Three long years after Deftones issued their self-titled album to puzzling reviews, the Sacramento quintet is back with Saturday Night Wrist, a recording that will further muddy the waters about who they are and what they're trying to do. After the breakthrough metallic-sounding Around the Fur, the band confounded critics and fans alike with the much softer and atmospherically adventurous White Pony. In 2003 they further transgressed the borderlines of all things boxed and tied with their self-titled album, which seemed to walk the line between rockist and "sensitive." But it's Saturday Night Wrist that fills out the portrait, bleeding though textures from one rock & roll type to another and coming up with something else altogether yet definitively "Deftones." The album began with a question and a small conflict in deciding on a producer. Already working with the hip Dan the Automator, after some internal drama the band decided on veteran Bob Ezrin. Ezrin pays off in a number of ways: these songs, as diverse as they are, are utterly disciplined sonically. They have all the tension and dynamic, all the immediacy of yore, but the mix is spacious, and Chino Moreno's vocals soar above it. That said, the vocals were produced by Far's Shaun Lopez. The wall of guitar sound walks a high wire between harder, more metallic rock and angular indie rock, winding them together. Check the opener -- and single -- "Hole in the Earth." It begins with a wall of feedback and thunderously distorted guitars accented by rim shots and cymbal fire before giving way to a skeletal six-string figure that seems barely able to support Moreno's singing, which combines the euphoria of a young, less pretentious Bono with the attack of, well, Deftones. Guitars echo and whisper all along the backdrop while Moreno hovers there, until they crackle and spit to bring him back.
Popping muddy drums and distorted guitars introduce "Rapture," as Moreno gobs and screams the lyrics. Even here, the attack is straightforward as it turns and twists, all on sharp corners and rhythmic shifts. There are killer digital dub effects put into play on "Cherry Waves," giving the tune a bit of a blessed-out psychedelic effect as the band marries together the hookery of the vintage Smashing Pumpkins, the big chord riffs of Jane's Addiction, and U2's best shimmer while tossing in a bridge of eight bars from the Who's "Overture" from Tommy! It might have been a terrible mess, but it works beautifully. System of a Down's Serj Tankian helps out with additional vocals on "Mein," and Giant Drag's Annie Hardy helps out on "Pink Cellphone" (what a dumb title). The drippy space pop that is "Xerces" finds Moreno breathing a little too close to Billy Corgan for comfort on the verses. The gear-grinding guitars on "Rats!Rats!Rats!" are a welcome textural change, and the crunchy verse and refrain are downright nasty. The most straight-ahead rock attack comes on "KimDracula," with its bass throb and whiteout guitar riff; it pushes Moreno a little further outside the tune to come to terms with it. Ultimately, Saturday Night Wrist is satisfying, though it may take a few listens given all the changes in individual cuts that tend to blur together the first time or two through. To the faithful, Deftones once again offer up their own brand of blast and croon. As for everyone else, there's plenty here to like, to argue with, and to be puzzled by .