We don’t get many promos for dark Southern Gothic Americana, but The Devil is My Friend by Henry Derek Elis definitely qualifies as such. Over the years Mr. Elis has performed on various side projects with members of The Swans and Megadeth, as well as fronting his own thrash band called Act of Defiance. This is a very different kind of music however, mixing old timey southern music with modern interpretations thereof like the recent works of Tom Waits and Clutch. Add an ominous metallic sheen and a penchant for dark subject matter, and you wind up with something quite intriguing and entertaining.
This is an album steeped in the atmosphere of the deep South. It’s like a drunken night at a deep woods church revival that gets stranger by the hour, and you aren’t sure if it’s your drunkenness talking or if the music is getting creepier by the minute. The opening title track is like a cautionary Johnny Cash folk tale sung by a convicted killer in some backwater Cajun moonshine shed – folksy, bluesy and very dark. Boozy tales of ne’er-do-wells and assorted graveyard shenanigans placed over simple acoustic guitar lines with fiddle and steel guitar accompaniment are the main attraction here, and it really works well. A few cuts take the southern influence deeper like “What’s Left of Us,” which is a pure barnyard stomp of bluesy folk festivity with so much charisma it’s nigh impossible to resist. Eccentric, somber Tom Waits-esque weirdness makes ” Sing for the Dead Man” an oddly beautiful treat, and elements of eerie doom creep along the fringes of emotional dirge “Weeping Willow” and the long, languid lullaby of “If It’s Not Too Late.”
This album has been stuck in my mind and my playlist for months because of how quirky and insanely diverse the material is1, and most importantly, Henry Derek Elis’s absolutely killer vocal performance. He’s got a raspy, dark and dangerous tone with a wicked southern drawl that adds a lot of authenticity to the proceedings. Sometimes he’s all Tom Waits gravelly growls, other times he channels Dax Riggs’ (Acid Bath, Agents of Oblivion) rebellious baritone bravado, and occasionally he sounds like a crazed firebrand minister. No matter the approach, he’s always interesting and highly convincing.
The Devil is My Friend isn’t perfect and sometimes it gets hurt by a desire to play with such divergent styles and influences, resulting in a disjointed feeling as the album stomps through the bayou into modern rock territory. At its core though, it’s an inventive, ambitious dose of Southern-fried folk with a strange magic all its own. I hope to hear more of this Henry Derek Elis cat. He’s got some deep woods mojo, a mysterious bag of tricks and one helluva voice. Take a back-road journey and enjoy some Southern hospitality.
Tracks to Check Out: “The Devil is My Friend,” “Sing for a Dead Man,” and “Weeping Willow”