You may or may not cringe when people say “everything’s been done before” depending on your taste in music. Fans can be a jaded lot, and there is so much noise to cut through to find new sounds to rock out to, it’s understandable to hesitance to think outside your typical playlists. Devildriver in their career have been nothing, but resilient, consistent, and heavy. Their cover of ‘Sail’ by AWOLNATION proved they could get out of their comfort zone, and impress. So here we are, on the ledge looking over the chasm at the release Outlaws ‘Til The End Vol. 1 (Napalm Records), an album that could easily divide their die-hard fanbase.
Right out of the gate, let’s clarify a few things. This album is not an Outlaw Country album. It’s a metal album inspired by and re-imagining Outlaw Country songs. There is a definite difference, and it’s obvious in the songs and the production. Don’t worry if you hate pop country music. This has nothing to do with that crap. Outlaw Country has as much in common with metal and hardcore punk with each other. It’s an attitude and a feeling not unlike the topics and moods all kinds of heavy music delves into. The tracks here in a seriously brutal, not only covering ground Devildriver has previously, but at times going even more extreme into black and death metal styles within the same song. It works like gangbusters.
What makes this album special straight away are the songs that were chosen and the guests collaborating on them. From HANK III, to John Carter Cash, Ana Cristina Cash, Randy Blythe, Mark Morton, Lee Ving of FEAR, Burton C. Bell, Brock Lindow of 36 Crazyfists and Wednesday 13, these are all legends in their own right. Frontman Dez Fafara anchors every track with his howl and the band is tight as hell too.
These song choices were honestly perfect. Hearing Hank III’s much-missed voice on the opener ‘Country Heroes’, blended with the heaviness of the track is just killer. The production is crisp, and the instrumentation of classic sounds like the pedal-steel guitar is subtle. You know they are there, but they are not overwhelming. Even Hank III’s vocal nod to Minnie Pearl at the end of the opener is well-placed. Most of the performances are not your typical guest verses, but often co-lead singing on most tracks. These sounds will feel familiar, but not at all hacky. Randy and Mark from Lamb Of God just crush it on ‘Whiskey River’. Randy and Dez sound amazing together. The tracks that just feature Dez and Devildriver are no less awesome. I really loved their takes on The Eagles‘ ‘Outlaw Man’ (look it up, they were country-rock for most of their career) and ‘I’m The Only Hell That Mama Raised’, by Johnny Paycheck.
Most people will casually know the tracks that double as pop cultural references like ‘Ghost Riders In The Sky’ and ‘When The Man Comes Around’, and these are two of the best tracks on here. ‘Ghost Riders’ is one you have heard a bunch in movies and film, but his version with John Carter Cash, Ana Cristina Cash, Randy Blythe & Dez game me chills like never before. Johnny Cash is in the holy trinity of country, not just the outlaw kind. But the original is so folksy and delicate, but by comparison, this version has a ton of power in it that gives it new meaning in this metal context.
You might think of the modern hardcore of Brock Lindow and the old-school Lee Ving as unlikely collaborators, but you’d be wrong. They step in and step up huge. They bring so much to their tracks. Props also to Wednesday 13 for his vocal turn on ‘If Drinking Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will)’. No one lived it harder and hits you right in the feels like George Jones.
Once again, you can’t say enough about the performance of the band here too. From sick blasting drums from Austin D’Amond, and sick shredding by guitarists Neal Tiemann and Mike Spreitzer and bassist Diego Ibarra, they all brought their A-game. Hopefully, they will play some of these songs live.
Although it hasn’t come up yet, here’s hoping the “Vol. 1” in the title connotes that there will be a sequel eventually. This release totally earns it. As with any album of this nature, after you have got your fill of these tunes turned up to 11, go back and check out the originals for a comparison. You all need some more Willie, Johnny, and George in your life, as well as these other underappreciated songwriters.