…Well, this is a record that I didn’t expect to be covering.
OK, for the benefit of those reading this who have been curious about how my review schedule works out: normally, I get promos of records sent to me by various PR companies on behalf of record labels, directly from the label themselves or through the promos section of a label’s site, so I usually tend to cover what I get sent. I do have some degree of leeway regarding when I cover them (usually, it’s any time before the album’s actual release, but some cases have tighter deadlines), but I tend to work on the principle of “Whatever is most urgent to cover gets covered first”, which means that stuff I purchase for general listening nowadays usually tends to fall into the “only if nothing else is available” spectrum for covering.
So why am I covering this EP, considering it came out just over a month ago? Well, as hard to believe as I imagine this will be, I got asked by the band directly via Twitter if I wanted to cover this record. There are a lot of details which are more general chat stuff than anything really of note to know about, but, at the end of the day, I said yes and I got the record directly from the band. Don’t know how the band heard about me, but I get the feeling it wasn’t for me reviewing Saradin…
So yeah, no pressure then!
Anyway, for the benefit of those who aren’t familiar with the band, New Device are a hard rock band from the UK who have been around since 2007. The band’s lineup has changed quite a lot over the last few years, with only frontman Daniel Leigh and drummer Greg Ison remaining of the band’s lineup since the band’s debut album, and the band have previously released two studio albums (2009’s Takin’ Over and 2013’s Here We Stand). I actually reviewed their previous record back in my blogging days and, despite being a bit harsh on it at the time, I have to say that I enjoyed it overall and, in the time since the review, my opinion of it has actually gone up a bit. It’s still not a record that I would place among my favourites of 2013, but it is still a solid hard rock record in a year that had some pretty great records (and some monumental disappointments: the less said about Super Collider, the better!).
So Devils on the Run sits in an odd place for me. It’s not bad by any measure and I will say that some of the songs on the record are among my favourite New Device songs, but I can’t help noticing a few issues with it which detract from my enjoyment of it.
First of all, fans of the band will be pleased to hear that, musically, New Device haven’t changed much from their previous record: they’re still a hard rock band with arguably a few post-grunge and metal elements (though nothing from the extreme metal spectrum, so there’s no death metal vocals or anything like that on here!). There’s still a ballad on the record that is surprisingly well done by most hard rock standards (‘Back to You’, which is also the longest track on the EP, surprisingly enough, at just under four and a half minutes!) and the rest of the record is based on loud and energetic hard rock tracks with choruses so catchy that you’ll be humming them from the first listen pretty easily, but a few slightly new elements sneak into the band’s sound which show the band trying a few new things. Probably the most obvious is the first two verses for ‘Devil on the Run’, which goes for a slower (and somewhat ominous) vibe compared to what the band usually go for. This probably sound interesting on paper, but I have to be honest and admit that I found that ‘Devil on the Run’ didn’t work properly for me, as the band’s chorus is still the same sort of thing as what the band usually do, which causes the verses to feel out of place compared to the rest of the song. There’s definitely a good idea for a song in ‘Devil on the Run’ and, to be fair, it does improve once it picks up the pace in the second half of the song, but, unfortunately the execution falls flat for me.
Luckily, beyond ‘Devil on the Run’, I think the songwriting’s pretty good. Now, admittedly, there’s not a huge shake up from the typical verse-chorus structure to the songs, but, on the other hand, complex songwriting is not really what hard rock is about (to give a somewhat ridiculous example, you’re not going to listen to AC/DC expecting them to produce something like ‘Ode to Joy’…unless you count their lyrics, in which case, there’s certainly a lot of odes to joy to go around, although probably not the sort that Beethoven’s audience would have approved of!), so I can’t say that’s a big issue. The song’s choruses, as I mentioned earlier, are REALLY catchy and are more than capable of getting caught in your head with little difficulty, but it is worth noting that the band puts effort into making the whole of their songs catchy, which makes it a listen where you’re bound to come out of it with something stuck in your head. Considering a lot of artists in general seem to regard the chorus of their songs as the only part worth paying attention to, it’s nice to see the effort in making a whole song memorable!
The band performances are a bit more standard for the genre (aside from Daniel Leigh’s vocals), but they’re not bad either. The guitars have some moments which would feel right at home on Metallica’s self-titled album and I’d certainly say that, on a technical level, Leigh and Matt Mallery definitely can play their instruments to a decent standard (though nothing that enters prog levels). Drummer Greg Ison is a very capable drummer as well, able to play quickly enough to keep the band’s energy going on the faster tracks with little difficulty, but also able to play slower without feeling restrained. I doubt the guy is capable of playing death metal, but, for what New Device require their drummer to do (which is a powerful performance with a lot of energy), he definitely does the job very well! Bassist Nick Hughes doesn’t really leave a huge impact on me, unfortunately, but one could make a case that the fact he doesn’t is a good sign, since the point of a bassist is to work with the drummer to provide a solid foundation for the rest of the song in most rock music, which usually means that you’ll only notice them if they screw up. However, after spending a decent amount of my free time in the last few days listening to technical death metal, I do feel the minimal presence of the bass is a disappointment to me, especially as someone who is learning the instrument (albeit at a glacial pace) in his free time.
Daniel Leigh’s vocals are pretty interesting compared to most hard rock vocalists, as his singing voice on paper isn’t what you’d expect from a hard rock vocalist. He has a voice that’s higher than you might expect a hard rock frontman to have (though not to the extent of Justin Hawkins!) and his singing style is also very clean without being operatic. He’s somewhat like Heaven’s Basement’s ex-frontman Aaron Buchanan in that regard, although I’d argue Buchanan has a bit more variety to his voice (including some pretty impressive rough screams) than Leigh does. Most of the time, Leigh manages to make it work well on the record, but ‘Devil on the Run’ (wow, I keep coming back to that one a lot!) has him try a slightly more aggressive lower range that just falls flat for me. Maybe he could get better at that in the future, but, on here at least, it didn’t do much for me.
My last note is the production. Being honest, beyond the bass being a lot quieter in the mix than I personally like (I only started to hear it properly when I put my speakers near maximum, which is not the best of signs!), I have no real complaints about this record’s production! It’s got a very clean production that takes a lot of the grit out of the guitars, which may upset a few hard rock fans who like their guitars like that, and I do find the general sound feels a bit hollow (for lack of a better way to put it), but neither of those really bothered me, and the mastering of the record is actually surprisingly good, giving the whole thing the kick it needs without getting to the levels where I’d be concerned about potential ear fatigue occurring in those who listening to it. It’s not a perfect production job, sure, but there’s not a lot to complain about here. I don’t know who did the production job on this record, but they definitely did a good job overall, so credit to them for that!
Overall, I have to say that I enjoyed Devils on the Run, for the most part. Some issues with it do have an impact upon my enjoyment of it, but none of them are really deal breakers for me and what the band gets right is more than enough to make it worth a listen if you’re a hard rock fan. I do think that this record might struggle to win over those not already interested in hard rock music, but there’s certainly some stuff on here that I could see going over well on popular radio if it was given a chance, so there’s that to bear in mind. Basically, if you like hard rock and catchy music, then Devil on the Runs should be right up your alley!
Devils on the Run was released on the 8th of January by ND Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.