By Kevin Stewart-Panko
Whether you’re a supporter or detractor, you have to feel for Dez Fafara and the big ol’ target on his back. No matter what he does, how long he grows his centre-parted hair out, how many bootleg Black Flag shirts he’s photographed wearing, how much ill-placed tattoo ink he coats his neck and face with or how often he spits out something approximating a death metal growl, he’ll forever been known as the guy who sang in Coal Chamber.
I saw Coal Chamber live back in 1997 – a.k.a. The Year Of Oversized Pants And Wallet Chains – and wrote about it at the time for Terrorizer Magazine. It’s twelve years later and I still feel dirty and, when memories of that tragic evening wake me from a deep sleep, I still find myself using cranked, copious amounts of Cripple Bastards and Rotten Sound as pumice for my violated eardrums. Via this methodology, I can escape the terrifying events of the past; Fafara can’t. He’s like the state-sponsored, reformed sex-offender who moves into a neighbourhood and has to register with the local authorities: chemical castration has probably wiped the slate clean and he just wants to start over, but to everyone else, he’s still the guy who, at one point in his life, got a boner when ESPN aired re-runs of the Westminster Dog Show.
Let’s get one thing straight: Fafara and his charges have a modicum of self-awareness to not have DevilDriver sounding like the nü-metal abomination we’d all probably love to see crash and burn. Also involved, however, is enough self-awareness, experience with fame and opportunity to do music full-time for relative amounts of small fortune that DevilDriver was never going to step too far outside of what’s popular with the kids. This means more NWOAHM than you can shake a flagpole with an American flag flapping in the breeze at. You know the shit; Lamb of God, God Forbid, Chimaira, Machine Head and scads of parking lot dust and gravel clinging to the sweaty sheen coating your blistering flesh at various points of OzzFest stoppage over the years. The production is top-notch, as if one would expect anything but. The guitarists’ power chords are expectedly thick and plentiful, the progressions they’re organized into non-threatening and unchallenging. Attempts are made at anthemic and populist chant-along choruses (“Another Night in London”), but in all honesty, writing choruses that sound very much different from the verses isn’t a DevilDriver strength. A sign of the times is the album’s second half delving into the southern grooves popularized by Pantera, authenticated by Down and disinfected to the point of antiseptic cleanliness by far too many Christian metalcore bands.
That this is the band’s fourth album means there is a history to the entity that is DevilDriver, despite what the distant past has to say. However, that this is their fourth album and their style and approach remains so indistinguishable from the bigger picture also leads me to think that the concept of music as personal expression, artistic endeavour or even the provocative flamboyancy that Coal Chamber once had, has been long sacrificed for the maintenance of a certain sales tally.