The Deftones' last album, ''White Pony,'' was a top five hit and a breakthrough for these veteran Pantera fans, who make music with more interesting variations than -- um, Pantera, for one. Deftones finds the Sacramento quintet creating ever more elaborate structures, nearly every song a gothic (not Goth) novel-in-music, redolent of stately dread. It gives singer Chino Moreno a chance to showcase his impressive range -- less the standard hardcore whisper-to-a-scream progression than a series of constantly startling, shifting tones.
On ''Death Blow,'' he murmurs conversationally, croons soulfully, and yells with anguish normally the province of Ozzy when he slams his fingers in a kitchen drawer. The way the Deftones construct their songs, however, you never know from one verse to the next which sound you'll hear emanating from Moreno. This method lends guitarist Stephen Carpenter's lead melody lines -- on ''Death Blow'' and throughout ''Deftones'' -- equal unpredictability. As for what the songs are about, there seems to be a lot of free-floating hostility toward human objects of affection. That, along with the band's website featuring a couple of Deftones praising an old misogynist reprobate like the writer Charles Bukowski, leaves me with mixed feelings about these mostly married musicians.
At their best here, such as on the swelling juggernaut of ''Battleaxe'' and the controlled freak-out of ''Anniversary of an Uninteresting Event,'' the Deftones create heavy music with the lilt of airier pop music. I know, pop is a dirty word in the context of this genre, but, sorry, that's what the choral hooks and the more mannerly singing Moreno does on a song like ''Lucky You'' qualify as. This is as catchy as heavy gets.