If you’re one of those Metalheads who swears black and blue that they hate Country music, now might be the time to change your tune. Specifically delving into the Outlaw realm of Country music, DevilDriver’s latest album, ‘Outlaws ‘til the End, Vol. 1,’ covers a range of the Outlaw greats, from Willie Nelson to Johnny Cash. Far from being homogenous, the original songs are covered with a differing balance between the Metal and Country elements, with some songs even edging into classic Death Metal territory.
The album opens with DevilDriver’s take on Hank III’s Country Heroes, and while it isn’t one of the strongest songs on the album, it does set the scene nicely. Country Heroes begins with a beautiful, contemplative Western sound, with a lovely guitar tone creating an atmosphere evocative of harsh landscapes and sunsets. Soon afterward Dez Fafara and Hank III’s vocals kick in powerfully, while Mike Spreitzer and Neal Tiemann continue to blend heavy riffs with a Country lead guitar tone.
Whiskey River, originally by Willie Nelson, ups the ante in terms of both the darkness and intensity with incredibly harsh vocals from Fafara, and classic Death Metal style riffs, though the Outlaw Country atmosphere is still preserved in the undertones. With Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe and Mark Morton making guest appearances on this track, it’s no wonder it’s so incredibly fast-paced, face-melting and unrelenting. Indeed, the track gets harsher as it goes on, with the Outlaw Country tones weaving in and out, mainly represented later in the track in the twang of the lead guitar. This is one of the more recognisably DevilDriver songs, bringing ‘The Fury of our Maker’s Hand’ to mind.
Things get a little more laidback and groovy with The Eagles’ Outlaw Man. Contemplative lead guitars combine with chunky riffs to create a sound that sits somewhere between head-nodding and headbanging, with plenty of slide and reverb in the solo.
One of the strongest covers on the album, Ghost Riders in the Sky, originally by Stan Jones, also preserves some of the great Country influence in its uplifting and emotive riffs. Of all the songs on the album, this is one that seems to capture the ethos the most. In particular, the low vocal harmonies provided by Fafara and Blythe, along with Johnny Cash’s son John Carter Cash, really open up the Country feel.
Johnny Paycheck’s I’m the Only Hell Mama Ever Raised dives back into extremely fast and heavy riffs, returning to a very classic DevilDriver feel. At times the guitar tone even approaches Black Metal, as do the incredibly fast drums, though the vocal lines remain firmly recognisable in Fafara’s style. As one of the harshest songs on the album, this is also one where the Country elements are most buried.
The absolute standout cover of the album, however, is the dark and haunting If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me, originally by George Jones. As Fafara himself put it, “If drinkin’ don’t kill me, her memory will,” is a lyrics he’s kicking himself that he didn’t write. Fafara’s vocal melodies carry the outlaw country vibe, along with the lead guitars to a degree, but ultimately the sheer full-bodied intensity of this cover transcends genre. This track also features hands-down the best guitar solo on the album in terms of both intricacy and atmosphere.
Johnny Cash’s The Man Comes Around sits at the heavier end of Outlaw-inspired Groove Metal, and while atmospheric, is not the strongest track on the album. As one of the more Metal-focused tracks, it just doesn’t shine next to the songs with more apparent Outlaw Country aspects.
The slow, mournful A Thousand Miles from Nowhere, originally by Dwight Yoakam, is brought to life by the combination of clean and harsh vocals, a first for DevilDriver and a showcase of what can be achieved with Fafara and Tiemann sing together. This fascinating and compelling extension of DevilDriver’s emotive range is matched by Spreitzer and Tiemann’s guitars, making for another standout track.
Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road has a solid, rock ‘n’ roll groove to it, harking back to early Metal influences such as Black Sabbath and Def Leppard. This number in particular really feels like it would fill an arena, with a guitar solo that even seems to nod to Queen.
Richard Thompson’s Dad’s Gonna Kill Me has plenty of groove and rock to it, while A Country Boy can Survive by Hank Jr might bring Lita Ford to mind. However, neither of these songs particularly stand out from the crowd; while album closer The Ride, originally by David Alan Coe, is slow, powerful and reflective. Austin D’Amond’s drums add plenty of depth and heaviness, while FEAR’s Lee Ving provides wonderful guest vocals with a distinct Blues flavour. This song’s guitar chords almost provide a refrain for the entire album in outlaw style, along it a great final number that really captures what the album is all about.
Overall, the most powerful tracks on ‘Outlaws ‘til the End, Vol. 1’ are those that most boldly adapt elements of the Outlaw Country genre to create a compelling, emotive and highly enjoyable fusion. The concept of the album is ultimately quite inspired, and one can hope that the experience of creating it has left a lasting impression on DevilDriver with an expanded musical palette.
GET YOUR HANDS ON DEVILDRIVER’S ‘OUTLAWS ‘TIL THE END, VOL. 1’ FROM NAPALM RECORDS HERE!