For the last couple weeks or so, my brain has been absolutely steeped in Deftones. A friend of mine and I decided to run through their entire discography, and as a result, I haven’t been able to listen to really anything else since that journey. Coming to this experience as a new Deftones fan allowed for some interesting dynamics between myself and the greater Deftones fandom; for example, apparently some people out there think “Saturday Night Wrist” is a bad album. This was shocking to me, because out of every one of their albums, it was the one that resonated with me the quickest. Its beauty and pain were palpable in a way that caught me immediately rather than being a grower like a lot of their other works, and I believe that effect owes a lot of songs like “Cherry Waves”.
This might be due to the fact that I, like a lot of people, find Deftones are at their best when they’re at their most beautiful and grand, which are qualities that also contribute to their lasting legacy in spite of nu-metal’s wane. Their heavier cuts are great, sure, but their ability to break boundaries and create something sublime on songs like “Digital Bath,” “Minerva,” and “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)” is what makes them legendary. “Cherry Waves” is one of the best examples of this that might go underlooked due to “Saturday Night Wrist”’s unfortunate malignation.
The song, potentially influenced by the album’s tense and traumatic recording process, is about trust, according to lead singer and lyricist Chino Moreno. Using the ocean as an extended metaphor, the song asks an important and sometimes uncomfortable question: If I were drowning, would you save me like I would save you? An important thing to note is that only a handful of songs on every Deftones album are actually about something. Meaning, most Deftones lyrics are abstract phrases chained together by Moreno that might create a narrative, confession, or really nothing at all. This can make talking about lyrics in a Deftones song an often moot point, but on a song like “Cherry Waves”, the music and lyrics combine in such a profound way that it would be a disservice to separate the two.
The song’s shifty intro, a distant marching snare roll and sparse guitar almost imitating the sounds of the ocean, betrays a certain caution and even suspicion. Moreno’s vocals enter the scene, all quiet and contemplative. Then, the music rises as he begins to make his plea in the chorus. As a singer, Moreno often plays both sides of the siren, both beauty and destruction, but his performance on this song is uniquely punishing in the pain it exudes. While describing the unnamed companion’s end in simple, matter-of-fact terms (“The waves suck you in and you drown”), Moreno’s voice smashes through his usual ceiling, wringing the emotion out of words that may seem plain on their face.
The chorus astonishes even in the context of a band with some of the best choruses in rock music. The guitars are massive and serene behind Moreno’s exasperated call of “If like, you should sink down beneath/I’ll swim down/Would you?” It’s the picture of a band at the end of their emotional ropes, traversing rough waters and trying to reaffirm trust in their companions but only coming up with questions and no answers. The song then leaves as it began, like a moonlit tide receding back into the ocean.
Deftones are band that more often than not cuts their rays of beauty with heaviness, whether that be in the form of a skull-crushing verse riff or a sinister melody or lyric lurking below it all, but, besides a momentary breakdown in the bridge, “Cherry Waves” is all gorgeous melancholy and anguish. This, ultimately, is what separates Deftones from the rest of the pack. The band can and has made music that sounds like their peers, but their peers couldn’t make “Cherry Waves”, at least not as convincingly as this.
Because of this, it’s hard to call anything this band does “underrated.” They’re one of the most widely acclaimed and beloved bands in American metal for a reason, but this is a song that I find woefully under discussed when the band is brought up. I suppose when you have a band with as many killer tracks as Deftones, some of them are bound to get swept under the rug. It’s as gorgeous as any song the band ever made, and I would say it more than earns its spot in an already storied and well-regarded catalogue.