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Pray For Melody - 92%

Wacke, March 29th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2009, CD + DVD, Roadrunner Records (Limited edition, Digipak)

After the widely acclaimed and successful album "The Last Kind Words" in 2007, DevilDriver returned in 2009 with "Pray For Villains". DD has always been a band that constantly takes a new route from album-to-album without losing its trademark sounds. Needless to say, this time around was no different.

Whereas the previous album was a rather one-dimensional record, focusing more solely on heavy, groovy, and blistering tracks, this album is in many ways the opposite record. While keeping their signature groove and melodies from previous albums, this album really is more built around a toned-down groove sound with a lot of melody. In fact, compared to their earlier albums, this one is rather ultra-melodic in comparison. This is mostly evident in the guitar playing, which incorporates a lot of classically influenced scales and styles throughout many of the albums tracks ("Resurrection Bvld.", etc.), and that is something that truly feels refreshing when embracing the band's fourth album release. The album also has an overall richer feel to it as far as influences go, even sounding a bit influenced by pop music at times ("Teach Me To Whisper").

The musicianship is as strong as ever, and of course even a bit stronger than before. Guitarists Mike Spreitzer and Jeff Kendrick both really prove themselves being great guitarists this time around, something that unfortunately don't happen on every DD album because lack of guitar solos and such. The massively underrated powerhouse drummer John Boecklin hasn't changed a bit from previous albums and he's just as ferocious behind the kit as ever. Even badass vocalist Dez Fafara has grown since the previous albums, providing an overall stronger and genuine feel to the vocals through his performance and personal lyrics.

All-in-all this album is perhaps the band's richest and most creative album to date. It really does stand out in the DD catalogue with its melodic groove metal and great musicianship. The production, done by the old Machine Head guitarist Logan Mader, is perhaps a bit too polished in certain areas, but it does suit the music and really balances all the instruments well together. Though I don't really like the principle of "deluxe" or "remaster" issues of albums, it's undeniable that it's a common thing for the past ten years or so. With that said, the deluxe version of this album is a lot richer than the standard issue itself. The bonus tracks are the strongest on any DD release, outdoing several of the album's standard tracks, and there's also a nice and fun bonus DVD showing the making of the album.

I would totally recommend this album to fans of aggressive yet melodic metal music, especially if you're into groove, melodeath or metalcore (though I would not really label DevilDriver as metalcore). This is probably my favorite by DevilDriver as I'm a sucker for classical guitar stuff, but fans of any of their other albums would most likely dig this one out of many other reasons as well. It's just an overall heavy, beautiful and very personal record.

Check-outs: Bitter Pill, Waiting For November, Pray For Villains, Forgiveness Is A Six Gun.

Exploding the metal universe - 88%

gasmask_colostomy, May 4th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2009, CD + DVD, Roadrunner Records (Limited edition, Digipak)

Over the years, Devildriver have enjoyed throwing out the heaviest song on any given album as not only the opening track but also the single. And, mostly, that heavy song has not been entirely representative of the album, which (in the case of 'Beast' and this album) actually featured more adventurous and well-crafted numbers that would perhaps have attracted more listeners to the party. I'm not exactly criticising the band for this choice, but you do have have to question exactly how they see themselves: do Devildriver think they are a semi (non-melodic) death metal band, because that's what 'Dead to Rights' screamed and it's also what the title track here weightily suggests.

The song 'Pray to Villains' is a heads-down, churning riffstorm with no melodies and no shifts in pace, except for that stop-start grooving riff near the end. Brutal it may be, but it's actually bland compared to the rest of the album. Devildriver's sonic palette has been expanding ever since they released their debut album and 'Pray for Villains' (the album) saw the band making full use of the diverse range of styles they had claimed. The title track is the only song that doesn't employ a single melody, solo, or outside genre. There is really a lot going on here, from the doom-on-steroids main riff of 'Pure Sincerity' to the out and out shredding that closes 'I See Belief' and most of these ideas are executed with great precision.

