Sunday, 22 September 2013

DevilDriver's 'Winter Kills' - Album Review

California's DevilDriver have been big stars in the metal world for quite a few years now, but it is only recently that I have started to gain a proper appreciation for them. I always saw them as a poor man's Lamb of God, but now I realise that that was an unfair judgement and that they are an excellent band in their own right. Winter Kills is the band's sixth album, but the overall formula has not changed. This is heavy, yet reasonably accessible, music with plenty of solid grooves and some melodic lead guitar. Dez Fafara's vocals are as raw and gut-wrenching as ever, and he really drives the band with his recognisable style and uncompromising lyrics. While the music is angry it still maintains a sense of fun, so it is no wonder that many a disaffected teenager is a fan of the band. This is no bad thing though and Winter Kills is likely to reinforce their love of DevilDriver, but I feel it is unlikely to convert any sceptics. The band do what they do and they do it well (and often, as this is their sixth album since 2003 - one every two years!), and are not ones to change that for anyone. Their attitude is typically metal, and because of this have been taken into the hearts of moshers everywhere. Winter Kills sounds massive. DevilDriver keep the sound simple and just turn it all up to eleven. Mark Lewis has done a great job with the production and the album sounds very heavy while still holding onto a certain clarity that stops it from becoming just a wall of noise. This is also the band's first album with new bassist Chris Towning who officially replaced Jonathan Miller earlier this year after touring with the band on a session bassist for a time.

A spooky intro heralds the album's first track, the ferocious Oath of the Abyss. The initial melodic intro soon gives way to a cliché yet satisfying verse with some big vocals from Fafara and tight riffing from Jeff Kendrick and Mike Spreitzer. The chorus revisits the melodic intro and helps it to stand out from the rest of the song. While not being a band known for their melody, DevilDriver seem to understand the power of an earworm and the lead work is very memorable. The madness continues with Ruthless. John Boecklin displays some fast footwork in the intro, and despite not being the most inventive drummer out there, he does what is required of him and still manages to sound interesting. This song is more of a mid-paced chugger with some big guitar notes accenting the groove nicely. The chorus is a little faster and helps to keep the song varied. Desperate Times is up next and really takes the album into extreme headbanging territory. The main riff is perfect to headbang (and probably mosh) to, but the chorus is surprisingly catchy and I can just see the crowds fist-pumping and singing along to this one live. The album's title track follows and features one of the best intros on the album. The distant leads add just enough flavour to the heavy riffage and the Fafara seems extra vitriolic here. This is a definate pit-anthem, and I can only imagine what fury would be unleashed at one of their shows if this was played. A couple of nice changes in rhythm towards the end of the song go a long way to making this a very dynamic track. The Appetite (which has a rather terrible video it must be said - although I would not take it seriously) is typically metal. However, the lead work is excellent and overall the song sounds pretty fresh. The video features the things that all metal kids supposedly love (skateboards, beer etc.) and this song seems like a bit of a tribute to that - even if the lyrics do not suggest so. It is a good song, but I cannot help but picture generic metalheads when I hear it, which does ruin it slightly.

The next highlight is Curses and Epitaphs. It is another crushing riff-fest but one that contains many different sections and often changes when you least expect it. The chorus is the best part of the song. Boecklins fast feet beneath a pretty slow guitar riff gives it quite a disorienting feel and Fafara's vocals sit on top of this nicely. There is also a really memorable guitar solo, that makes sparing use of some nice wah effects - something which is not often found in this sort of music. Haunting Refrain is the next song worthy of mention. It has a cool atmospheric intro (as do a few other songs on this album), and not being too familiar with their back catalogue I am not sure if this is a new thing for them or not, but it works very well. Not much about the song really stands out, but it still manages to be enjoyable. I think it has an excellent groove throughout with some nice guitar work from Kendrick and Spreitzer that uses slightly unconventional patterns to create something very interesting. There is an excellent guitar solo too that borrows lots from traditional classic rock/metal phrasing. Tripping Over Tombstones is up next replete with it's angsty lyrics and big riffs. This is vintage DeviDriver and their well-worked formula is recognisable. The band have certainly carved out their niche and have become very successful and popular as a result. The final track on the album, Sail, is a cover of indie band Awolnation. DevilDriver have made it their own though, and while it will probably cause controversy amongst the flat-earthists that make up quite a large portion of the metal community, I think it works well here. Some female vocals performed by Mary Whitman add something different to the song, and give it a certain haunting atmosphere. I have not heard the original version of the song, but I am sure that DevilDriver have changed it into something much heavier and sadder. Overall, Winter Kills is more of the same from DevilDriver. The band are not known for their experimentation or progressive thinking, but they deliver exactly what their fans want which is refreshing in it's own way - and it would be worth a bet that 2015 will bring another DevilDriver album that follows the same successful blueprint as this!

The album was released on 27th August 2013 via Napalm Records. Below is the band's promotional video for The Appetite.

No comments:

Post a Comment