Well, this is an unusual one. Dez Fafara’s groove metal bunch covering a bunch of country songs. That’s never going to work, is it? Only… well, let’s see.
The tracks vary from genuine old classics to more modern country songs though I confess that at first glance through the track listing, the only ones I knew were “Copperhead Road” (a video for which was released earlier this week) and “Ghost Riders in the Sky”. However, in the interests of research I did some digging on YouTube which turned out to be quite enjoyable.
Given DevilDriver’s particularly heavy sound, it was always going to be a bit odd if Dez just donned a ten gallon hat and slowed everything down to a drawl. So they haven’t. In most cases, the bare bones of the original songs have been cut from their host carcass, stripped, boiled and then covered in a heavy metallic alloy. This is DevilDriver material with country lyrics rather than country songs with a few blast beats chucked in. As such, it’s likely to appeal far more to fans of DevilDriver than of the original artists’.
In fact it’s the aforementioned “Copperhead Road” which stands out as one of the closest to its source material – and it works better than most on the album as a result. Take Willie Nelson’s “Whiskey River”, for example. It’s almost impossible to recognise the original from the reworking (barring the lyrics) and as such it loses a little of the magic of doing cover versions. It’s ridiculously heavy – nearly black metal heavy – and isn’t a bad song… it’s just that it doesn’t owe enough to where it came from.
“Ghost Riders” is actually another which has been done well. The intro doesn’t quite click, but the song proper has the pacing and riffs of Cash’s 1979 classic, and is pretty damn enjoyable as a result. Yes, there’s the humour value of a death metal-y Cash cover, but that main riff… You could put that anywhere and it would leap out at you. Making sure it survived unhurt was essential to making this song work. It’s a shame this practice hasn’t been used throughout the album.
Take George Jones’s “If Drinking Don’t Kill Me” as another example. You can sing along if you know the original, but if you don’t then this is just a new DevilDriver track. Which is fine – it’s a good track – but it takes away the point of it being a cover, for me at least. Almost all the songs on Outlaws sound like decent DevilDriver numbers with someone else’s lyrics thrown on top. And while this doesn’t make for an unlistenable album – far from it – it’s just not as much fun as I expected or hoped for.
I’m just glad that the two most recognisable tracks happen to be the two I already knew. Maybe this was deliberate as they’re probably also the two best known outside of country circles.
For fans of DevilDriver, yes this is worth checking out. For fans of cover versions, or the original artists, not so much. For the full tracklist and names of the original artists (and guests on the album) check out this article.
Outlaws ‘Til The End, Vol. 1 is out on July 6th
Header image by Ben Hoffman