Thursday, August 11, 2016

Album Review: Devil to Pay - "A Bend Through Space and Time"

Based in the heart of this great nation, Indianapolis’ Devil to Pay have been churning the distorted, fuzzed-out deep end of metal for quite a while now, building an impressive local following and a respected cadre of albums that amounts to a portfolio that equals or betters many of their contemporaries.

Part of the excitement of any new Devil to Pay record is the curious examination of what the chosen sound will be.  Prior to this new effort “A Bend Through Space and Time,” DtP has released four other works, all of which reach the same ballpark destination, but get there through different means.  Beginning in 2004, “Thirty Pieces of Silver” was an edgy ride, filled with slash-and-burn riffs and the vitriol of youth.  “Cash is King’ was more patient and much more dry, a slow burn that roiled and bubbled without exploding.  “Heavily Ever After,” by contrast, was a deeply impactful punch in the mouth, studded with the thump of metal’s power.  Then again, another shift for the most recent record, 2013’s “Fate is Your Muse,” bending back toward the roller coaster that started the whole journey, but this time reflected with a greater sense of optimism and enjoyment.

“A Bend Through Space and Time” is similar but different to all of those listed above, much in the same way as they all are siblings to each other.  This album carries the same fuzz and much of the same depth, albeit with more insistence and a greater influx of tension.  Additionally, the tone of this album is one of, well, paranoia is too strong a word, but caution isn’t, urging the listener both in music and vocal to be wary of surroundings and careful about who trust is placed in.  It’s not a complete reversal from the message of “Fate is Your Muse,” but it is an adjustment to it.

Anyway, let’s work backwards. “The Demons Come Home to Roost” is the album’s final cut, and it paints a fairly clear picture of all the album’s themes in one eight-minute shot.  Beginning with a pushy, stuttering riff that reminds of the chunky guitar work of the early nineties, the song settles uneasily into a pallor of doom metal tropes that play well together in melody and separately as harmony.  The song’s last two-thirds are akin to the Sword of Damocles, holding the listener in waiting with a tense riff that conjures mental images of the song’s title.

Just prior to the end, we’re faced with “Your Inner Lemmy,” a loving tribute to that icon most recently departed.  The pacing of the album picks up here, imitating the swaggering rock of Motörhead while lyrically telling a story Lemmy himself would be proud of.  For those hearing the song and thinking to themselves ‘where have I heard this before?’ the lead riff does bear some resemblance to Motörhead’s “Iron Fist,” but upon further review, is actually shockingly similar to Overkill’s “Bring Me the Night.”

The real character of “A Bend Through Space and Time” though, comes from the album’s middle, beginning with “Kobold in the Breadbasket,” and running through the deadpan of “Recommended Daily Dose.”  “Kobold…” is a seminal plodder, the kind of infectious, doom-y atmosphere injector that Devil to Pay has excelled at in different colors for a long time.  “Heavily Ever After” had “When All is Said and Done,” and “Fate is Your Muse” boasted “Wearin You Down,” which ranged in style from Clutch to Orange Goblin, and “Kobold…” fulfills that same obligation, but much more in the style of Kyuss.  (Quick Aside – in no way are we suggesting that Devil to Pay is simply copying those around them, these are just easy analogies used to paint accurate pictures from an editorial standpoint, and thus prevent this review from running into the thousands of words.)

As the album progresses through the middle, a single comparison jumps to mind, which is made all too often in metal circles but in this case has some traction – there’s a solid dose of Black Sabbath in these riffs, both in the sense of impending calamity (or some such,) and in the deeply layered blues groove that serves as a more than capable engine.

The screaming tones of “The Meaning of Life,” would have sounded perfectly at home on the same concert bill as Deep Purple, a minor-key but poignant reminder of what blues metal used to be like, all highlighted with an ever-present John Bonham hi-hat accompaniment.  These are the moments when Devil to Pay really shows off both their ability to write songs in their own idiom and their clear reverence for the halcyon days of the marriage between blues and metal, before the genre became sodden with the word ‘doom.’

Gauging “A Bend Through Space and Time” relative to the band’s other albums is difficult because it comes down to what you want to hear.  Personal taste is going to have a lot of input on which of their records you think is best.  For what it’s worth, all of them are of high quality, and this one is no exception.  An album that at its few fallow moments is still ‘very good,’ and often crosses the threshold into ‘excellent,’ Devil to Pay remains a top shelf metal band, flown too long under the radar of too many.

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