DevilDriver – Dealing With Demons, Volume I (Album Review)

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Grooving on through the gates of perdition.

For those who remember the rise of nu-metal in the late 90s and its ascendant status shortly after, the name DevilDriver often dredges up memories of the campy 2003 Freddy Vs. Jason horror flick and their groove-infused, Pantera-inspired addition to its soundtrack “Swinging The Dead”. The eventual eponymous debut LP that followed was notable for its aggressive, groove thrashing character, as well as its tardiness, as the previously mentioned American metal movement was fast becoming a four-letter word even among the most prominent bands that were initially associated with it. A change in musical direction was naturally in the cards, and given the band’s already more metallic character when compared to the likes of Korn and Slipknot, the eventual pivot to a grooving, quasi-Gothenburg inspired sound similar to the one that put Lamb Of God on the map was not only a logical one, but practically inevitable.

In the years since this California-based outfit has seen all of their original lineup save their founder and lead vocalist Dez Fafara and longtime guitarist Mike Spreitzer change up several times, yet the output since 2005’s “The Fury Of Our Maker’s Hand” has been defined more by consistency than anything else. The focal point of the band’s stylistic evolution, however, has been the lyrical content provided by Fafara himself, which has always been of a confessional character comparable to a number of prominent metalcore outfits, yet has become more methodical and focused with each new effort. Recently the album structure has also taken on a more programmatic and serial nature, with the previous studio excursion “Outlaws Till The End, Vol. 1” marking their first series in album form. 2020’s “Dealing With Demons, Volume 1” continues this same trend, albeit by kicking off a new series prior to the previous one’s completion.

The musical tapestry that is painted here is one that shifts between somber and reserved atmospheric moments and high-impact fits of anger in a generally jarring fashion. Opener and expositional anthem “Keep Away From Me” presents a visual of extreme social alienation, beginning with a dreary, doom-like dirge with a droning clean guitar line and exploding into a storm of rage that vacillates between a blurring set of tremolo riffs and a pummeling set of groovy stomps with the introductory theme recurring to mark the refrain. Similarly structured mixtures of soft and hard moments like “Iona” and closing crusher “Scars Me Forever” convey a similar sense of isolation and resentment, but go a bit heavier on the melodic death metal influences and prove a bit fancier, while the almost pristine melodic guitar lines that paint “Wishing”, alongside Fafara’s occasional moves towards a cleaner vocal presentation, almost move the band into territory usually reserved to Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum.

“Dealing With Demons, Volume I” Album Artwork

For all the interesting musical elements going on at this album’s periphery, it’s ultimately a very concise and predictable venture from a songwriting standpoint. Of particular note among the songs that veer into familiar territory is the partially In Flames inspired anthem “Den Of Vipers”, which has this catchy yet somewhat oversimplified and repetitive melodic hook, though it also contains some truly excellent and highly expressive lead guitar work that one rarely hears out of bands tied to the New Wave Of American Heavy Metal. On the other side of the coin, generally mid-paced groove machines like “Witches” and “You Give Me A Reason To Drink” are quite heavy and forbidding, yet seem a bit static when compared to the more melodeath-infused songs that showcase a greater variety of emotional expressions. Then again, while the groove thrashing violence of title anthem “Dealing With Demons” is also of a more straightforward character, it has a dynamic character to it and a level of depth that keeps things moving, and again showcases some solid guitar chops.

It will be very interesting to see how this series develops on the next album, as per the band’s own testimony, they intend an even more intense experience next go around. They’ve definitely provided a varied enough foundation here to have a lot of options available to them, and further emphasis upon the playing abilities Mike Spreitzer and Neal Tiemann would be a welcome outcome given how brightly they shine here. About the only thing that really hinders this album to any extent is that the flow of the songs comes off as a tad erratic, with the somber melodeath inspired anthems being front loaded onto the album, much of the groovier stuff in the middle kinda putting the brakes on things, and the faster thrashing parts being a bit few and far between. This isn’t quite the best thing to come out of their arsenal in the past 15 years, but it’s a solid listen that should play well with the band’s existing fan base and possibly rope in a few stragglers in the European melodeath scene.

Released by: Napalm Records
Released Date: October 2nd, 2020
Genre: Melodic Death Metal

Musicians:

  • Dez Fafara / Vocals
  • Mike Spreitzer / Guitars
  • Austin D’Amond / Drums
  • Neal Tiemann / Guitars
  • Diego “Ashes” Ibarra / Bass

Dealing With Demons Vol. 1” track-listing:

  1.  Keep Away from Me
  2. Vengeance Is Clear
  3. Nest of Vipers
  4. Iona
  5. Wishing
  6. You Give Me a Reason to Drink
  7. Witches
  8. Dealing with Demons
  9. The Damned Don’t Cry
  10. Scars Me Forever

7.4 Very Good

Latter day entries into the New Wave Of American Heavy Metal and former nu-metal trustees turned melodic death metal adherents DevilDriver continue to hone their modern metallic craft with a solid offering of aggressive, deep chugging introspection.

  • Songwriting 7.5
  • Musicianship 8
  • Originality 6.5
  • Production 7.5
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