At risk of sounding like a fan boy, let’s face it – Devildriver has consistently gotten better with each release; closer all the time to honing their own sound and the band’s fourth album, Pray for Villains, is definitely no exception to this trend.
Pray for Villains takes the sheer chugging; pounding American ferocity the band demonstrated on 2005’s The Fury of Our Maker’s Hand and the epic, melodic “Gothenburg” style leads of The Last Kind Words and hurls it into a vicious, eviscerating whirlwind of metal.
This, of course, does not mean that Devildriver was content. The band has explored and incorporated many new elements previously unheard (or downplayed) on the three preceding albums – but that will be discussed later in this review.
Leading the charge is front man Dez Fafara, who delivers his visceral vocal assault with the sinister conviction, which has become synonymous with the core Devildriver sound. While the snarled and screamed vocals stay pretty safe and “standard” of the music, Fafara does attempt to splash some color by varying his delivery more than usual as well as debut some true clean vocals demonstrated on such tracks as, “I’ve Been Sober.”
Guitar work, as usual, is excellent and very tight blending both masterfully brutal riffing and soaring, melodic leads as one would expect from this band. There are some great intros and interludes that can be heard throughout the entire album, but more specifically: “I’ve Been Sober”, “Waiting for November (which sounds like a heavy nod to “End of the Line” on The Fury of our Maker’s Hand)” and “Back with a Vengeance.”
A new element of Pray for Villains guitar section is the heavy use of pentatonic sweeps. I am unable to recall any specific moments from previous albums that this was prevalent, but in any case, fans of bands like Darkest Hour and The Human Abstract will feel at home with these on tracks like, “Resurrection Blvd” and again “I’ve Been Sober;” Oh, and the solo on “Waiting for November” just plain rocks. As a side note, I am unsure as to whether certain sections of “Fate Stepped In” and “Bitter Pill” are guitars or keys – either way, very cool tone and sounds a lot like “Terminus (Where Death is Most Alive)” by Dark Tranquillity.
To my ears, drummer John Boecklin really has improved his game, deploying pounding fills and a furious barrage of double bass and blast beats with more ravenously than ever. What immediately jumped out to me was how crisp and thick the drum tracking was, much credit to production for this as I feel it really enhanced the experience.
The biggest highlight of Pray for Villains however, is just how varied the song arrangements are. Every track sounds different from the last and it is clear many new influences were expressed on this album, which is a great thing for the staying power in my player.
Sure, some critics will argue that it is not as “heavy” or as “catchy” as The Fury of Our Maker’s Hand or The Last Kind Words respectively, but one cannot deny that this is quintessential Devildriver – If you did not like them before, you probably still won’t. The rest of us however, will be content with one of the best Metal albums of 2009 along with Nightrage’s “Wearing a Martyr’s Crown” and Disarmonia Mundi’s “Nebularium + The Restless Memoirs EP”.