"That's one question that I've always either laughed off or avoided," Dez Fafara says with a chuckle. "'Was it cathartic to make this record?' They ask that on every record since Coal Chamber you know? And I've always kinda laughed that off. But this one? Fuck yes! Very cathartic. Very cathartic to make this record. The minute I got the demos, I cracked a beer and started writing. It was flying out of me. So, that being said, I think the music was provided in an amped atmosphere at a time when it was needed by me and by the band. We really needed to step it up and define who we were. And what's really cool is that I think we've done it. Looking back in hindsight and hearing what everybody's saying about the record, it's just so positive now."
DevilDriver's latest album -- the appropriately titled Beast -- is proof that the darkest path can often lead to the light. None of the band's releases have exactly been fairy tales, but this one represents a truly dark period for its creators, chiefly Fafara, whose family was displaced by California's cataclysmic fires last year, and drummer John Boecklin, who also handles guitars and bass this time too.
"I had to leave the recording process twice, which I've never had to do," the singer explains. "My drummer, who took a lot of the guitar responsibility this time, was going through some stuff in his life as well. So I think what you end up with is something looking back at the time and place you're at, surrounded by the art you're making, and what we came up with is something incredibly visceral and very, very volatile and reflects the time and place we were in. So when you say, 'Were you pissed off at the world?' Yes! This was a watershed year for me, bro. After 15, 16 years in the fucking business, I dropped a lot of people around me who were nothing but vampires, either in business or my personal life. And literally, when I was going through this dark, hard, hard time, really realised who my friends really were, who called me on a daily basis. So it was an awakening. I had to get a lot of stuff off my chest lyrically and the music the guys gave me from the demo provided the fuel for the fire."
He goes on to admit that he and the band also knew how important it was for DevilDriver to finally make a record that defines them. Most bands are close to achieving this by the time of album number three, but due to their history, it has taken DevilDriver somewhat longer to finally nail it down. Pray for Villains hinted at the beast that was soon to come, the career-defining moment that now seems to have arrived.
"We have to go back to the start. We need to make people understand that most bands are together five, six years before they have a record deal," Fafara says. "We were together a few monthws, we had four or five songs before we went in to make our first record deal... we were together two years when we made our second record. So, for me man, the first couple of records are demos, and us trying to figure out who we want to be and where we fit in. So each record should be better. And I told the record company early on, I said number five, six, seven, eight... those are the records where we are gonna find ourselves."
Beast is a truly powerful album that offers little respite from its pure aggression from the very first moment of "Dead to Rights" until the final seconds of "Lend Myself to the Night". It's a dark, angry journey fuelled by rage, so full of vitriol that it is almost overpowering.
"It should be. The time and the place we were when we were making this record was just overpowering. So you get that kind of record. Different guys take different leads on writing the record on guitar, and this time it was my drummer, John Boecklin. So you have a different aspect, a different feel. We needed something visceral. We need something to really distance ourselves from our predecessors and our contemporaries. I think it's very important to... once you think of a tagline for us and where we fit into, it's going to be very difficult to find that once you've heard Beast."
DevilDriver's music has defied simple pigeonholing. They've been labelled everything from metalcore to groove metal to melo-death, and certainly their songs have contained elements of all of those, especially the immense groove which this time around the group has turned up several notches. But trying to slot them into a convenient genre-niche is now more difficult than ever as Beast enters realms of extremity DevilDriver has not explored until now.
"I think that's good for art. Any art. It could be blues, punk, metal, but it's good for art when you can't label it," says Fafara. "It's not death metal, it's not black metal and we certainly don't fit in the New Wave of American Heavy Metal market that so many bands are getting stamped with. We are far from that too. So it's important for us musically to distance ourselves from any of that. We tapped into the volatile nature of what was happening at the time, what we were onto and what we were in, and it's delivered an art that's now going to take us further. You have a real punk rock aspect to this and I think it matches up to what we do live as well, and I keep leaning on that word "volatile", but it's the thing that separates itself from all the other things out there right now. Even the other metal bands that are very current. I'm hearing their music and I'm hearing heavy, but I'm not hearing scary or volatile and I'm not hearing pissed off, ass-kickin', in-yer-face. That's what we're hoping to deliver and I hope that's what you're getting out of it."
Perhaps my own recent personal dark period has made me connect so well with Beast, because it's as if I know exactly where Dez and the lads were coming from when they decided to unleash this monster on the world. And as much as he's always laughed off the idea of music as cartharsis up until now, Fafara reckons that it's always been there to help him through the worst times.
"Bro, I'm sorry for whatever it was that you've been through that's made you feel like that," he says, "but here's the thing that we can link up with together. I would bet that my bad time was as bad or worse as what you were going through, and I can only say this: music has always fucking been my saviour. Through when I was a kid, even now. All I do is listen to music. It takes me away from everything. And not even my music. Everyone's music. It's music in general. So if it can give you some kind of feeling, like what you said, music pulls you through those times when you're feeling the most low in life and give you some kind of uplifting experience. Even the darkest Goth bands take me out of the darkest places in my life, even though when you're listening to 'em you should be slitting your wrists! [laughs]. It takes me out of those times, because it sounds like their time is much darker than mine."
DevilDriver will be delivering their crushing musical expurgations to Australian audiences once again soon as they hit the stage with the Soundwave festival, where their enormous circle pits will surely raise mid-afternoon temperatures. The band has always done very well here, and Fafara feels an affinity with the country that reminds him very much of Santa Barbara, his birthplace.
"We've worked very hard in Australia. Whenever we come down we have these amazing shows and perhaps even a better time than we do anywhere. It's very reminiscent to where I grew up, both with the beaches and the weather so it's like a homecoming for us. It's one of the few places around the world where I could easily live and enjoy myself. So I know we're all looking forward to coming."
This time too he's bringing the family and taking some time out to see Australia between shows, something he's always been too busy to do before. Like several other artists on the tour, Dez Fafara is making the Soundwave tour something of a working holiday. And who can blame him for that?
"We're gonna have some off-time, which is cool. I'm bringing my wife and my children down with me so they can experience the beauty of the country. Everyone else has done the held-a-koala thing and seen-a-kangaroo thing, but I haven't. I haven't had the time. But I'm gonna make the time this time, with my family."