it would translate as well.”
That being said, the beauty of ‘Digital Bath’ (and all of “White Pony” for that matter) resonates to this day and remains an absolute favorite among fans.
The song “Headup” is a tribute to Dana Wells, the stepson of Max Cavalera (SOULFLY, formerly of SEPULTURA), who was killed by a hit and run driver. Dana was a friend of Chino with parts of Dana’s diary being used in the lyrics: “Walk into this world with your head up high!”
Max Cavalera helped write this and named his band “SOULFLY” after a line in the song.
Musically, “Headup” is one of DEFTONES’ heaviest songs and features some blistering guitar work from Carpenter. Lyrically, it’s an incredibly powerful song that deals with themes of guilt and self-loathing.
Change (In The House Of Flies)
The song “Change (In the House of Flies)” from DEFTONES’ “White Pony” album is known by fans worldwide as being one of the best DEFTONES songs ever recorded.
From guitarist Stephen Carpenter’s sonic sound to Abe Cunningham’s drumming hits, the eerie “White Pony” cut was inspired by a dream that Chino had, where he walked into a room and saw a fly on the wall with its leg ripped off.
“I woke up and I just wrote it down,” he recalled. “It was one of those weird things where you have a really cool dream and then you wake up and all of the sudden you’re trying to remember everything about it.”
Moreno also said that the lyrics are about “the idea of being trapped in a situation where you can’t get out, or maybe somebody close to you is in that kind of situation.”
The song was recorded at The Plant Recording Studios in Sausalito, California and remains one of the band’s most recognized tracks. It is also the first song to introduce a mass of music fans to the music of DEFTONES when it was first released on “White Pony” amidst the burgeoning nu-metal scene that was erupting in 2000. As we said goodbye to the era that was the nineties, there was no other song for me personally. The band already had their hooks into me.
My Own Summer (Shove It)
The lead single from “Around the Fur”, ‘My Own Summer (Shove It) is one of the most well-known tracks by DEFTONES fans worldwide.
It’s heavy, fast-paced and sure to get your blood pumping. Just like most of “Around The Fur”.
The song was recorded at the Grandmaster Recorders studio in Seattle, Washington and was engineered by Terry Date, who also worked with the band on their debut album “Adrenaline”.
“My Own Summer (Shove It)” is one of those songs that perfectly encapsulates what DEFTONES are all about. If you’re new to the band, this is a great place to start.
This alternative metal track off 2006’s “Saturday Night Wrist” is easily one of our favourite songs and was named after an email address of Chino’s. (Who didn’t have a crazy Hotmail address back then either named after your favorite album or song or whatever?)
The song is about a love affair that is both passionate and dangerous. Chino has said that the lyrics are about “a girl who’s kinda crazy, who likes to drink blood and eat flesh.”
“Kimdracula” is one of the more experimental tracks on the album, featuring elements of alternative rock, shoegaze and post-rock. The song sounds almost like a departure from the band’s usual auditory offerings, but it showcases their versatility as musicians. Because when Chino start singing amidst guitarist Stephen Carpenter’s guitar riff intro with his screaming vocals, it’s awe-striking atmosphere at its finest.
Engine No. 9
This is a high-intensity, guitar tone-driven, early DEFTONES song that will make you feel energized and ready to take on the world. The heavy guitar track “Engine No. 9” was recorded at One On One Recording Studios in North Hollywood, California, and was mixed by Terry Date.
This is one of those tracks that perfectly captures the raw energy and intensity of “Adrenaline” era DEFTONES.
If you’re a fan of their early work, you’ll already know it. Although it is not the only song on their debut album to drip with all that teenage angst that “Adrenaline” is known for, it remains the perfectly heaviest song.
“Cherry Waves” is from the band’s 2006 album “Saturday Night Wrist” and was one of the first songs written for the record.
The track is about the fragility of life and how it can be taken away at any moment. For such an underground song, ‘Cherry Waves’ manages to resonate with so much raw energy. And it’s just such a good sounding song.
The lyrics are incredibly powerful and resonated with fans who may have been dealing with loss at the time. Musically, the track is atmospheric and ethereal, with a sense of urgency that bleeds through in Chino Moreno’s vocals.
This is one of those tracks that perfectly captures the raw emotion and intensity of DEFTONES. A song more “absorbed” than just listened to.
Just a great song.
‘Tempest’ is from the band’s 2012 album “Koi No Yokan”, which many consider to be the best DEFTONES album period. The song’s lyrical content is representative of the supposed end of the world that would have occurred on December 21, 2012, according to various myths related to the Mayan calendar.
‘Tempest’ echoes with a sonic embrace that is about finding hope in the face of darkness and despair. It’s a powerful track that showcases the band’s ability to write emotionally charged music.
Musically, “Tempest” is dark and atmospheric, with heavy guitars and pounding drums, much like the rest of “Koi No Yokan”. It’s one of the band’s most intense tracks to date and, in our opinion, is one of the best DEFTONES songs on the album.
“Ohms” is the title track to DEFTONES’ ninth studio effort and was released as the disc’s lead single.
The song appears on the amazing album as the tenth and final track. “Ohms” is currently nominated for Best Rock Performance at the 64th Grammy Awards. (Oddly enough, it was not nominated in the category of best metal performance).
The video was directed by Rafatoon and features the band performing interspersed with scenes of a dystopian world.
“Ohms” is one of those DEFTONES songs that uses elements of trip hop and electronic music. The song is dark and atmospheric, with heavy guitars and pounding drums and comes off as a song years in the making.
If you’re a diehard fan of DEFTONES, you already know these great tracks, but sometimes we forget how great a song is when we haven’t heard it in a while. The downside to lists like these is that they limit the vast scope of a band’s song library and complete experience to a limited number of tunes. Which is a damn shame in some aspects. The term “best song” is individual opinion. What the band’s best song is for you may not be the best song for someone else who loves them just as much.
Albums like “Koi No Yokan”, “White Pony”, “Deftones”, “Diamond Eyes” and “Gore” are all at the top of numerous fans’ individual lists. (I personally love “Diamond Eyes” and consider it one of their strongest releases. If this was a list of 14 songs I would have included the track Diamond Eyes from “Diamond Eyes” or maybe Rocket Skates but hence, we’re working with 13)
Hardcore fans have the “deep version” of this track or the “way less deep version” of this particular DEFTONES song and they hold them in such high reverence. They’ve been spun so much the entire sound of that “best album” becomes a part of us.
Yeah, it may sound kind of corny, but sometimes something as simple as a little Sacramento band who think “school sucks” is all it takes to change the way we experience life.
To me, that’s DEFTONES.
– Scott Penfold is an On-Air host and writer for Loaded Radio and Loadedradio.com