The Top 25 Modern Metal Frontmen

#25: Chino Moreno (Deftones)

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MetalSucks recently polled its staff to determine who are The Top 25 Modern Metal Frontmen, and after an incredible amount of arguing, name calling, and physical violence, we have finalized that list! Writers were asked to consider vocal ability, lyrics, and live presence when casting their votes; the only requirements to be eligible for the list were that the musician in question had to a) play metal (duh), b) be a frontman or woman (double-duh), and c) have recorded something AND performed live in the past five years. Today we kick off our countdown with Deftones frontman Chino Moreno…

Despite being a singer himself, Chino Moreno has never been tight-lipped about his distaste for a lot of vocal music and his frequent preference of instrumental artists. It’s probably because of this outlook that he holds the distinction of being one of the few vocalists in metal who actually uses his voice as an “instrument,” rather than just a point of reference for the listener.

I remember hearing Deftones for the first time in sixth grade and being shocked that a known band would hire a singer who “couldn’t sing.” Chino certainly didn’t sing like any rock vocalist I had known at the time, so whatever kind of whispery, creepy moaning he was doing in the early 2000’s sounded inherently wrong to me, and I still know a lot of music fanatics who feel the same.

Then, about five years later, I had done some growing up and finally gave the ‘tones another chance, and needless to say, it was well overdue. Chino didn’t sing the “wrong way”— no other vocalist in heavy music had the guts to sing like Chino did, and that difference has played no small part Deftones’ enduring appeal throughout numerous trends, and by now, a couple of decades.

Chino’s melodic and harsh vocals are distinctive enough in their natural forms, but in a producer’s hands, they become putty that can take on any shape or texture. For instance, a creeping, ominous mood is captured perfectly by the menacing “talking through my trench coat” compression that is used during the verses of “My Own Summer (Shove It),” while a dreamy reverb-filled sweetness plays up the blissful beauty of “Be Quiet and Drive.”

As Deftones became more ambitious in their creative scope, so did their means for channeling Chino’s talents. The screechy, high-pitched vocal solo he lays down in the bridge of “Knife Prty” never fails to produce chills and the “phasing in-and-out” effect used on his banshee shrieks in “Hexagram” gives his screams a glass-shattering impact that is rarely felt from such vocal stylings.

Over the years, and perhaps also because of the harm done to his voice, Chino has come to favor his cleaner side, but that hasn’t limited his pliability or creativity in the least. Recent producer, Nick Raskulinecz, carries on the ever-interesting treatments of his vocals in some very memorable ways, whether the watery delay-drenched belting in the prechorus of “You’ve Seen the Butcher” or the megaphone shouts in “Leathers,” my favorite song Deftones have written in years.

Of course, versatility and studio magic aside, Chino wouldn’t be worth much as a frontman if he didn’t write some killer vocal parts, and he has way too many of those to count. Just as he and his production team have great instincts about the methods used to convey his ideas, Chino naturally tailors his hushed croons, wispy falsettos, inhuman screeches, and monumental high notes to create the maximum emotional impact and atmosphere. “Digital Bath” and “Rats! Rats! Rats!” are more than indicative of these compositional talents.

As anyone who has seen Deftones in concert is well aware, Chino doesn’t quite nail everything live — as a whole, Deftones have never been known as a band of Berklee-educated session pros, so much as five guys with great chemistry and loads of style. The paralysis of one of Chino’s vocal chords certainly doesn’t help him in a live setting, but his energy on stage makes up for it — and these are some seriously challenging parts he writes.

There isn’t really any profound way to end a piece on Chino Moreno. It is quite obvious that no other singer in rock or metal sounds like him (although many wish they did), and that his influence is ever-present to this day, but perhaps the most telling evidence of his and his bandmates talents is the fact that into the third decade of their continued relevance they remain just as much of a cutting-edge creative force as they were in their heyday, and that is nuts.

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