California-based metal giants DevilDriver have returned with their sixth full-length studio release Winter Kills – the band’s first record since departing from long-time label Roadrunner and signing with Napalm Records. DevilDriver’s last record Beast was one of the band’s strongest and most relentless efforts to date, seemingly a tough act to follow. Thankfully, however, Winter Kills rarely disappoints, and with this release DevilDriver have somehow managed to expand on their creativity more than ever.
Despite the transition between record labels and the departure of bassist Jonathan Miller, Winter Kills is by no means a polarising shift in tone from the band’s last effort. As far as DevilDriver are concerned, they’ve always been one of those “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” kind of bands – their raw, powerful style, with uncomplicated yet catching riffs, refined groove rhythms and frontman Dez Fafara’s renowned vocals – is an effective structure which needs little, if any, adjustment.
Winter Kills starts off with ‘Oath of the Abyss’, synths slowly fading in and building with an Egyptian kind of sound to them… before you’re hit by a sudden and unexpected pick slide and blast of heavy drumming. Cue the first infectious riff of the album. The track soon descends into a cacophony of aural chaos, with immensely tight drumming and structured guitar work holding everything together and setting a consistent tone for the record as a whole.
In true DevilDriver fashion, the next few tracks ‘Ruthless’ and ‘Desperate Times’ remain pretty consistent with groovy riffs, immaculate drumming, and, of course, Dez’s trademark blood-curdling yells. On to the album’s title track, ‘Winter Kills’ – easily one of the most catchy tracks on the record. Kicking off with a simple palm-muted chugging riff and intricate drum pattern, ‘Winter Kills’ doesn’t take long before one of the most memorable guitar hooks I’ve heard on an album this year drops. From this point of the album onwards, DevilDriver will effectively have you eating out of their hand.
Following the album’s ferocious title track, things quieten down a little with the clean guitar intro for ‘The Appetite’ – until you realise that you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security. Yet even more hard-hitting, heavy grooves are imminent – not giving you much of a breather from the unending brutality showcased on the record.
Having passed the halfway mark of Winter Kills, this is the point where the album began to let me down a little – not due to lack of musicianship or amazing production, but simply due to a lack of variety. It begins to feel like you’re just listening to one long track, as they all seemingly blend into one another, but this may just be me. The eleventh and final track is worth noting though – a rather unusual cover, of AWOLNATION’s ‘Sail’. Metal bands taking on the task of covering an electro/indie track is typically unheard of, but yet again DevilDriver don’t disappoint – doing the original track justice whilst also adding their own unique twist.
I have no major gripes with Winter Kills other than the album dragging a little past the halfway mark. Despite this, overall, DevilDriver’s newest effort is an amazing album with great musicianship, songwriting and production all-round.
Ultimately, Winter Kills has my vote for being one of the best metal album releases of 2013 – and I’m very keen to see how DevilDriver will follow this up with their next release.