There’s something about Dez Fafara – and by extension, DevilDriver – that demands your attention. Yes, we may look back at those pictures of Dez in his Coal Chamber days and snigger and we may even chuckle a bit at some of that band’s more ill-advised musical decisions (their cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey” immediately springs to mind) but there was always an air of sincerity about the frontman. That’s probably why DevilDriver have accrued such a devoted following and are about to release their sixth album in just over a decade.
DevilDriver have steadily moved away from their heavy-for-heavy’s-sake first couple of albums and gelled into something of a formidable force on the metal scene, with 2007’s ‘The Last Kind Words’ and 2009’s ‘Pray For Villains’ injecting some much-needed groove and melody into their songwriting, resulting in the latter album breaking into the US Top 40. However, 2011’s ‘Beast’ side-stepped some of that groove in favour of more brutality, resulting in an album that, although still bursting with top metal tunes, felt like it had lost a little of the momentum that had been built up.
Which makes ‘Winter Kills’ something of a return to form for Dez and his merry men, as the album is bristling with some killer grooves to balance out the thrashing fury that the band seem to be able to offer up on cue. Opener “Oath of the Abyss” is a mid-paced chugger that will immediately lay to rest any fears that you may have had about Dez going soft after reforming Coal Chamber back in 2011. The bouncing “Ruthless” passes by without incident before “Desperate Times”, the first real album highlight, hits you straight between the ears like a sledgehammer, combining pummelling double-bass drum flurries and Dez’s hardcore punk-style vocals into an irresistible mosh pit filler of a tune.
It’s at this point of the album that everything slots into place, as the effortless rage of the title track and the catchy hooks of “The Appetite” roll out of the speakers and you realise that DevilDriver have made an album that combines the best of everything they’ve done so far and it in no way sounds forced or contrived. Not that their previous albums did to any great degree, but DevilDriver now sound comfortable being DevilDriver, rather than trying to be the heaviest, the fastest or the most aggressive; it’s the sound of a band who don’t feel the need to prove who they, just to be who they are.
The album keeps the quality up until the end, with tracks like the sure-fire future live favourite “Tripping Over Tombstones” and a cover of AWOLNATION’s “Sail” rounding things out in a very satisfying manner. Every band says that their latest album is their best album yet but with ‘Winter Kills’ there’s plenty to suggest that this could actually be the case.