Rex Brown and Vinnie Appice have both spent most of their lengthy careers in the shadows of larger than life figures. Phil Anselmo and Dimebag Darrell were always the focal points in Pantera, and Vinnie Paul was frequently a mouthpiece for the band in the press. Rex’s role was pretty much to shut up and play bass, both of which he did quite well. Things got no better when Rex joined Down, where, in addition to Anselmo, he had to share the spotlight with Pepper Keenan, Kirk Windstein, and Jimmy Bower, all significant creative forces in their own right. As for Appice, he has spent most of his career in the shadows of two of metal’s biggest icons: Tony Iommi and Ronnie James Dio, not to mention that, until he joined Black Sabbath, he was in the shadow of his older, more famous (for a time, anyway) brother Carmine. Much like Rex, Vinnie let his playing do most of the talking, a practice that served him well. Now with the new group Kill Devil Hill, these two soft-spoken sidemen have joined forces. Rounding out the quartet are former Pissing Razors vocalist (for one album) Jason Bragg and one of the eighty five former members of WASP, guitarist Mark Zavon — not exactly blinding star-power.
So, after decades in metal, Vinnie and Rex finally get to be the big-shots… or not.
The truth is Kill Devil Hill is not very good, nor is it very metal. The music on the band’s eponymous debut does not really sound like any of its members’ former bands to any great extent. Instead, Kill Devil Hill seems to be chasing a more commercially oriented, modern hard rock sound that comes off like some kind of amalgamation of Godsmack, Shinedown and maybe a little Black Label Society. If that combination excites you as much as it does me, you have probably already hit the back button.
Kill Devil Hill is not awful, per se, it is just terribly mediocre, like plain white rice. Performance-wise, the band acquits itself well enough. Brown and Appice perform solidly as expected. Zavon proves capable of some flashy fret-work, and more than equal to the task of this album’s rhythm work. Bragg, for his part, shoulders a heavy load on this vocal-centric album, and that is a bit of a problem. Bragg can sing well enough, but his voice lacks character, and his lyrics, if they are indeed his, seem to come from the official butt-rock cliché handbook: generically dark and brooding, but lacking in any true menace or anguish. Titles like “We’re All Gonna Die”, “Revenge”, “Voodoo Doll”, and “Strange” give you some idea of the amount of imagination that went into these songs.
On the whole, the band just seems under-matched by this material. The talent is there; the songs are not. The album is full of go-nowhere grooves, lazy riffs and insipid choruses. Zavon adds a little finesse with some wah-wah, bits of slide guitar and even some whammy pedal, but this is mostly relegated to solos and it is not enough to salvage these songs. Opening track, “War Machine” at least has some energy and a metallic edge to it, but in a Drowning Pool kind of way. “Up in Flames” does a decent job of capturing an Alice in Chains vibe, but without the authentic pathos that made that band great.
If Kill Devil Hill is going for radio airplay, these songs are safe enough that it just might get some, but frankly, even in the wasteland that is rock radio, Kill Devil Hill would be hard pressed to outshine the competition. From a metal standpoint, there is next to nothing here. I wish Rex and Vinnie the best of luck with this project, but when all is said and done, I doubt Kill Devil Hill will be much more than a footnote in their musical legacies.