As the album title suggests, this is the first strike of a DevilDriver double-header, which in itself tells you something about the band’s ongoing commitment and enthusiasm 18 years after they first emerged from the Santa Barbara badlands.
While the DevilDriver line-up has not always been watertight, its talismanic frontman Dez Fafara as always conducts things from the front, centrestage on this the band’s ninth studio album. His inherent heart on the sleeve honesty, coupled with songs that can cause the dead to turn over in their perennial sleep, have made Dez a welcome guest at any metal party across either side of the Atlantic.
The band have seldom stuttered in their journey with latterday releases such as Winter Kills (2013) and Trust No One (2016) standing up strongly when held up against some of their explosive early work such as The Fury of Our Maker’s Hand (2005).
With Dez continuing to churn out fresh material at a healthy rate of knots, with quality to the fore as much as quantity, rather than consign new gems to the sonic scrapheap he instead went for the double bubble approach, the first time DevilDriver have done so in their near 20-year career.
Dealing With Demons I showcases 10 new tracks in which every riff and drum attack is measured to perfection, ensuring no drag, as the Cali crew tear through shuddering new songs such as the thunderstorm of an opener ‘Keep Away From Me’ and the no less incendiary ‘Iona’. DevilDriver’s delivery has always been one infused with its full quota of grooves and that’s still very much the case. The tracks are firing like a factory furnace but with the requisite melodies that have always been a staple with DevilDriver.
The album title itself provides a window through which to peer in and assess Fafara’s mindset when penning this album, something he did alongside the band’s longstanding lead guitarist Mike Spreitzer. Fafara has battled his own demons down the years but somehow survived the worst of what life has to throw at you before now emerging all the stronger for it and ready to wipe the slate clean.
Clearly so many demons are packed into Fafara’s cupboard that one album alone isn’t sufficient for him to slay them all with a stake through their heart. Everyone has highs and lows in life but you detect with Dez that the extremes of both are greater than most. His wife’s skin cancer battle, through which she thankfully emerged, is a clear memory and motivation while having to pack up at haste to flee rampaging Californian wildfires is an experience that few on this side of the pond have ever had to contemplate.
There are though points to make, scores to settle and lines to be drawn in the sand and that’s what this album gives him licence to do on tracks such as the stompin’ ‘You Give Me a Reason to Drink’ and the boiling cauldron of ‘Witches’. Only on ‘Wishing’ does Dez briefly veer off script when he indulges in some clean singing in between his more familiar feisty barks.
A bit like a snake shedding skin to revive and refresh, so has Fafara and the current band line-up – completed by guitarist Neal Tiemann, drummer Austin D’Amond and bassist Diego Ibarra – is as strong a unit as any that Fafara has fronted over the past two decades.
There’s no hanging about either on Dealing With Demons I. The pace is relentless, rotating through this musical melee with a consistent metronomic menace. But then DevilDriver never were ones to spare the horses. It’s been a four-year wait for Fafara to finally nail this album down. Fortunately for all the DevilDriver disciples out there, the second half of this powerhouse of an album will be with us much more quickly. Only then will we know for sure if Fafara has finally exorcised all his demons.
Dealing With Demons l is released via Napalm Records on 2 October 2020
Review by Paul Castles
- Keep Away From Me
- Vengeance Is Clear
- Nest Of Vipers
- You Give Me A Reason To Drink (feat. Simon Blade Fafara)
- Dealing With Demons
- The Damned Don’t Cry
- Scars Me Forever