Now comes a time in a premiere metal act's career when certain paths have reached their end and new ones open up. Dez Fafara is, of course, no stranger to new paths. His transition from nu-metal era favorites COAL CHAMBER to the more ferocious DEVILDRIVER has proven to be a successful gambit. Even doing what was previously unthinkable by fielding a few months of recent COAL CHAMBER reunion gigs, Fafara calls his California Groove Machine back into action for a rowdy sixth ride. This time, they not only make Chris Towning a permanent bassist, they find themselves at the end of a fruitful association with Roadrunner Records, now aligned with the indie-oriented Napalm Records.
In one of the more unorthodox moves by a well-known metal act (as FEAR FACTORY did likewise by drifting from Roadrunner to Candlelight Records), DEVILDRIVER dials way in on their latest album, "Winter Kills". While not quite as fast as its predecessors, "Winter Kills" nonetheless pounds and minces with one of the tightest performances in their catalog. Still hardly a thrash or metalcore act by either definition, DEVILDRIVER is simply modern metal in its tautest form. "Winter Kills" will hence go down as a defining moment for Fafara and his well-armed ballistics team.
Each song on "Winter Kills" has so much detail and time signature rollovers, even primarily at mid-tempo, they almost defy analysis. One thing that can be said, "Winter Kills" is the kind of album that pays out more than face value. John Boecklin continues to impress with hundreds of bpms delivered per tune and seldom does DEVILDRIVER opt for straight velocity on this album. Boecklin's rolling double kicks amidst the strutting power pump of "Ruthless" is nifty stuff, and he fills the tar out of "Desperate Times" with multiple patterns, rolls and barreling floor bass while Dez Fafara half-ralphs and half-raps along. Expect more of the same throughout the entire album. John Boecklin is an unsung drumming hero of this scene and this album displays his full dexterity and potency.
As striking as Boecklin's work is throughout "Winter Kills", Jeff Kendrick and Mike Spreitzer are equally spectacular. Shredding is one of their fortes (most especially on "Gutted", where every ripping strike across their strings sounds cut from static knives), but their ever-trusty solos hit new levels of grandeur on "The Appetite", "Curses and Epitaphs", "Carings Overkill" and "Haunting Refrain".
Though Dez Fafara recorded his vocal tracks primarily at home in a newly-installed sound booth, the mix into his band's fluctuating dynamics allows his woofs to sound even more energized than ever. It's fortunate he's such an on-the-tick growler since his band would dust nearly anyone else with their constantly veering calculations.
Even more exciting on this album than the electrifying rigidity, pervasive groove and endless variations are the wicked cool intros. "Haunting Refrain" opens with a few bars of lucid ostinato followed by echoing chugs before ripping into the song's mid-tempo march. The tribal clomps and meaty riffs leading off "Ruthless" are a bitchin' modicum, while a resonating sluice trickles into some inspired power metal crunches on the album's finale, "Sail".
While the overall tone of DEVILDRIVER's music remains the same, there is much digging to be done by the listener on "Winter Kills". It's evident Dez and the boys are staking their reps with their new recording alliance. Napalm Records is a label with a history for showcasing some of the best Euro and Scandinavian metal in the form of TYR, LEAVES' EYES, MIDNATTSOL, KORPIKLAANI, ELIS and ATROCITY. Not quite the same household name company DEVILDRIVER is accustomed to, but "Winter Kills" sounds like it belongs here, in title and best of all, in delivery.