Creativity is a high point, although the band is not completely on fire. John Boecklin as ever is the vital component to Devildriver's success: it may be Dez Fafara's band but the drummer is the driving force behind every song, whether pounding along at high pace on the opener, kickstarting 'I've Been Sober' with a gloriously precise fill, or restraining the whole band as they build tension midway through 'Fate Stepped In'. On this last song, the bass comes to the fore as well with an acrobatic, flexible tone that generally gives the music a feeling of momentum and groove that is hard to resist. The guitarists work their arses off in several modern styles, drawing from death, melodic death, metalcore, and a more general modern metal sound, as well as pulling in titbits from thrash and doom. The leads and melodies, however, are far more classic in places and give nods to both the atmospheric and adrenalised corners of our world. The tone for the rhythm guitar sometimes sounds a little too modern and processed, but it packs a much needed punch, since Dez Fafara sadly isn't all there in the vocal department. His contribution to the two preceding albums was more front and centre and gave the band a focal point, but here he sounds one-dimensional in places. Fafara never had more than one style (always gruff and furious), though he was able to bring emotion to songs in a way that is absent from 'Pray for Villains'.

The songwriting really saves the vocals and is the crowning achievement of the album. Because of the diversity, nothing really gets boring and there are numerous highlights. It's actually easier to say that 'I've Been Sober', 'Forgiveness Is a Six Gun', and 'It's In the Cards' are the weakest songs on offer, perhaps because they don't have such a distinctive character as the others, though none are especially poor. The scrambling, circling motif of 'Bitter Pill' is a high point, as is the melodeath rush of 'Waiting for November' (a.k.a. how to make the lyrics "You looked so beautiful/ At your funeral" sound joyful), and 'I See Belief' is the perfect closer, especially the trick ending. I won't describe everything, but there is a wealth of riches to enjoy long after the first listen.

I have the limited edition version of this album, with four bonus tracks and a DVD that details the making of the album. The extra songs are not bad, though more limited in style than the album tracks (a couple are notably a few years older than the rest of the material), with the most diverting listen being the cover of Iron Maiden's 'Wasted Years', if only because we get to hear a very modern take on a classic style and because Fafara's vocals are lowered to half-bark, which works better than it sounds. Anyway, with or without the bonus tracks, 'Pray for Villains' delivers a whole lot more than its title track suggests and, while it arguably doesn't have individually the strongest songs of the band's career, it is probably their most balanced and most rewarding album.

That Rare Thing: The "Difficult Fourth Album" - 60%

Crank_It_Up_To_666, August 30th, 2010

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.

The Fourth Swing Doesn't Miss - 88%

JamesIII, January 5th, 2010

Devil Driver has been a favorite punching bag of the metal community for a while now, alot of it directed at Dez Fafara. I was never a friend of Coal Chamber but I did like Fafara, and like I hoped, he left that horrid band for something with far more lasting potential. Since Devil Driver's self-titled debut was a pain to withstand, I wasn't exactly charged with excitement to hear anything else by them. "The Fury of Our Maker's Hand" and "Last Kind Words" were both steps in a better direction, even honorable mentions in terms of quality.

Devil Driver make their largest improvement in terms of maturity here on this release. It carries a more melodic tone to some of these songs than previously encountered, but it holds up fairly well. While this album does take influences from some new areas, like Pantera-inspired groove for instance, it still retains alot of the aggressive nature of earlier songs. I'd even go so far to say that it surpasses previous albums on that level, as well it proves to be a more quality release in terms of songwriting.

Songs like "Fate Stepped In" and the title track are both examples of Devil Driver maintaining their older sound. Other songs like "Pure Sincerity," "Back with a Vengeance," and "It's in the Cards" all show some Pantera-inspired Southern groove metal thrown in, but this still retains more of the band's sound from the last album, running off the wells of melo-death and a tiny bit of thrash. Despite throwing in some influences that could otherwise de-rail this effort, the band puts them in the right amounts or at the right times so everything holds together for what I consider their most impressive album to date.

