Originally written by Jordan Campbell
On at least one level, Pray For Villains is a tasty record. Juicy, meaty, and fleetingly addicting, this is the kind of record that you’ll spin six times in a row right out of the box. Its groove, its quickness–the whole package is so infectious, resistance to its charm is almost futile.
After a while though, the thrill runs its course. When the dust settles, retrospect reveals that listening to this album six times in a row is akin to eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner at your local McDonald’s. In the moment, noshing on that fast-food goodness is heavenly. Glorious, mouth-watering mountains of warm grease and gooey cheese are the pinnacle of indulgence. But after gorging yourself on this for an entire day, the appeal wears thin by evening. Your belly has been bombed with Quarter Pounder mush. Your limbs move sluggishly, slowed by the whole french fries logjammed into your bloodstream. Your gut is full, yet somehow still empty and hollow–it screams for mercy as it screams for nourishment. A disgust swells. The scurrying scrappers behind the counter squabble and yelp; the sweating man-mountains behind you struggle to dislodge themselves from garish plastic booths; nothing about this is comforting. A crowd of loathsome, infirm fanatics gather around you, waiting impatiently to place their revolting order, and your level of disdain reaches its breaking point. Your mind asks your body a question: what are you doing here? How did it come to this?
Three words of wisdom: Moderation is key. Some things that are good in small doses will make you ill when consumed in large quantities. Like Chicken McNuggets. And DevilDriver.
Now, I don’t mean to give the impression that Pray For Villains is all empty calories. No, there are some excellent songs embedded in its bloat, most of which capitalize on the formula of speed and aggression that the band established on The Fury of Our Maker’s Hand. “Waiting For November” is essentially the sequel to “End of the Line,” and both songs are equal in their mosh-sparking energy. “Another Night In London” is simplistic, pummeling, call-and-response live bait, but doesn’t fuck around with any pretense or delusion of a higher calling. “I’ve Been Sober” combines the band’s Burn My Eyes-style groove with their metalcore/melodeath sensibilites–their standard formula, but jacked to full strength here. Strangely, DD inject an oddball bounce into this track (and others), rendering the band some kind of bumblefuck danceparty version of The Absence. The flashy, melodic soloing that emerges in the track’s stunning final half is its salvation.
That biting melodicism then bleeds into the disc’s best track, “Resurrection Blvd.” Loaded with wicked sweeps and impassioned vocals from Dez Fafara, this is one of the few times the phantom guitar tandem of Mike Spreitzer and Jeff Kendrick manages to worm its way between the overblown dominance of Dez and drummer John Boecklin.
As has been dead-horsed, Dez functions as both the band’s main appeal and main detraction, and his performances dictate the quality of DevilDriver‘s material. On the aforementioned songs, his rapid-fire snarl shines, and he often flexes the potential to be one of the most impressive harsh vocalists in metal. However, when his lyrics and delivery stumble, so goes the entire track into the gutter. For each killer tune on Pray For Villains, there’s a tooth-clenching dud. “Back With A Vengeance” is a misguided, turgid amalgamation of G’N’R sleaze and tough-guy bravado. “It’s In The Cards” is a clunky, awkward downshift that grates as much as it grinds. And Dez plays the Richard Lewis to the audience’s Larry David on the laughable “Forgiveness is a Six Gun.” (What are you, Gary Cooper? By sundown?)
As for the rest? DevilDriver has indiscriminately shoveled a whopping 13 tracks into Pray For Villains–with little regard to pacing, storytelling, or cogency. Most are as dull as they are predictible. What’s worse, Dez and Co. have taken a step backward in terms of intensity and heaviness from their previous two releases; they are obviously banking on this album’s ability to shoot them to the headliner status that has thus eluded them. To the best of my knowledge, this runs contrary to DevilDriver‘s original mission statement. DD was to be Dez’s outlet for gnarly extremism, but their current output (a Pantera-meets-Machine Head-meets-Arch Enemy freeze-dried MRE with a brand-new Jumpdafuckup sauce) is sure to be as palatable to the plebian masses as it is repulsive to the dyed-in-the-wool rippers. All Dez had to do to silence his more subterranean critics was release a truly great DevilDriver record, delivering on the promise that they’ve been flirting with the past few years. Unfortunately, his guitarists disappear when it’s time to throw down (they are practically transparent on “Teach Me To Whisper”), and there’s never been a great heavy metal album without great heavy metal riffs.
Maybe greatness is too lofty a goal. There’s nothing wrong with touring the earth, making scads of cash, and simply being “solid.” Most bands would kill to be in DevilDriver‘s shoes. It’s just a shame that after silently cheerleading this band for 4 albums, they haven’t yet yielded enough asskickers to fill half of a TDK-90. Luckily, I’m not 12 years old anymore, and the iPod has replaced the Walkman–but that also means that I need more nourishment than a drive-thru can provide.