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Winter Kills

Napalm (2013)
Rating: 8.5/10

It’s hard to believe that DevilDriver’s sixth album is upon us. When the Southern California band, fronted by then ex-Coal Chamber mainman Dez Fafara, hit the scene most extreme metal fans were apprehensive at best. Fafara and company have proven over the years though that they are one of the most relentless bands alive, consistently delivering top notch metal and building a sizeable fanbase through their non-stop touring and festival appearances.

Recently, a Coal Chamber reunion and a split from Roadrunner Records have left fans wondering what’s next. Winter Kills, the band’s debut for Napalm Records, is what’s next. And, well, for the most part it… kills.

What immediately caught my attention here was the less polished sound. DevilDriver sound really raw on Winter Kills, unlike the thick production of Beast (2011). While all of DevilDriver’s records are aggressive, this one has a ferocity to it that we haven’t really heard since the band’s sophomore album The Fury Of Our Maker’s Hand (2005).

Case in point is ‘Oath Of The Abyss’, a song chock full of guitar groove and drumming that refuses to stay still for more than a moment at a time. Atop it all is Fafara’s spit-filled vocals, landing somewhere between a shriek and a grunt but always sounding like he means it. ‘Curses And Epitaphs’ and ‘Carings Overkill’ have a bit more melody in the guitars and doesn’t quite move with the same fury. However, they ably back up the same ideal.

‘Winter Kills’ does its job well here, proving itself worthy of the album’s title. It has more of a focused groove than the other tracks and is a bit easier to really latch onto during Winter Kills’ first go round. The platter’s ending track, ‘Sail’, is something new for the band, offering up a swaying slab of metal that finds Fafara finding a bluesy scream that is punctuated by more lead guitar work in one song than the rest of the opus combined. While I wouldn’t necessarily want to hear a whole record of this, it punctuates the rest of Winter Kills quite well.

Not everything here is perfect and, like any DevilDriver (or a million other bands) album, there are a few tracks you’ll skip over after the first couple of listens. For the most part though, changes have been good for these guys. They sound ferocious again, and it’s hard to argue with the idea that this is their best release to date.

Mark Fisher

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