It may be unfashionable to say this now, but during the days of Coal Chamber, what marked the band out as being above the average was the lyrics and delivery of Dez Fafara. Scrupulously honest, wherever else that band might have had failings, you always knew that Dez’s lyrics were delivered with a passion and integrity lacking elsewhere in the nu-metal movement. Coal Chamber, whilst reactivated for occasional shows now, ended ignominiously and it truly seemed that the world had seen the last of Dez and metal, in my opinion at least, would have been the poorer for it. Dez was never an artist to be beaten down, however, and Devildriver has been a spectacular, phoenix-like rise from the ashes although not through luck and good fortune. The story of Devildriver is a story of hard work, sweat, determination and the faith of the fans that flocked to an ever increasing catalogue of excellent albums. With a string of face-melting performances delivered across the UK recently (not least the band’s devastating set at Bloodstock 2013), a new Devildriver album is something to quicken the pulse and just one listen to ‘Winter Kills’, released via the band’s new home of Napalm records (a label that seems to be increasingly attracting some stunning artists), will tell you that Devildriver have truly honed their fearsome talents into a crushingly potent weapon.
Opening with ‘oath of the abyss’, a song that swells amidst thunderous percussion, when the guitars kick in they are brutally crisp and clean with a tremendously dirty bass sound underpinning the brutality and Dez’s voice, always uniquely distinctive, cutting through the mix with the confidence and authority that comes with touring the world and crushing all that come before. It is a blistering opening track that marks out Devildriver as a band destined to vault from their current mid-day festival positions to headliners in their own right. The balance is absolutely perfect – here there are searing guitars, a stunning percussive assault not a million miles away from Gojira, an almighty groove that moves the body and, of course, the utterly genuine delivery of Dez, a frontman committed to the cause of metal in a manner that is irresistible. ‘Ruthless’ sees that Gojira comparison raise its head again, the guitars coming in over atypical percussion and building in strength and ferocity until Dez steps forward and unleashes the dogs of war via a blood-curdling scream that would surely perforate the vocal chords of any lesser mortal. Not since Sepultura came storming out of the underground with ‘roots’ has a band sounded so utterly thrilling, vital and powerful and there is no question that this is Devildriver’s finest work to date. Offering no respite, ‘desperate times’ is a mosh-pit crusher – a no holds barred melee of storming riffs and rapid-fire roars delivered with a ferocity that puts Devildriver toe to toe with Pantera and sees them comparing favourably – a rare feat in itself. In contrast the title track, whilst still unspeakably heavy, sees the guitars explore a wider territory, cleverly embedding melody into the menacingly vibrant song.
Having firmly established their place at the head of the metal pack, ‘the appetite’ takes a moment to slow the pace with some lightly picked guitar, although you know that Dez and his merry band are only a moment away from bringing the pain, something they do with breath-taking ferocity mere seconds later, Dez’s shock and awe vocals speaking directly into the heart of the listener, his lyrics confrontational and yet inspirational rather than destructive – a quality that was similarly present in his coal chamber work. ‘Gutted’ is a non-stop blast of staccato riffs that showcase just how tight a unit Devildriver have become and would easily be a showcase track if it wasn’t for the fact that every track on ‘winter kills’ is a showcase track. ‘Curses and epitaphs’ sees the band opt for an unexpectedly epic sound, whilst diminishing none of their vicious power and if you’re not subconsciously banging your head by the end you may as well give up on metal. ‘Carings overkill’ has a droning might, a latent power that reveals itself slowly with subtle flexes of muscle once again recalling the unhinged might of Gojira, whilst a mighty solo adds a touch of class. ‘Haunting refrain’ again demonstrates the versatility at the heart of Devildriver’s success, the echoing guitar that opens the track the sort of detail that so few bands think about adding. The track, of course, plunges soon enough into a heady maelstrom of seething riffs, jagged percussion like rocks piercing the waves and Dez’s inimitable roar, and the devilish glee with which the band tear into the aural assault is a simple, metallic joy to behold. ‘Tripping over tombstones’ is a maniacal trip through a cemetery, a bottle of cheap wine in each hand and the irreverence of youth represented in the storming guitar work. The final track, ‘sail’, rounds out the album in suitably fine style, the band sensibly knowing exactly when to bow out, leaving you wanting more. The song is a slower number and the guitar trips nimbly around Dez’s vocals before winding up to a full blown charge on the chorus. It is a potent cocktail Devildriver present and one that you’ll find yourself wishing to partake of regularly.
‘Winter kills’ is everything you want from a modern heavy metal album and more. Dez is rapidly becoming a peerless frontman, his honesty and integrity the lynchpin of the band’s increasingly excellent musical endeavours. Here is variety here, but never at the expense of power, and Devildriver know exactly what their audience want. Unutterably brutal, and yet possessed of enough melody to keep the tracks memorable, ‘winter kills’ is Devil Driver’s fiercest, most impressive outing yet and it belongs in the collection of any self-respecting metal head.