Published Oct 01, 2020The new wave of American heavy metal (NWOAHM) was one of the most exciting music movements of the '00s. There are certain bands who grew past the scene and found bigger success, like Lamb of God and Killswitch Engage, but they were the outliers. As the excitement of the NWOAHM wound down, several main players, such as Chimaira, Shadows Fall and God Forbid, fell apart with it.
DevilDriver managed to survive, but not without also taking some hits. The band had a fairly steady lineup for the first decade or so, until the early-to-mid 2010s brought a mass exodus of key members, some of whom left on less-than-good terms. With the entire rhythm section throwing in the towel and frontman Dez Fafara busy with a Coal Chamber reunion, it seemed like the California quintet was going the way of so many NWOAHM peers. But a new version of DevilDriver bounced back in 2016 with a solid and successful record, Trust No One.
Since then, the band have become increasingly more centred around Fafara, the group's only remaining original member (although guitarist Micheal has been by his side since 2004). Though Dealing with Demons I, the first volume of a planned double album, marks this lineup's third outing, it still feels like the "new version" of DevilDriver, and a vehicle for Fafara now more than ever.
The album doesn't start on its strongest foot; opener "Keep Away From Me," is by no means a bad song, but would have been better placed later on, after a few higher-energy tracks. Things do pick up afterwards, though, with "Vengeance Is Clear" and "Nest Of Vipers," two riff-packed bangers that almost make it feel like this is still the same DevilDriver fans know and love. From there, the album keeps up a hit-and-miss pattern: "Iona" is a pretty classic DevilDriver-sounding track, but "Wishing" would be better off without the out-of-place and somewhat distracting clean vocals on the verses, which is disappointing given that it has one of the album's best choruses and a scrupulous guitar solo. Much of the album's bottom half is a little too by-the-books, with "You Give Me a Reason to Drink" being the only real standout.
It's unfortunate but inevitable that this record will be compared to DevilDriver's earlier work. The band has yet to truly prove that they've still got it with a changed lineup, especially after the blunder that was 2018's Outlaws 'Til the End Vol. 1.
Dealing with Demons I has its moments, but the music is ultimately plagued by the inescapable realization that DevilDriver are better as a band than as Dez Fafara and company. (Napalm)