America projects two kinds of power in the world,” Rich Cohen begins in his George Clooney profile in Vanity Fair. He means “hard power” and “soft power.” Despite the limitations implied by the genre’s name, heavy metal’s like that, too—there’s hard metal like Converge, and there’s soft metal like Deftones. One way to tell the difference is to look at the guys who play in these bands. Converge singer Jake Bannon, has a tattooed neck (hard); Deftones frontman Chino Moreno looks like Horatio Sanz (soft).
Listening to each band’s new album helps illuminate the contrast, too. On No Heroes, Converge’s second disc for Epitaph, the influential Massachusetts quartet kicks out brief, knotty extremo anti-anthems with titles like “Hellbound” and “Plagues” and “Vengeance.” Though priest-killingly loud, 2004’s You Fail Me went the slow-and-low sludge-core route. But drummer Ben Koller ups the tempo on this new stuff, which seems to have upset guitarist Kurt Ballou, whose scabrous, noisy playing here is the musical equivalent of a rat attempting to wrestle out of a trap—all riffs without edges, or maybe riffs with nothing but edges. Bannon echoes his guitarist’s desperation, seemingly dispensing with words in an attempt to more efficiently capture the sound of bile in flight.
Sacramento’s Deftones achieve liftoff as well, though their ride involves blunts, not bile. Saturday Night Wrist, produced in part by Bob Ezrin of The Wall fame, is prime stoner fodder, full of the gauzy, churning guitars that earphones transform into aural headgear. Unlike Bannon, Moreno sings (not screams), and his dreamy vocal melodies give the band’s music a psychedelic lilt even when drummer Abe Cunningham tries to kick things into nü-metal gear. Those instances exude a kind of post-emo tension unique to Deftones. But Saturday Night Wrist feels best when Cunningham indulges Moreno’s soft-metal jones.
Converge play the Knitting Factory December 1, knittingfactory.com; Deftones play Nokia Theatre Times Square December 5, nokiatheatrenyc.com.