SHE MADE ME TOUCH THE MACHINE: Celebrating 20 Years of ‘White Pony’

Photo Credit: Frank Maddocks

There’s a lot of 20 year anniversaries approaching for classic and “classic” albums from the much maligned nu-metal genre in the next year or so. Infest, Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water, Toxicity, Hybrid Theory and Iowa are but a few that will be reaching that landmark. An album that managed to shake off the nu-metal label and become an all-time great in alternative and heavy music is White Pony by Deftones. White Pony’s use of trip-hop, hip-hop and experimental rock, alongside some incredibly atmospheric imagery helped shape an entire generation of heavy music and remains an absolute powerhouse to this day.

“White Pony is one of the finest albums from the 2000s.”

Coupled with the punchy drumming and paranoid guitar work, the opening line to Feiticeira “Fuck I’m//Drunk…” perfectly captures the nightmarish feel to a lot of the tracks on White Pony. A song about being held hostage, but possibly liking it, may not be your typical classic album opener but it sets the stage for an album that challenges conventions and what the listener knows about heavy music. Digital Bath continues that dream-like state in the verses, very simple instrumentation with some absolutely perfect drumming, before leading into a soaring chorus as Chino Moreno’s vocals reach epic heights before the song comes to an end.

“The first thing that strikes me is, Christ, this is a well-produced album!”

Elite is absolutely savage, with a driving bass and punishing drums. The vocal effects keep in line with the sense of unreality, but this song is all about the powerful screams and a killer riff. The rhythm section on Rx Queen and that guitar line are incredibly menacing, the chorus of “You’re my girl//And that’s alright//If you sting me//I won’t mind” adding to that overall sense of something being slightly off. Street Carp is as standard as things get on White Pony; repeatedly changing the numbers of the address is playful, but the bridge of “Now did you get it, get it, so write it down” comes across as more of a threat, particularly with that pulverising riff behind it.

Teenager is a great, lo-fi mid-point. Further adding to the dreamlike feel of the album, the electronic style drumming and simple instrumentation, it works as a reprieve from a difficult first half of the album, and what will be a difficult-to-top final run in the second half of the album. With that in mind, it’s still a good track on its own – offering a sense of innocence and lightness in a dark, difficult album.

“This album is relentless.”

The run of Knife Prty to Pink Maggit is pure magic. The bridge of Knife Prty, with the increasingly high pitched wails taking you out of reality, is something really special. It’s a feeling that’s difficult to describe, genuine raw emotion. Korea is the heaviest track on the album and is one of the strongest for it.  The build-up to the last minute and breakdown is spectacular, a proper head banger of a track.

“Korea is punishing with some delicious dissonance”

Passenger is unbelievable. It checks the themes found throughout the rest of the album, that sense of claustrophobia and paranoia. Vocals from both Chino and Tool’s Maynard James Keenan take the track into full nightmare territory. The song is incredibly intense; the lyrics describing what is essentially a car driving, but delivered like it’s a demonic possession, which sounds contrived but works to a ridiculous level.

“The back to back of Passenger and Change is outstanding, I would clear eleven minutes of any day to listen to them through.”

Change (In the House of Flies) is absolutely iconic. It’s made its way into mainstream culture, being used in countless soundtracks and remains one of the best songs Deftones have written. The deliberate pace maintained throughout makes it feel like it’s stalking you; watching you and changing you (sorry!) for the worse. Pink Maggit closes the album out in fine fashion. The opening two or three minutes are very low key, before kicking in to what would become one of the iconic refrains of the album. The song ends on a triumphant note, but the album ends on a heartbeat; that little bit of doubt and paranoia creeping back in.

“It transcends alternative rock and is so distinctive in its sound”

It’s difficult to put into words exactly what it is about this album that has connected with so many people or why it gets the plaudits that it still gets. The album is ageless, it exists within its own universe. Although included on numerous nu-metal playlists, the songs on White Pony are so far and away above that particular genre and time, it’s almost unfair to the other bands of that era, bands that, let’s face it, never had the talent or staying power, outside of the odd festival nostalgia set, that Deftones possess.

“White Pony is fucking amazing. The CD has been in my car since I’ve been able to drive, I think it’s in the player right now”

White Pony is a truly stunning album, one that still feels vital twenty years after its release. It changed the way heavy music is perceived and influenced an entire generation of bands who have tried to replicate, but never better this original sound.

We won’t talk about Back to School though!

Written by: Henry McCaughtrie