Living proof that you can't keep a good man down, Dez Fafara has had a pretty rough ride in recent times. One minute, DEVILDRIVER were finishing work on their ninth studio album, "Dealing with Demons Vol. I" and making excited noises about the imminent arrival of a swift follow-up, cut from the same bloody cloth, and the next, the entire world was kicked in the nuts by Covid 19 and nobody, not even the hardest-working band in metal, was spared the gig-free aftermath. Much more importantly, Dez nearly succumbed to the accursed virus himself, and "Dealing With Demons Vol. II" arrives much later than originally planned as a result. Once again showcasing DEVILDRIVER's new(ish) lineup, the band's tenth full-length completes 2019's body of work. It also confirms that Dez is back with a bloody vengeance.
Although most of these songs were never intended as acts of defiance in the face of death, "Dealing With Demons Vol. II" certainly comes across that way. Where the first "Dealing With Demons" explored gothic shadows and a strong sense of dark melody, the follow-up is awash with vitriol and venom. DEVILDRIVER's trademark groove metal attack has always been a malleable thing, and thus songs like opener "I Have No Pity" and the mercilessly direct, mutant melo-death "Mantra" hit all the right marks, but with newfound vigor. In fact, "Mantra" is an instant classic, not least due to Dez's impassioned vocal, but also because it so skillfully renews his band's sound for the future. And while the means may be different — this record favors concrete over color, and rage over reflection — the same spirit of curiosity that made "…Vol. I" so enjoyable is alive and kicking here, too. "Nothing Lasts Forever" proves the point. It's mid-paced, melancholy and melodic, but imbued with the same seething, scrap-for-your-life sensibilities that inform DEVILDRIVER's most brutal moments. Similarly, "Summoning" demonstrates subtlety in abundance, but the song's unwavering core is a single, hypnotic, screwdriver riff that reeks of nefarious intent.
When it comes to the pummeling, heavy shit that fans of this band demand, "Dealing with Demons Vol. II" is well-stocked and ready to cause damage. "Through The Depths" is an absolute cyclone, with a pin-sharp chorus and the surging demeanor of a symphonic metal showstopper. As you would hope from its title, "Bloodbath" is DEVILDRIVER at their darkest, but where earlier lineups would have gone for the throat and stayed there, this latest incarnation of the band is as much about quiet, knowing power as it is about flagrant brutality. Another shrewd side-step into gothic territory, "Bloodbath" uses blackened melodies as a more subtle way to kill. Next, "It's A Hard Truth" blurs the lines between stirring songcraft and jagged-edge, post-punk weirdness. Closer "This Relationship, Broken" provides a final clearing of the emotional decks, with Dez in fine, feral voice, and every score settled with a punishing, kick-driven riff.
This would already be a triumphant return without the presence of the best DEVILDRIVER song in a decade or more. But from its darkly poetic lyrics (surely the finest and most personal Dez has ever penned) to its gleefully atypical groove and mid-song detour into scathing thrash, "If Blood Is Life" feels like a landmark moment in this band's now two-decade history. "Curse this shit, it's unforgiving!" Dez roars, before concluding that "If blood is life, then I'm living!". Meanwhile, his loyal comrades are whipping up a storm of imperious, melodic savagery around him. It's a sublime moment and an unmissable statement of renewed intent.
This is another strong showing from one of modern metal's greatest survivors, and the perfect companion to "Dealing With Demons Vol. I". On this evidence, you still can't stop the unstoppable. Welcome back, hero.