In the metal community super-groups typically aren’t viewed in the brightest light. Putting together a group of musicians who have little in common when it comes to musical approaches and styles can be both an interesting idea and a complete disaster. The goal is ultimately to create a band that does each of the members justice and clearly shows their individual backgrounds and flavors in one cohesive song.
On paper this might sound easy, but it isn’t. When Devil You Know (a super-group headed by Howard Jones of Killswitch Engage/Blood Has Been Shed) fame emerged, many weren’t expecting the heaviness that was the group’s debut single “Shut It Down”. The album it was featured on, The Beauty of Destruction, showed heaviness of several kinds and an interesting variety albeit with inconsistent degrees of success. Balancing the frontman’s emotional despairs with the extreme metal heaviness provided by John Sankey (Divine Heresy, Fear Factory; Drums), Francesco Artusuto (All Shall Perish; Guitar) and Ryan Wombacher (Bleeding Through; Bass) often produced either soft, grungy ballads or metallic ragers that only somewhat hit the mark or missed it completely due to featuring soaring choruses that abrupted the intensity. The world was certainly interested in this project, but wasn’t sure how serious it would get. Most supergroups don’t put out more than one album, after all.
When Devil You Know announced a second album, excitement stirred at the promise of a previously unheard cohesion within the group and a nigh-unrivaled intensity. Choosing They Bleed Red as the title only drove home the point that this particular release could be beastly if done correctly. More importantly, it could justify why the first album wasn’t as complete as it could have been and redefine the Devil You Know name. Is this the case?
No question this year is going to be announced with a more resounding “yes”. Only the best elements from The Beauty of Destruction made their way onto They Bleed Red, but with much more sinister intent. Out of the gates of Hell storms the opener “Consuming The Damned” and it will drag the listener right along with its thrashiness for six straight tracks of an increasingly heavy onslaught that only gets scarier and more immediate as the album spins through its fourteen tracks. The extreme metal implementations to the band’s sound become a reality when “Stay of Execution” crashes in and brings with it an urgent cry of an emotive chorus. “The Way We Die” is a memorable, anthemic blend of a chunky nu-metal groove and blistering shreddy fretwork that set the stage for one of the album’s most gargantuan choruses. Most metal bands brought up in the modern age include choruses as a sort of taboo. They’re only there as a part of the song structure because it’s an established formula that has been proven to work, but isn’t always necessary. Perhaps it’s just that those bands don’t all have someone as emotive and powerful as Howard Jones as their vocalist. His vocals are heavy in a different way than the instrumentals and round out Devil You Know’s sound perfectly. Not only have Devil You Know learned how to play with alarming intensity, they’ve learned how to compliment the unique, depressive vibe Howard brings along with his delivery. You feel every line delivered, be it due to the consuming instrumentals or Howard wearing his heart on his sleeve. His screams are uniquely brutal, full of passion and crushing. The unique soulful bellow we have come to know from HoJo comes off more refined and heartfelt than ever, but with tatters and tears in his anguished disposition that are matched by the pitch-black nature of the instruments. Blast beats, black metal influence, and occasional eerie dissonance surround Howard in total darkness. Contrarily, when Howard decides to exclaim hope the instrumentals soar right along with him. “Breaking The Ties” is a good example of that. It’s hard not to imagine a massive legion of fans singing along to these choruses, just they have with Howard’s material from Killswitch Engage. The fact that the lyrical concepts on this album are far more interesting and relatable than the lyrics on the previous album only aids in that expression.
While The Beauty of Destruction did feature softer songs, they were thrown in without any thought as to how they would interrupt the album’s flow. This time around the ballads are rare, but well-placed. “Let The Pain Take Hold” notably follows “Shattered”, easily one of They Bleed Red‘s more authoritative moments. “I Am Alive” is a beautiful declaration of that very title, no doubt stemming from much self-searching and coping from Howard. We spend so much of the album experiencing Howard’s laments, such a positive moment coming so late in the album is especially impacting. What follows “I Am Alive” is also without a doubt the band’s heaviest track, “We Live”.
One can not listen to They Bleed Red without noting how chock-full of incredible riffs and solos the album is. Nearly all fourteen songs feature at LEAST one solo and they all rip harder than anything you’ll listen to this year. The mind-boggling aspect of these monster compositions is the fact that Francesco Artusuto played not only the ever-busy rhythm guitar on the album, but also the unsettling lead guitar melodies. His work on this album is absolutely the take-away. The listener will walk away stunned by these songs. There isn’t one that is lacking in this department and due to that, it’s difficult to note which songs include impressive musicality. They ALL do.
It’s a glorious fact that that all four members positively brought and delivered everything they could to this release. It almost makes the listener wonder if the “they” in They Bleed Red is referring to the blood, sweat and tears Howard, Francesco, John and Ryan poured into this album. The band have learned how to create a sound that perfectly compliments Howard’s at times bleak lyricism and anchored soul. This might be one of the year’s most cathartic albums, but the band’s Survivor cover of “The Eye of The Tiger” serves as a reminder that the musicians are having fun with this band while crushing their inner demons. As a nice touch the song’s message of overcoming all challenges fits the album perfectly, but the laughs and wisecracks stuck at the end of the song brings us back to reality. It’s the reality that in life there may be struggles, but a reason to smile can always be found if searched hard enough for. There is no doubt that depression is a deep well of suffering, but through Devil You Know’s music Howard Jones is climbing his way out.
Devil You Know have proved to the world how a metal supergroup can evolve and potentially even become a household name. If the latter especially is true, the world is only in for more brilliance on a larger scale from this band. They Bleed Red sets the bar impossibly high for even the established bands of the genre. Staggering growth and an unparalleled amount of metallic intensity awaits anyone who dares to listen to this album.