DevilDriver has always been a band on a three-pronged mission: Work hard, rock harder, and kick as many asses as possible in the process.
Since first forming in 2003, the Santa Barbara metal quintet has stuck resolutely to this mission, even though it's often meant traveling a rougher, less glamorous road than most musicians would prefer to endure. Rather than cashing in on the popularity of his previous successes, frontman Dez Fafara insisted from the get-go that DevilDriver should not only forge their own unique sound, but should also start at the proverbial bottom of the bill and work their way up through endless touring, earning the music world's respect one fan at a time.
"I get that hard-working attitude from my father," says Dez. "I believe in gnawing at the bit, you know? It's taken its toll on us, sure - but hard work, road work and belief in ourselves is what we're based on."
Pray For Villains, DevilDriver's gut-punching new album, is clearly the culmination of that endless hard work and unconquerable self-belief. Having honed their powerful sound over the course of three previous albums - 2003's self-titled debut, 2005's The Fury of Our Maker's Hand and 2007's The Last Kind Words - and countless live dates (including their legendary Download appearance in 2007, where the band's ferocious performance triggered what many believe to be the largest circle pit in history), the band is now operating at a higher level than ever before.
"For us, it's been a constant growth, musically," Dez explains. "Not only in terms of finding out how to write together, but in figuring out what a good DevilDriver song is. Every single record has been a progression, and we approached everything the same way as we've always done, but it clicked really hard on this record. This is the defining sound of what we are, and where we're going to go in the future."
Produced by former Machine Head/Soulfly guitarist Logan Mader (who has previously manned the controls for the Cavalera Conspiracy, Divine Heresy and Five Finger Death Punch), Pray For Villains finds DevilDriver rocking as brutally as ever, with the rhythm section of drummer John Boecklin and bassist Jon Miller pummeling the listener into submission while the guitar tag-team of Jeff Kendrick and Mike Spreitzer lets fly with one nasty riff and incendiary solo after another, and Dez truly howls like a man possessed. The album is both more technical and more straightforward than anything DevilDriver has done in the past, but there's also an additional emphasis on groove, dynamics and song-craft.
"We decided not to go even more brutal, more heavy, more screamy, more fast than last time, because we've already proved we can do that," says Dez. "There's a lot more groove going on, a lot more dynamics. The guitar work is amazing -some of the solos absolutely blow me away - and the drumming is un-fucking-real. There's gonna be kids in their basements trying to learn this shit forever. Yet we also said, ‘Let's not only bring groove into this, but let's bring hooks, and let's write better songs.' We didn't dial it down at all, but we wanted to add some substance to it, as well."
Lyrically and thematically, the album's rampaging title track pretty much sums up where Dez is coming from on Pray For Villains. Inspired by his love of Western films, the song is about "how you put all your eggs in one basket, and you bet on the hero - but it's actually the bad-ass villain who comes in and saves the day," he explains. "I love Westerns, especially the ones with Clint Eastwood; I like the anti-heroes, rather than the John Wayne kind of guys. I was thinking that in those films, just like in real life, it usually takes a fucking bad-ass to come in and do the job - and that's usually not the guy in white with the shiny gun. A lot of these songs, including ‘Resurrection Blvd.,' ‘In The Cards' and ‘Forgiveness Is A Six-Gun,' are definitely influenced by that."
Themes of self-reliance, hard work and positive energy also run through tracks like "I See Belief," "Pure Sincerity" and "Back With A Vengeance," all of which reflect both the scars and the hard-won accomplishments of DevilDriver's first half-decade. "I'm not a nihilistic dude," Dez explains. "The line,‘I see belief when no one else does' - a lot of people are so negative about things, saying, ‘Oh, that will never work,' or 'We'll never get that tour,' or ‘We'll never get to that place' but I'm just not that guy. Call it stupidity or blind luck," he laughs, "but I've got a feel for what's going to happen with this band. I believe in the motivation and upward mobility of this band, as well as the movement and the bond that we're creating between our fans and us. I want to bring that positivity through the power of metal and say to people, ‘Hey, keep your head up/Get your head out of the sand'- take a breath of fresh air, try to be positive about life, and move through it with strength, power and belief in yourself."
Of "Pure Sincerity," Dez reveals, "That's for when people ask, ‘What's DevilDriver about?' Well, listen to ‘Pure Sincerity': ‘Give ‘em what they want/Give ‘em what they need/Pure Sincerity'. That's all it's ever been, from the time we started making music - giving them what we feel is our music, and not trying to follow any kind of trend."
"Back With a Vengeance" is a howl of triumph, a musical victory lap for a band that many critics discounted or disregarded, at least until DevilDriver's ever-increasing fanbase and reputation for consistently punishing live shows became simply too much to ignore. "That song's about looking yourself in the mirror and going, ‘Yep, that's right, we're kicking ass like I always knew we would be,'" Dez explains. "Don't ever count any motherfucker out in life. It may have taken a record or three to get it through everybody's heads, but now it's obvious. And on ‘Back With A Vengeance,' I'm actually giving myself a minute to step back and look at DevilDriver and go, ‘Holy shit, we all built this thing together - and it's a monstrous machine!'"
To no one's surprise, DevilDriver will be taking that monstrous machine on the road for the rest of 2009, and probably beyond. (The band's innate affinity for touring is reflected on the new tracks "I've Been Sober" and "Another Night In London.") "We need to travel," says Dez. "So we're booked through Christmas ‘09; we're going all over the world, and we're not coming home. Our schedule is so rigorous, it's unreal - sometimes even I don't know why I put myself through it - but I love the road. I love my family, but I can't sit home for more than two weeks," he laughs. "I think time for me at home is wasted right now. I'm still young enough to go out and do my thing."
"You have to love what you do," Dez concludes. "We love to play together as a band, we love to be onstage, and we love to deliver our music to people live. We've always said that's been part of the mission - and if you're gonna talk it, you've gotta walk it."