Between 1993 and 2003, metal vocalist Dez Fafara fronted Coal Chamber, one of the groups synonymous with the nu-metal movement. He spent that time decked out in cutesy goth makeup and black string shirts. Honestly, he looked like a Hot Topic mannequin, for better or worse.
When that band imploded after an on-stage physical duke-out and some major butting of heads, Fafara didn’t need to look far when deciding what to do next. Just one year earlier, in 2002, he had formed the band that would come to be known as Devildriver. There would be no makeup this time. No braided goatee beards and plaid pants. Dez Fafara had grown up.
A decade and a half later, Devildriver has just released its seventh full-length album, Trust No One. Unlike Coal Chamber, Devildriver plays straight-ahead, no-frills, solid heavy metal, edging toward the thrash end of the spectrum. It's groove-based, influenced by the likes of Pantera, but it’s also gloriously ugly and unrelenting. That said, the music is also dynamic, and there has been room for evolution since the band’s inception.
“Devildriver’s always had a signature sound, but every record is so much different to the others,” says Fafara. “Trust No One is so different to Beast, which is different to our second record, The Fury of Our Maker’s Hand. We’ve got a signature groove sound, but we like to keep the evolution moving forward. On the new release, we definitely did that, and it came in at number sixteen on the Top 40 — our highest release, I think. People are really feeling the record, and I think it’s because there’s evolution happening. Our mantra is that we want to keep our music moving forward. We don’t ever want to get stagnant — just create the same thing over and over.”
Fafara is right when he says that people are feeling the record; the reception it has received, considering the fact that this isn’t a new band and it doesn’t play around with gimmicks, is unusual. It’s also only the second album that Devildriver has put out on Napalm Records, after Fafara spent years with Roadrunner with both this band and Coal Chamber.
“I really like working with them,” Fafara says about Napalm Records. “They’re a great working partner. They believe in the art that we make. They’ve got a lot of fabulous ideas as well. We work well together, and I think that’s very important. So many artists out there hate their record label. I’m very fortunate I’m not in that situation.”
Having a new record has given the band a chance to explore ideas, something Fafara says it has never struggled to generate.
“I have a studio at my house, and so does Mike (Spreitzer, guitar), and Neal (Tiemann, guitar) is constantly writing,” he says. “That’s where it gets fresh. To write daily, see what you’re coming up with, and oftentimes, you’ll come up with something that’s a little unusual. This is a great scenario. We have a new player in Neal, and he replaced a longtime guy, Jeff (Kendrick), who was in the band pretty much from the beginning. He wasn’t really a writer. He wrote no songs in twelve years. So then you get Neal come in and write the single “Daybreak” — that’s something that rarely happens in a band. There’s been a great synergy, and that word has been predominant in my vocabulary lately. The synergy between the members, the writing, and the sound that we’ve created over the years is moving forward, and I’m really enjoying it.”
Devildriver has seen its fair share of bandmembers come and go. In 2015, 50 percent of the band shifted, with Teimann and drummer Austin D’Amond replacing Kendrick and John Boecklin, respectively. Fafara is adamant that the current lineup is as stable as it is possible for a band to be.
“This is a fantastic time, a good time,” he says. “Everybody’s smiling, laughing, having a great one. There’s just no time to be in a band with people you don’t get along with. I’ve done it a few times, and I’ve done it for some years in my life, and I won’t ever do it again. This morning, my text was going off at 7 a.m. — ‘Hey, man, the bus is coming. Can’t wait to see you.’ That’s a really cool vibe to have. If you don’t get along with people, it’s time to make a change. You don’t want to go the long route if you don’t see eye to eye with people.”
Like pretty much everyone with a pulse in the United States, Fafara has been affected by what has been happening during month number one of the Trump administration. As he begins to think about the eighth Devildriver album and what the lyrical content might be, Fafara concedes that his inner punk might be soaking in this political moment to spit out later.
“It’s a very rebellious thing, and I tend to rebel against things I don’t like,” he says. “We’re really going to see what this administration does or doesn’t do. Some of the stuff that flies out of his mouth, I can’t fucking believe it’s coming from the President of the United States. That being said, I’ve got my head down like everybody else, just going, ‘Man, let’s see what’s going to happen.’ But you know, we have a democracy. People in America are in charge of their own destiny. If we all really didn’t want him in, there are ways to get him out. We’ll have to see what happens.”
Devildriver plays the Summit on Sunday, with thrash veterans Death Angel, among others. Fafara is excited to get to a venue that he loves, in a state that he enjoys immensely.
“Not only do I have really close friends that live there, but I love it in Denver,” he says. “You guys have a lot of good things going on. The shows have always been incredible. The Summit has been one of those places that, if it’s not on the tour list, I’m on the phone to my agent asking why. It’s one of my favorite places to play. The crew there is great. It’s a great venue to see bands at. I’ve always had a great time there. Devildriver has a rabid fan base, and most of the time when we play there, the place will be packed.”
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The set will inevitably be wild — brutal and high-energy. The band will play a mixture of new songs and oldies that haven’t been aired in a while. After that, Devildriver is off to South Africa, then Europe. Fafara has occasionally re-formed Coal Chamber in recent years to play a show here and there, but there are no plans for that band at present.
And that’s fine. Devildriver is more than enough.
Devildriver plays with Death Angel, Winds of Plague, The AGONIST and Azrael at 6 p.m. on Sunday, February 12, at Summit Music Hall, 1902 Blake Street, Denver; 303-487-0111.