Review Summary: DevilDriver of yesteryear.
If you’ll forgive me a moment or two, I’d like to take you on a mini-journey of sorts. DevilDriver dominated most of my teenage years...hell, they basically carried me through my higher school years between the likes of Slipknot, Korn and Metallica re-runs. Mostly, the group’s self-titled debut and the group’s 2009 effort, Pray For Villains
bridged the gaps between boredom in English, a lack of care for algebra or the fact my music teacher liked comparing music to colours. That said, Dez Fafara and co. certainly tipped the scales, tipping my new musical growth towards music that transfers directly to a festival setting. This ‘mainstream’ approach to my listening practices certainly wasn’t as educated as it is now.
However DevilDriver’s causal relevance certainly dipped into a personal obscurity to which a host of other acts filled the void. Pointless pandering? Well, maybe—but DevilDriver holds a special revenant place in my musical upbringing, somewhere between the tangible angst of my teenage years and the up-tempo stylings of potential gym music saw hits like “I Could Care Less”, Clouds Over California” and “Swinging The Dead” to my liking (put that down to pubescent growth if you like). Moving forwards, DevilDriver’s “hits” became less and less. Sure, that sounds dismissive, but without “Dead To Rights” or the cover of Awolnation’s “Sail” there’s a chance that DevilDriver could have slipped far into the world of aging irrelevant metal groups. As such, it’s fair to say that between Beast
and Trust No One
, DevilDriver sailed through metal’s more mundane periods, but the slump wasn’t highlighted until their last release, Outlaws ‘til The End (Volume 1)
and the array of less than stellar covers that defined just how piss poor this mainstay of mainstream metal had become. Dealing With Demons: Volume 1
puts the band back on track, bringing with it a sound reminiscent of the early days.
Ironically, especially considering the world’s Covid predicament at the moment comes the new record’s opening track, “Keep Away From Me”. Despite the blunt and easily transferable lyrical nature, the track itself is particularly no frills, atmospheric melody lightly tip toes under simple drum progressions before being shunted, roughly, into a whirlpool of double bass, octane riffery and Dez’ signature snarling growl. The phrasing is equally simplistic, reveling in the effectiveness before hammering in the chorus’ title hooks. As the album’s leading single, “Keep Away From Me” highlights the new album’s focus it’s important to note that “DevilDriver doing DevilDriver” is instantly going to be considerably better than any covers album the group may do in the future.
Even as Dealing With Demons #1
continues the older nuance that makes DevilDriver begin to bleed through. Strong riffs and memorable chorus hooks dominate the album’s middle with “Nest Of Vipers”, “Iona” and “Wishing” in typical fashion. “Wishing” in particular twists the group’s recipe, adding even gothic vibes to the otherwise groove-based renditions of their music. Dez’ cleaner tones mark a stark difference in style, contrasting with the type of roar fans have become used to within eight other full-lengths. Why it’s taken this long to be used in this fashion is anyone’s guess—but thankfully, it’s well executed enough to prevent a fall into a cheese filled contrast for the sake of it. At times, Dealing With Demons #1
does fall into a trap of sterility. Despite the honest call backs to a defining period for the band, the new album suffers from moments of hollowness—namely in the solo of the title track, the vehemence of the first half’s lyrical hooks and lighter matters of self plagiarism which all work at odds against the bricks and mortar approach of DevilDriver’s signature soundscapes.
Largely, DevilDriver’s newest effort fails to transcend middling quality, taking their by-the-numbers approach and repeating it for thirty-nine minutes for long-time fans to enjoy for at least a few times over. As a whole, Dealing With Demons: Volume 1
is an accessible record, finding strength in its familiarity with the band’s back catalogue while earmarking what DevilDriver should be able to achieve in the next few years. This may only be the first half of a double album, but if the second is even as remotely good as the first, longtime DevilDriver fans should have plenty to smile about.