To say that Deftones have enjoyed the modest spoils of a successful year would be a touch of an understatement. Even after three decades of near consistent activity, 2020 saw the Sacramento art-metal troupe reaffirm their legendary status not just with their unquestionably brilliant ninth LP Ohms, but with the 20th celebration of their career defining record White Pony. Sadly the events of this wretched year have halted any pre-planned live celebrations, but as the year comes to a universally welcomed close, it’s likely many have the band’s namesake imprinted deeply in their cerebral cortexes. For those that don’t have Deftones living rent free in their minds, that’s likely to change with the release of the band’s final surprise for the year, the White Pony remix record Black Stallion.
Those educated on the band’s career will likely know that the prospect of a White Pony remix release isn’t a new proposition. Even before the initial release of the record in 2000, the group already had a remix version of the record in mind, and on one particularly intoxicated night in 1999, the band proposed the idea to trip-hop visionary DJ Shadow. The idea was well met, but obviously, it took 21 years to come into full fruition. Given the wide variation of quality regarding remix releases of metal records, and even with Deftones’ reputation for unbridled excellence in consideration, it’s probable many will be questioning if the obscene wait for this release was ultimately worth it. Thankfully, Black Stallion parallels the emotional fervour, musical creativity and intensity that originally made its source material so alluring and borderline mythical. At least, for the most part anyway.
As with essentially any remix record, Black Stallion is a warped ride that crashes though the mental and creative psych of each contributor. Sometimes contemplatively ambient, sometimes stark raving hyperactive and sometimes darkly menacing, the record is aplomb with eutrophic peaks and shadowed valleys. However, it fantastically avoids a pitfall that is commonplace within electronic remix records; inconsistent pacing that derails immersion. Even with each respective contributor eviscerating and rebuilding the tracks of their choice, the overall flow of the record is sublime and coherent. Aforementioned DJ Shadow’s remix of ‘Digital Bath’ exposes the inherent eroticism of the track with minimalistic trip-hop textures prior to plunging into the pumping electronica dance of the Blanck Mass remix of ‘Elite’ - a track that almost reminiscent of the infuriatingly addictive indie game Super Hexagon. Salva’s vision of ‘RX Queen’ sounds positivity menacing, with the producer turning an age old alt-metal classic into a twisted medieval ode to body horror. But yet this moment of madness is counteracted with pacifying dream-pop stillness of Phantogram’s remix of ‘Street Carp’. There’s natural flow and rhythm as these tracks blend and merge dramatically into each other and it’s difficult to not believe the contributors appearing on this record colluded and established the record’s consistent flow far in advance.
Even with White Pony withstanding the test of time and remaining culturally poignant as it was on release, Black Stallion see’s the emotion underpinning it evolving and transmogrifying into new exciting forms. Purity Ring’s work on ‘Knife Prty’ glistens with sophistication - the flirtatious danger and risk now dancing under the romantic neon of a seductive glow and the legendary goth icon Robert Smith cuts the lean fat from ‘Teenager’ to delicately expose the intimacy of the source material prior to delicately peppering it with pulling strings and keys. On the other end of the spectrum, ‘Korea’ is reengineered for a dark new age of warfare with Trevor Jacksons throbbing industrial envisioning. The intensity and emotion that was so well articulated originally within these tracks have been remodelled for new purposes without any of their substance being sacrificed..
Sadly though, there are instances where such remixes fail to reach such heights. Tourist’s work on the ceremonial ‘Change (In The House Of Flies)’ feels completely detached from the original track and stands as an uninspired house track, and in a disappointing fashion, Mike Shinoda’s reworking of ‘Passenger’ sounds trivially derivative with its cut and dry predictability. For a release that glistens with the very same level of fervent creativity as its original source material, it’s a shame that the remix of one of the original record’s most acclaimed tracks is lacking in significant depth and challenge. These subpar inclusions are balanced out with Squarepusher's fully immersive ten minute remix of ‘Pink Maggit’ however, with the digital fragmentation of the track channeling Nine Inch Nails at their most obstructive, focused and destructive.
Even with fleeting periods of complacency, Black Stallion is an apt reminder of the universal influence of it’s ceremonial source material. There’s simply so much mileage available that not even eager repetitive spins will unveil it’s full labyrinthine contents and treasures. Some may disagree with the fashions in which these producers have reworked their favourite art-metal tracks, but either way, this is a gauntlet of fascinating and mentally stimulating electronica in the key of one of contemporary music’s most esteemed artists.
Black Stallion is released December 11th via Reprise Records.