I’m not quite sure what to make of Dez Fafara these days, but he certainly does appear to be comfortable in his own skin. Comfortable enough that, after nearly a decade of recording and seemingly non-stop touring with DevilDriver, he went ahead and resurrected the much-maligned and oft-criticized Coal Chamber; and on the heels of the oppressively heavy Beast, no less. Comfortable enough that, after spending his entire career with Roadrunner Records, he sought a new label home for album number six, ultimately landing with underground stalwart Napalm Records. Oh sure, you could put forth other theories: Dez wanted to return to his nu-goth roots; he had to take a step back in order to move forward; he and The House That Nickelback Rebuilt were on divergent paths. But, the underlying theme of the original theory – comfort – seems to be best fit, as it is the only way to explain the fact that Winter Kills is about as safe of an album as DevilDriver could make.
Historically, a DevilDriver album will contain 1-3 songs that stick in your head from the first listen, and keep you coming back for more while that number slowly grows. After being through this one a few times now, the primary thing I remember is that the second track (“Ruthless”) has a tribal drum intro that sounds like it was lifted directly from Disney’s “Fantasmic!” show. Opening track “Oath of the Abyss” is actually fairly strong, burning with a fire and urgency that would make it a great tablesetter had it not also proven to be the best track here. “Desperate Times” and “Gutted” come close to building on that promise but end up falling just short; I couldn’t even have said that much had I not gone through each track looking for something to say. Oh, and I can usually remember that “The Appetite” is the lead single with that god-awful video, which brings to mind a point one of my fellow scribes recently made: that DevilDriver is at their best making meathead mosh music. Though I don’t necessarily agree with the terminology, I can easily agree with the sentiment. The video clearly depicts a meathead fan, or as the press release says, “a typical DevilDriver fan.” But, truth is, there isn’t much meathead to be had here. It’s what could be considered a more mature effort for the band. You see the disconnect there?
That said, Winter Kills really isn’t a bad album, it just lacks things like…hooks… a sense of danger…anything to make you rage and/or channel your innermost anger into some kind of physical expression. You might call it tempered aggression, lots of bark with little bite, and DevilDriver just isn’t DevilDriver without bite. Aside from that, the production is solid, the music is heavy, and Fafara’s vocals are in top form. There’s a double-edged sword when a band decides to stay the course rather than push the envelope: the product ends up being everything we expect from them, sans the excitement that comes from hearing something new.
It’s easy to sit back and listen to Winter Kills from start to finish without worrying about having to stop it or put up with any true stinkers. But simply being able to listen to an album isn’t enough to garner it a lot of playing time or praise. I want to be able to hear and experience it. I’ve got to feel something, damnit. Unfortunately, all I’m feeling is an urge to put it back on the shelf in favor of The Last Kind Words.