In just over under month, Witchdoctor Productions will be hosting American melodic death metal band Devildriver and German sludge metal duo Mantar at the 2017 edition of their annual bone crushing event, Witchfest.
As the weeks pass and the event draws nearer we will be dedicating every Wednesday to ‘Witchfest Wednesday’ where albums will be reviewed and interviews conducted with these two international heavy weights as well as the local South African bands who will be giving them a taste of what we have to offer.
ALBUM NAME: Pray For Villains
RELEASE DATE: 2009
GENRE: Melodic Death/ Groove Metal
Dez Fafara – Vocals
Mike Spreitzer – Guitar
Jeff Kendrick – Guitar
Jon Miller – Bass
John Boecklin – Drums
Every metalhead can attest to that one defining moment or period in their lives that they fully turned to the dark side and truly embraced heavy metal in one or many of its incarnations. As I’m sure we all remember, such a revelatory perception shift opened our eyes and ears to something that I feel may have always been there, biding its time and waiting for the right moment to truly infiltrate the way we enjoy music. Some of us were lucky enough to mosh out of the womb with our tiny heads headbanging thanks to parents who also appreciated earlier facets of metal. Others were perhaps introduced to its dark temptations by a friend intent on showing them the merits of tunes tailored to explore the emotional and psychological alleyways of the human psyche that other music prefers to sweep under the rug. In my case, it was the selection of a few choice friends/preachers who introduced me to heavier fare coupled with my attendance at local metal shows in Edenvale since I was about 17 that paved the way for me to where I am today as a fan.
Amongst other guided tours of bands that I now fervently support and enjoy, I was enthusiastically urged by a more highly evolved metalhead friend to give Devildriver’s Pray For Villains a listen upon its release in 2009, by which point I had been steadily growing fonder of the more brutal aspects of heavy metal since about 2008. Thus, I became one of those retroactive fans who discovered a band several albums into their career, working my way backwards through their discography and stylistic evolution while I eagerly awaited their next release. Imagine my surprise as a one-time nu-metal fan to discover Devildriver’s ancestry alluding to such a genre! As I’ve mentioned before, Devildriver’s tendency to balance a seesaw of groove, melody and technical brutality (and yes, the occasional nu-metal cough) is a crucial selling point of the band for myself and truly cemented my own criteria for what I look for in metal bands.
Given that Devildriver’s Pray For Villains is one of a few blueprints for my own preferences in metal, I knew it would be challenging to be truly objective about this particular reflection of their career. However, I believe I may be saved from such personal indulgence and rhetoric, because Pray For Villains is damn fine body of work, and stands out as a defining album for the band. Recorded and written in a blistering 4 weeks, this album was Devildriver at the zenith of their abilities. This is not to say they have declined in quality since then, but that they truly seemed to have demonstrated an assuredness in what they stand for as a band. Instead of trying to go harder-faster-heavier, Pray For Villains showcased a dynamic and varied approach that as always borrows from a multitude of ideas and influences with songwriting put to the forefront of priorities.
Guitar parts written by basically everyone except Dez Fafara set a new benchmark in dual guitar wizardry, fluidly exchanging riffs, gloriously melodic solos and interludes. Predictably, the furiously multi-dextrous assault upon the skins that is Boecklin’s drumming provides the groove vehicle that that the rest of band rides upon. Title track Pray For Villains praises the anti-hero to a backdrop of unstoppable grooving riffage, while Back With A Vengeance’s wah-inflected intro belies the path to a ridiculously catchy chorus, imploring you to bellow along to the words “Don’t start thinking that you’ve got the best of me, I’ve got some news for you, you ain’t seen the last of me, no!”. Lyrically, the album addresses much more personal issues that many can relate to this time around as opposed to just words that sound good with the music, as vocalist Fafara attests that he was much more emotionally attached to the verbal content.
Dynamically, Pray For Villains takes one through many highs and lows while never truly pulling the key out of the ignition, with many a passage that may cause involuntary rhythmic nodding. Boasting founding lead guitarist of Machine Head, Logan Mader, at the production helm certainly didn’t do the band a disservice either. Their standard for a distinct, well mixed approach to instrumentation coupled with vocals that are always clear and articulated (no matter how harshly they’re delivered) was well carried out and this album sounds just as excellent blasting from your stereo as it does in your headphones at 2am. A personal favourite moment of mine is the closing minute-long fade at the end of Fate Stepped In. I must also note that the special edition of the album also boasts a cover of Wasted Years by the mighty Iron Maiden, and will be an enjoyable curiosity for fans of both bands like myself.
In summation, Pray For Villains presented Devildriver at their style bending, unrelenting, melodic, ferocious and confident best. There are plenty of anthemic tracks that will go down like a granite tombstone (should they be included in the setlist, we can almost certainly expect the title track of the album to rear its head) when they appear here at Witchfest in April, sure to elicit many a moshpit and unified mass of headbanging. If you’re a retroactive fan like me and this review inspires you to treat Pray For Villains as your gateway to the rest of their work, you couldn’t have picked a better place to start.
WRITER’S CHOSEN TRACKS: Pray For Villains, Back With A Vengeance, Fate Stepped In, It’s In The Cards
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Reviewed by: Ian (more from Ian)
Date: 22 March 2017
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