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DevilDriver have been, in a career that astonishingly has yet to cover even eight years as of this writing, a near-perfect model for the upward curve of a metal band’s sound. With every release, they’ve gone from strength to strength with a fantastic sense of self-possession; they shook off the cobwebs of Coal Chamber with the eponymous debut, cemented their sound with the ferocious ‘The Fury Of Our Maker’s Hand’, and delivered a powerblast of brutal good times with ‘The Last Kind Words’.
Album No. 4, then, perhaps called for a consolidation of their position, the last nail in the coffin that will forever put to rest the absurd issue of ‘credibility’ that follows this excellent band around like a bad stench. What ‘Pray For Villains’ needed to do was silence every doubter, and establish permanently that this band is a primal force you dare not mess with.
How sad, then, that instead of that glorious metallic vision, ‘Pray...’ ends up us something of a strange blip on the screen; an experience that, once over, you don’t really recall much of, only a vague sense that it wasn’t much worth it in the first place. After three consecutive leaps in aggression and a steady rise in songwriting quality, ‘Pray...’ represents a sort of musical stutter, a momentary halt for DevilDriver to make sure their footing is still firm. To be sure, that perfect model hasn’t started descending just yet; instead, it’s levelled out, and after such an impressive incline, the results are a touch disappointing.
To be sure, this is certainly not the worst album you’ll ever hear – it’s not even much of a ‘bad’ record to begin with. Nothing here will offend your sensibilities, and no-one in their right mind would ever be able to get their ‘sell-out’ finger a’pointing at ‘Pray...’, not least with a faint, almost proggy spice lingering in the mixing pot. The album isn't shy of its share of belting fist-pumpers, either; from the fantastically balls-out title track, through the paean to The Wretched that is ‘Another Night In London’ right up to the devastating pounding of ‘Pure Sincerity’, there’s no shortage of pit anthems to get stomping along to. And yet...
First off, there’s absolutely no getting around the fact that the production, supplied here by Logan Mader (formerly of Machine Head), has neutered the sound almost completely, and is the factor that almost ruins the record. Whereas ‘Fury...’ was delightfully no-frills and lean, and ‘Last...’ went all out with a rich, fat, meaty mix, ‘Pray...’ sounds exactly like what it is – overlayed into oblivion. The whole affair sounds light, airy, the individual parts seeming to be hanging loose from the whole. Frontman Dez Fafara suffers the worst of it; the man who has been the valiant spear point of DevilDriver’s attack since they began now sounds like his snarls and shrieks are being drowned in a thick treacle of overdubbing. And while performances all round are uniformly top-notch, the technical expertise far outstrips most of the songwriting, which on the likes of ‘Forgiveness is a Six Gun’, ‘It’s In The Cards’ and ‘Waiting For November’ seems to be positively straining to maintain a hard-hitting edge.
As mentioned, the album is far from painful to listen to, nor does it necessarily a significant dip in DevilDriver’s quality. It’ll win no prizes as the album of their career either, but to write off a band who can still pull astounding material from even the lower points in their work (the title track truly is a stunner) is pure folly. Treat ‘Pray For Villains’ instead as an oddity, a strange pit stop on a journey that, with luck, will just get smoother and smoother in the years to come.