You can really trust DevilDriver. Sure, they look like they can probably rip you in half and munch on the soft parts, but that’s not my point. What I mean is, you can count on them to deliver when you crave pure, fat-free metal with an unstoppable seismic groove. The almighty rhythm is where these dudes live and breathe, and they’ve hardly changed their musical formula at all since their self-titled 2003 debut. After all, if it ain’t broke… well, you know. True, the production became richer in subsequent efforts, and their sound went a bit more epic with 2007’s The Last Kind Words, but the aggressive force remains, and their fourth outing does nothing more than put a little extra gleam on an already well-polished machine.
I’m glad to know that beast is still roaring along pretty smoothly and laying rubber in every gear… as you too may discover when you hear the band’s latest full-length release Pray For Villains, which came out this week. Buckle up, bangers, and rock on!
Pray For Villains is a solid, massively muscular effort from a band that’s been on the rise for many years now, and their experience shows in their leanest, tightest technical approach to date, boosted mightily – consistent, damn loud, but with just enough dynamic range – by top-notch production from Machine Head’s Logan Mader. Mader's a good choice for that chair since, as with his own band, DevilDriver's energy is focused on mega-heavy beats and thrashtastic grooves – and this is where these cats really work their dark magic. Drummer John Boecklin (originally a guitarist) is one of the reigning champs when it comes to punishing mini-gun double kick action, impossibly tight triplets and thunder-punch accents, and his rhythms virtually command every one of the thirteen tracks here, with a tightly synchronized assist from bassist Jon Miller.
Not that frontman Dez Fafara (formerly of Coal Chamber – anyone remember the ‘90s?) has any trouble rising above the blistering beats… his high-grit sandpaper growl, delivered with a rough-and-rowdy sneer and pitched just high enough to slice through the mayhem, is expertly recorded and sits well in the mix. Guitarists Jeffrey Kendrick and Michael Spreitzer's riffs are often welded to the explosive bottom-end frequencies, but they’re highly skilled with their weapons of choice across the entire sound spectrum, and their leads are tight and wiry. If in doubt, pay heed to their searing fretwork on tracks like “Resurrection Blvd,” which is intricate enough to impress without resorting to showboating.
The album as a whole is kind of a two-tier deal: while that groove-centric moshmaker sound is DevilDriver’s strength, this time the all-American band seems to be taking more than a few trips to the well of melodic death metal than they did on Kind Words; this is probably the direct influence of bands like In Flames, who have toured with DevilDriver a lot recently and, by Farfara's admission, have influenced his writing style. Not that this is a bad thing, and it’s not a backwards move by any respect, but portions of these tracks have a tendency to downshift the mood, often at moments when you don’t really want them to. But that’s a small distraction really, since overall there’s very little drag on the album’s momentum, and the tone is undeniably heavy from start to finish… and where this band is concerned, that’s all that matters.
Things get rolling right off the blocks with the title track, which also served as an excellent single and solid introduction to the album (not to mention a wicked cool video… anything with big red-eyed wolves in it scores points with me), but it’s the following track “Pure Sincerity” that really sets the tone, even with its slightly lower tempo, and firmly establishes the mountain-moving groove that we’ve come to expect, complete with shrill, searing lead guitar lines. That’s all the lead-in you need before the epic production of “Fate Stepped In,” which parts the crushing sea of rhythmic steel with smooth passages of synth and acoustic guitar. “Back with a Vengeance” is exactly what it says on the label, and could easily be the band’s catchphrase as far as this project is concerned: their most solid chunk of groove ever, with a sweet defining riff, this super-stomper is certain to have the pits swirling at cyclonic speeds.
Gritty, muted riffs propel “I’ve Been Sober,” and lay the groundwork for some rich, pensive melodic passages that tend to steal from the intensity a bit, but all is forgiven with the crushing arrival of “Resurrection Blvd,” which showcases the aforementioned fret-dancing wizardry of Kendrick and Spreitzer. The rogue gunfighter theme suggested in the opening track gets a more literal presentation in the bottom-heavy mid-tempo cut “Forgiveness is a Six Gun,” with shifting time-signatures, a deep bass rumble and hard-driving outlaw riffs, and it’s back to paint-stripping thrash for “Waiting for November,” culminating in an orgasmic climax. “It’s In the Cards” drops the energy level a bit, reaching for that same melodic death vibe... but don’t think for a second that it’s not totally heavy, and Dez does some creative vocal stunts that make it sound supremely sinister.
“Another Night in London” is a so-so nod to Motörhead and even early punk which didn't really light my burner, but “Bitter Pill” is a quick recovery with some decorative high-end neck-tapping work and a rollicking central riff. “Teach Me To Whisper” kind of retreads the same path as “It's In the Cards,” but thankfully “I See Belief” brings the violence back for a scorching conclusion, all with a certain Pantera flavor and a double-shot of hardcore. Definitely kick up the volume for this wrap-up and you'll go out satisfied.
So here’s the deal: those who dig DevilDriver tend to rely on their consistency, and the band happily repays that trust by seldom deviating from the pattern. The reason it hasn’t gotten old over the course of four albums is because there’s still plenty to say with this kind of music, and they always manage – with very few exceptions – to say it in an interesting way. They also say it LOUD, as in grab-you-by-the-neck-and-shake-your-fillings-out loud. Pray for Villains represents some of the best groove-focused metal out there right now, and whether those grooves are creeping up on you with predatory intent or merrily stomping your spine out, it’s still the heaviest of the heavy, and you can take that shit to the bank, buddy.