DevilDriver - Winter KillsDevilDriver has always been a bit of an underdog story. Not in terms of success, but in terms of cred. Many metalheads have made the transition from nü-metal goofclown to full-on ripper—myself included—but none of us to had make the transition in the public eye like Dez Fafara. His first band, Coal Chamber, was arguably one of the silliest acts of the nü-heyday (no small feat), and his metamorphosis from mesh-clad demigod to fledgling hesher has been a minor feelgood story.

He made the transition at roughly the same time as Robb Flynn, but Mr. Supercharger’s return to heavier metals is more of a tail-tucked, post-sellout mea culpa, so he isn’t awarded similar sentiment. But Machine Head and DevilDriver have been occupying a similar headspace, dutifully filling the post-metalcore mosh quota for the still-mad-at-my-dad crowd. DevilDriver differs in that they’ve been more prolific, thus sneaking a larger catalog of quality tracks into the metalverse. They achieved this by keeping a very real pulse on legitimate, underground heavy metal, trickling out Gothenthrash-tinged viscera like “Ripped Apart,” “These Fighting Words,” and “Resurrection Boulevard” while doing just enough to keep well-wishing cheerleaders like myself hanging around their periphery.

The problem with the bulk of DevilDriver‘s material is that it’s obviously geared for teenagers. Not as blatantly as, say, Arch Enemy‘s, but despite an inherently cool vocal approach, Dez’s emotional range only fluctuates between two settings: Adolescent angst and tough-guy posturing. Thus, you end up listening to DevilDriver because:

A) You need to drive somewhere very quickly, or
B) Your boss is a dick.

A successful DevilDriver record (like The Last Kind Words) gets to the Promised Land on the basis of its Real Metal to Meathead Mosh ratio. Taking their handicap into account, 60/40 is considered a colossal achievement. So how does Winter Kills stack up?

DevilDriver 2013Well, this is a pretty tough one to score, because, paradoxically, the more bro-tastic jams on Winter Kills have more potency than the cerebral churners like “Curses and Epitaphs” and “Sail.” After six albums, the band has mastered the art of torquing tired idioms into earnest battle cries, ripping out rote thrash-til-the-breakdown jams that will make 30-year-old men hunt down their high school gym teachers and scream “desperate times call for desperate measures!” in a fit of uncoordinated rage. Winter Kills, unfortunately, is at its best when it’s fucking dumb.

Attempts at contemporary, djent-y stutterstep on “Gutted” fall flat, as do Dez’s attempts to emote atop the suffocating double bass of “Caring’s Overkill.” There’s a song called “Haunting Refrain” that, predictably, lacks a haunting refrain. As Winter Kills progresses, these lulls create cravings for the band’s one-dimensional circle pit fodder. Luckily, the aforementioned “Desperate Times” provides ample punch, as does the vortex-inducing title track.

But therein lies the problem with DevilDriver‘s very existence: They’re pushing-forty dudes that still sound like they’re mad about being grounded, and enjoyment of Winter Kills is predicated on a grown-ass adult’s willingness to accept that the album’s best track is built around a chorus of “Fuck you, I’m ruthless!” It’s solid guilty-pleasure material, assuredly. But after all these years, it’s time to abandon the prospect of DevilDriver becoming something better than they actually are.


Rating: 2.5/5.0 — Needs More Meathead Mosh Tracks
Label: Napalm Records
Websites: devildriver.com | facebook.com/devildriverofficial1
Release Dates: EU: 2013.08.21 | NA: 08.27.2013

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  • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

    The Fafara/Flynn comparison is interesting. To me, Flynn at least had some real cred (see: Vio-Lence), which he sold out but then slowly earned back. Fafara began his career as a part of a trend, and then simply raided Phil Anselmo’s closet when he realized that there was no more money to be made from nu-metal. He’s the epitome of a poser, both during the ’90s and in his current incarnation.

    BTW, fucking awesome review, dude. Awesome having you aboard!

  • hubcapiv

    IMO this is an excellent review. This:

    “They’re pushing-forty dudes that still sound like they’re mad about being grounded, and enjoyment ofWinter Kills is predicated on a grown-ass adult’s willingness to accept that the album’s best track is built around a chorus of “Fuck you, I’m ruthless!””

    I’ve haven’t heard this record, and I don’t imagine that I ever will. But thanks to you, I feel as though I have…

  • Selim Baradan

    Excellent and spot-on review. Devildriver is becoming tiresome by each release. If they don’t intend to change things, at least they need to write more catchy songs.

  • Rob Mcdermott

    I don’t know what I love most about this site, the music or the writing. I now can’t shake an image of a reincarnated Good Doctor annihilating his type-writer after waking with a serious hangover to *this* on the stereo… Thanks!

  • Alan Keller Jr

    Very well written review but I gotta respectfully disagree with you. While I obviously can only speak for myself, the reason I listen to DD isn’t because it is full of angst; rather their ultra-groove laden tunes get me banging my head without having to focus too hard. Once you get past the fact that DevilDriver isn’t going to re-invent the wheel, nor do I think they ever intended on trying to, I find they are much easier to enjoy. It’s just balls to the wall, metal by the numbers, but for some reason they manage to do it better than anyone else attempting the same thing. Not sure if it’s the guitars or Dez’s vox, but something about them make them stand out from the crowd. With Beast, DD definitely went too far into the realm of trying to be heavy as a really heavy thing, but I think they managed to find themselves again with Winter Kills. Everyone listens to metal (and any music for that matter) for different reasons… for me DD’s music is just super easy to enjoy. I just think DD pull it off much better than their contemporaries.

    • Piet

      This. Exactly.

  • Vlad Invictus

    The thing about this new DD record is they’re starting to sound more metalcore than ever, while their previous albums had that thrashy/death vibe and sound. Probably their weakest album so far. In fact, I don’t really care about them, but I was shocked when their first album came out and I heard Dez in actual metal act, not some groovy trendy mtv hardcore like Coal Chamber. And yes, I share almost the same opinion with you when you’re comparing Dez’s and Flynn’s transition from their core days to metal. They’ve both cleverly jumped on a train of so called “NWOAHM” and while I’m not fan of either, I’m always interested in checking out their new releases.

  • God_listens_to_Slayer

    This is a terrible review if I ever read one. bitc.. erm… complaining about occupying and exploiting some music style niche and blaming them for poor lyrics in metal genre. that’s so funny. I ditched them after the second album because I didn’t like where they were heading, being allergic to any kind of black and heavy metal. Till until a month ago when I heard winter kills. then heard all the others. I find winter kills as one of the best albums that has musical variety since the end of the 90’s. you look like a smart guy or just spent too much time writing this review. either way if you’re looking for some deep sophisticated lyrics or sudden melodic revelations, look somewhere else not in wide term metal genre.

    • das_krieg

      “…either way if you’re looking for some deep sophisticated lyrics or sudden melodic revelations, look somewhere else not in wide term metal genre.”

      Is this guy for real?