It’s been nearly two years since founding drummer John Boeklin and guitarist Jeff Kendrick left California’s DevilDriver. Since then, vocalist Dez Fafara returned to his prior band, Coal Chamber, to release their fourth album, Rivals, on Napalm Records, amid extensive touring. The last we heard from the melodic death/groove thrashers was Winter Kills, their impressive 2013 Napalm Records debut after leaving Roadrunner Records.
Not only had DevilDriver lost two of their founding members recently, but they had become a bit of a “revolving door” for bass players after Jonathan Miller quit in 2011, recruiting two previous members of Bury Your Dead (Aaron “Bubble” Patrick, and Chris Towning). When Fafara and remaining guitarist Mike Spreitzer were ready to record DevilDriver’s seventh album (and second on Napalm) entitled Trust No One, enter bassist Diego “Ashes” Ibarra (touring replacement bassist for Static-X prior to Wayne Static’s untimely demise), and guitarist Neal Tiemann, who touts a diverse record of musicianship among several acts and projects. On drums is Austin D’Amond, originally of Bleed The Sky, who later joined Chimaira for their last two albums before their breakup.
Trust No One opens with the respectably hard-hitting “Testimony Of Truth.” The sound is unmistakably DevilDriver, and there’s no real change in style or direction with the new members. But at the same time, there does seem to be a shift in the energy in the band. Perhaps it is the new members, or the production, but the tone seems to have a bolder, rawer crunch from the strings, as well as a faster push from percussion. Overall, one would say that DevilDriver really is still DevilDriver. While this is certainly good news for fans afraid that Coal Chamber or other members’ projects would take priority after the lineup change, Trust No One is by no means flawless.
As the non-committal album title and art would suggest, the biggest issue with Trust No One is that it often ventures into “metal by numbers” territory. This is not to say that their metal is not heavy, but it can sound mundane. A number of the songs (maybe half) end up becoming filler. The ferocity and heaviness is undoubtedly there, but the songwriting isn’t as diverse as on the highest points in DevilDriver’s career: The Fury Of Our Maker’s Hand (2005), The Last Kind Words (2007), and Winker Kills, for sure – I would also argue that Pray For Villains (2009) was also a high point in this regard.
Along with DevilDriver’s previously mentioned more eclectic past songwriting, were Fafara’s lyrics. Those same aforementioned previous efforts showcased a bigger, more narrative writing style from the vocalist. Almost the entirety of the lyrical content on Trust No One diverts back to that “metal by numbers” formula. With themes of dark spirits and frustration through betrayal, lyrics found on Trust No One border on teenage angst. It’s not that they don’t work, but Fafara has just done much better with DevilDriver on past releases.
It may sound like DevilDriver has hit a low point with Trust No One, but that is not the case. There are undeniably standout songs, such as the album’s first single, “Daybreak,” and album closer “For What It’s Worth,” as well as special edition bonus tracks “House Divided” and “Evil On Swift Wings.” The best songs continue to show off impressive and engaging guitar solos – though fast, perhaps not the most impressive of their career – including the album’s title track. Speaking of, said title track is one of two other songs (“This Deception” and “Retribution”) that feature brief use of breakdowns – often considered a sign of the dreaded “false metal” by purists, but they are used well here and sound natural for the songs.
While Fafara’s lyrics on this album may have been earlier described as lacking, they actually pair up with most of the newly-charged DevilDriver sound rather fittingly. Almost a bridging of the “working man’s tough-guy biker metal,” against an almost slightly more technical musical execution, often paired with a more “thinking-man’s” audience. The song “My Night Sky” – as well as poritons of the title track, “Above It All,” “For What It’s Worth,” and “House Divided” – also harken back to the tone and style heard on DevilDriver’s 2003 self-titled debut, which could be considered debatable, as that album received (and continues to receive) mixed reviews. While this and the other aforementioned nitpicks against Trust No One may make the album nothing to write home about, when you think about it, this is actually exactly what needed to happen for DevilDriver.
Lineup shakeups scare fans nowadays, and for good reason. Time after time, fans see lineup changes lead to inevitable breakups a short time later. Especially if new members also result in a change in a band’s music, and even more especially if a band is established enough to have a their sound considered “signature” to their identity. This did not happen at all with DevilDriver. Even if it could be considered “metal by numbers,” Trust No One proves that DevilDriver is still DevilDriver. The band really needed to prove to longtime fans that they were not going anywhere musically, and that’s what they’re getting.
There’s plenty for rabid DevilDriver fans to enjoy about Trust No One. But more casual fans may not find much about the album that’s anything special. And while there may be more substantial, and overall quality examples of what the band can do in their back catalogue, anyone listening to DevilDriver for the first time with their latest release, and finding themselves enjoying it, will then most likely find even more to enjoy when they discover what the band has already released in the past. So, despite only a few gems among mediocrity, what could really make Trust No One work is the fact that it reinforces DevilDriver’s preexisting standing in metal, while having the potential welcome newcomers at the same time. Well-played, gentlemen; accept no substitutes.
Final score: 2.75/5 (C+/B-)
Recommended if you like: Lamb Of God, Machine Head, Arch Enemy, Soulfly, Obituary