REVIEW: DEVILDRIVER – “Dealing With Demons”
It’s an interesting time for musicians. While many have had most of, if not all of, there 2020 shows and tours cancelled and taken the time to have a well-deserved break, others have relished the chance to use this time to work on new material. As a band often touted as one of the hardest working around, Devildriver have obviously taken the latter route and have been working tirelessly with the intention of releasing not one, but two albums within the next 12 months. The first of these releases, the appropriately titled Dealing with Demons Volume 1 has been described as “the onset of a final purging of the demons that have long haunted frontman Dez Fafara and Devildriver’s music”. But as the first new material since 2016’s well-received Trust No One, how does this musical exorcism sound?
Starting off the album with track Keep Away From Me, the band really doubles down on the notion that they are laying it all out on the table. Taking obvious inspiration from the current pandemic, and a bit of self-introspection on the bands part, the tracks lyrical themes really sit front and centre for this song. With a solid groove and a superb guitar tapping passage towards the tail end of the track, Keep Away from Me really serves well as the perfect opener. Second track Vengeance is Clear is filled with the groove people have come to expect from the band. It has a bouncy drum and bass line replete with a chugging guitar that carries the song. It’s so catchy that it’s easy to get lost in the music on this track alone, but adding Fafara’s vocals into the mix it’s going to be tricky not to see this song make its way onto the bands live sets when shows resume again.
It’s tricky not to feel the vitriol from spewing forth from Fafara on tracks Nest of Vipers and Iona. While both are extremely loaded tracks, the former of which has one of the better sounding verse riffs that draws in listeners before its chorus delivers a sharp melodic punch over some choice lyrics, while the latter is a slightly toned-down affair embracing a more groove metal style sound. When this album was described as the purging of demons that have long haunted Fafara and the band, this is obviously the content that springs immediately to mind, and it’s difficult not to be impressed when it’s done in such a tasteful way.
It’s the midpoint of the album where track Wishing comes along and really changes the pace while also blowing the listener away. While its opening guitar and drum passages help accentuate the sombre mood of the song, it’s the spoken word verses spinning the lyrical content in a moving way that really draw the listeners in. This all climaxes with the impassioned vocals of Fafara in the chorus screaming “Wishing you were here” over a fast-paced musical background which makes this song etch itself into the memory of the listener. Once it burrows in, it’s difficult to lose from your mind and this will easily become a favourite of many listeners.
As opposed to the earlier portion of the album which is filled with the more melodic tracks, the tail end really embraces the band’s heritage with a lot of groove-laden tracks. You Give Me A Reason To Drink is probably one of the slowest tracks on the album but carries with it it’s heavy lyrical themes and culminates in a pretty cool solo. Witches, on the other hand, takes that groove inspiration and a little bit of a nu-metal influence, infuses them both with melody, and adds in another stellar solo to create a track that fits in well with the mould already created, but creates something that stands as another completely unique title on the album.
The band then re-treads their melodic sound on the title track Dealing with Demons, another hard-hitting but melodic masterpiece with a very introspective sounding guitar solo towards the tail end of the track, before closing tracks The Damned Don’t Cry and Scars Me Forever further the band’s demon cleansing with two more groove-laden tracks to close out the album.
Vocally, Fafara lays down some of his best work on this album. Over the years his enunciation in his growls have become much clearer over his earlier works, and the incorporation of spoken passages in Wishing stand out as key highlights from the vocal delivery on this album. Musically, it’s difficult not to be drawn in by the interplay between guitarists Mike Spreitzer and Neil Tiemann on Dealing with Demons because throughout the entirety of this album these two play off each other seamlessly and bring great life to these tracks. It’s great to feel their differing styles complementing each other throughout, and their tone on each track brings forth an emotive element which cannot be understated. It would be difficult for the guitars and vocals to shine through without the competent work of Diego Ibarra on bass and Austin D’Amond on drums, whose work is often understated, but completely integral to the band’s overall sound on this album.
Overall, Dealing with Demons Volume 1 was a surprise on many levels. There’s enough variety here to satiate the long term fans who have shared the journey thus far with the band, while also hinting towards a new horizon that they have set for themselves. Dealing with Demons Volume 1 might be the beginning of Devildriver opening up a clean slate mentally, emotionally and musically, but they certainly make it very tricky not to be drawn into the spiritual cleansing alongside them. With the second part of this double offering Dealing with Demons Volume II slated for a 2021 release, it will be interesting to see how the band expands upon what they’ve done so far, but if its anything like what they have dished up on this album, then we can probably already call that the band might have two consecutive years in many peoples ‘best of…’ lists.