July 2, 2018 DevilDriver – Outlaws Til The End, Vol.1 (Album Review)
DevilDriver has long established themselves as trailblazers and cutthroat competitors in Metal. Now, with their latest endeavor, Outlaws ‘Til The End, Vol.1, out Friday, July 6th via Napalm Records, they embark on a new challenge: re-imagining western classics with a new Metal edge.
The dangerous thing about this venture is that many of these songs were already heralded as classics and their original versions remain canon. This could lead to a challenging road for the Heavy Metal outfit which consists of Vocalist Dez Fafara, Guitarists Mike Spreitzer and Neal Tiemann, Bassist Diego Ibarra, and Drummer Austin D’Amond.
From the beginning, they delve into dangerous territory with their interpretation of Hank Williams III’s “Country Heroes.” Here it is admirable what the band attempts to do. From the instrumental orchestration and their own spin on the arrangement, it is clear that they put some thought into it, but overall it reads a little flat to begin with. There is something missing in this rendition, which does not make it a great introduction to the album as a whole.
Now, this is not to say that DevilDriver are not talented musicians, but perhaps there could have been a little more thought put into the arrangement. It’s almost eating your favorite food, but feeling like it would be better with just a pinch more salt; just barely off, but noticeable.
From there they get into more of the bread and butter staples of the genre with Country classics from Johnny Cash, Steve Earle, Willie Nelson and Hank Williams Jr. One of the best covers on the album is the rendition of Cash’s “Ghost Riders in the Sky” which actually features guest vocals from Johnny Cash Jr., his wife, and Randy Blythe of Lamb of God. The string work of Mike Spreitzer is prominent on this track and sings beautifully throughout the track, making it the real stand out. The use of Blythe’s vocals in conjunction with Fafara’s creates a dynamic dichotomy that makes this song both distinct in its uniqueness yet true to its origins. Here is where you feel the passion the band has for the music and the legends who created it, and it is this reverence for the genre that seems to empower many of their later decisions on the album.
“If Drinking Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will)” features the borrowed vocal talents of everyone’s favorite Goth rocker and Murderdolls madman, Wednesday 13. Here it is the cemetery grit in Wednesday’s vocals that compliments Fafara’s roar that separates out the chorus in the best possible way; there is something in his voice that adds that air of eerie mourning and gives this track its haunting feel. This song also has the benefit of beautifully-executed percussion and bass that creates the heft in your chest as if you were right in front of the drum kit.
Lee Ving of Fear appears to add his own growl to the fast-paced grit and hammer that is DevilDriver’s cover of Johnny Cash’s “When The Man Comes Around.” While the song is still recognizable lyrically and the soul of the song remains, the orchestration is pure DevilDriver. Here the band up the ante and increase the pace for this rip-roaring rendition of Cash’s classic tune. They don’t play this out in a linear fashion, the drums kick and roll their way across this track with a mind of their own and D’Amond’s skill are definitely put to task.
When they get to Dwight Yoakam’s “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere,” they take the time to slow things down a bit. Here we see their ability to still harden up a legend while maintaining that reverence for the source. This is the song where the skills of Spreitzer and Tiemann are given room to shine, because the guitar sound here is both gritty and lovely, like a beautiful dance balancing the two. This song also works to showcase DevilDriver’s ability to deliver a more even-handed approach to their works and songcraft as a whole. While some bands might have taken this all-covers album and applied a universally heavier hand, Fafara and company have chosen their lighter touches with care. This doesn’t lose the integrity of their endeavor, but rather shows how serious they are about this adventure.
“Copperhead Road” is a bouncy and soulful track that features the vocal talents of Brock Lindow of 36 Crazyfists. With its jumping percussion and sizzling riffs, this is sure to be one track making some fans’ “party anthems” playlists. “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me” delivers more darkening grit thanks to the powers of Burton C. Bell of Fear Factory and even seems to borrow a bit of an Industrial grind from Fear Factory’s signature sound.
Wrapping things up is “A Country Boy Can Survive” and “The Ride,” a cover of David Allan Coe’s 1983 single. The “ride” takes us out of this journey through the country and brings back the guest vocals of Fear’s Lee Ving. This song has all the country soul and plenty of peeks at the heart of the source.
The entirety of Outlaws ‘Til The End, Vol.1 is a love letter to Country music and DevilDriver’s experimental “toe in the water” at exploring their take on the genre. While there will be some that say to “leave well enough alone” or think “that dog won’t hunt” (an inherently Southern expression), overall the men of DevilDriver show the genre the respect it deserves and showcases their own love as fans. While not every song is a winner, there are too many guests on this compilation for it to fail. So, for their veneration and consideration, CrypticRock gives Outlaws ‘Til The End, Vol.1 3 out 5 stars.