While the band continues to improve, especially drummer John Boecklin who is particularly impressive here, I like the variation Dez throws in on this release. He still prefers his trademark snarling growl most of the time, though he does throw in some lower pitch spoken word sections like on "It's in the Cards," albeit just for a short while. His vocals on that track in particular, along with "Resurrection Blvd." and "Teach Me to Whisper" are not as gutteral, though his lighter vocals are not as good as his usual style. Still, he works pretty well most of the time, and this evolution in his vocal style kicks the hell out of what he was doing in Coal Chamber or on the Devil Driver self-titled.

The biggest problem I had out of this album might be that it slowly runs out of ideas as we near the end of the album. This is definitely nothing isolated to Devil Driver, as its a common issue with most American bands today. Since these songs are still good to great, I don't find this to be a huge problem. It does, however, make repeat listens a bit of a drag at times since some of these tracks do run together. This has been an issue with this band from the very beginning, and it isn't as noticable here since more than a fair share of songs here are memorable.

At the end of the day, I give Devil Driver praise for this album. Its a step up in every way I can come up with, better songs, better performances, and the incorporation of newer ideas and smart implementation. This band did evolve here, but they didn't go so far out of their element that it backfired. This is still the same Devil Driver you heard before on "Last Kind Words," but we have a more mature and more intelligent band. If you can withstand a little repeititon at times, you do get about 9 songs out of 13 that are memorable or at least fun, but none of these are mediocre or bad. A worthy mention in the string of 2009 metal releases.

Is that you Arch Enemy? - 70%

Artemus_Cain, August 18th, 2009

It’s really easy to see why many people hate Devildriver without even listening to them. They are fronted by Dez Fafara who previously sang for Coal Chamber, a painfully average nü metal band that Roadrunner possibly dropped Suffocation or Gorguts for when that label decided to hit the nü metal goldmine. So, the entire metal community was understandably skeptical when Dez announced his new project “DevilDriver” back in 2002, and according to the old website bio, wanted to go to an old school death and black metal sound. Their debut received much deserved flack when Dez’s view of “old-school death and black metal” sounded like The Haunted and the final Carcass album mashed with Korn and Pantera.

The next following albums sort of redeemed this faceplant, but it still wasn’t really death metal or at all black metal. The closest sound-alike I can gum up is transitionary Arch Enemy, i.e. Burning Bridges and Wages of Sin.

That’s about it really. Mute the vocals in both bands, and one would be hard pressed to find a difference. Not that that’s a bad thing. Arch Enemy, while not a band I personally go insane for, are still an enjoyable band with not that many sound-alikes that are worthy of a listen. Devildriver have nailed the Arch Enemy formula pretty much perfectly: Intense vocals, melodic yet powerful riffs, fitting drums, clear production, and a decent sense of song structure. During the raspier moments of Dez’s performance he almost sounds just like Johan Liiva…’s raspier moments.

That being said, they also suffer from Arch Enemy’s weaknesses. In this case, the entire album is very repetitive. The whole album is almost like one long drawn out song with only a few parts sticking out, such as the title track, “Fate Strapped In,” “Resurrection Blvd.,” and “Teach Me to Whisper.” 16 songs in and only a few stuck with me after two listens. Not the sign of a masterpiece.

But not every musical offering from every band in existence has to be a masterpiece. This album is neither bad nor amazing, it’s good. Not great, but not awful. It’s slightly above average. The only things preventing Mike and Angela from suing are Dez’s vocals and much less guitar solos. So if you are part of the diehard Arch Enemy fanbase (especially the aforementioned Burning Bridges and Wages of Sin… and possibly Anthems of Rebellion) then you could do much worse than “Pray for Villains.” Hell, pick this up even if you aren’t a huge Arch Enemy fan. There’s much worse modern extreme melodic metal offerings out there. Right, In Flames?