Even if you've never heard Devil to Pay's 2004 album "Thirty Pieces of Silver," you've probably heard it. It might have been under a different name, or written in a different era, but it will set off alarms of familiarity from first dense note to last.
Every note of dirty, ugly drudgery is like a visit from an old, familiar friend. Each phrase is taken from the textbook of sludge metal, and the distortion is up so high that there aren't notes or chords so much as emotional responses.
"Heavy" is barely an adequate starting qualifier for this type of metal. "Thirty Pieces of Silver" is a down and dirty romp through metal's back forty, with gloomy yet spirited riffs taken directly from the depths of metal's souls. There's nothing on the album that's twisted or bent to fit an idiom. There're no new shattering revelations about the nature of metal. There's just simple, pounding, churning drudgery, produced with honest intent from musicians who love what they do.
One of the features I enjoy most about "Thirty Pieces of Silver" is that while the album can contend with metal's deepest and darkest blues metal masters, it conveys a great sense of doom without being numbed by endless waves of percussion. Chad Prifogle plays more of a John-Paul Gaster role for Devil to Pay, setting the pace but letting the guitars do all the heavy lifting and create the mood. The corollary effect to this is that when Prifogle does pull out all the stops, it means something special is going on. Take "Dinosaur Steps," which is probably the album's single best offering. Prifogle makes this song by creating the atmosphere of actual saurian shambling with his early heavy rolls, and then provides explosive depth to the chorus that makes it pop from the rest of the song.
The entire album is a collection of Midwestern American boys making metal in a classic Midwestern way; no frills, no time wasted, no problem. “Thirty Pieces of Silver” would be perfectly at home in a down and out bar where everyone has parked their hog and is looking to fight. There’s nothing glamorous or elegant about it. Instead, Devil to Pay has crafted an entire experience around the simple question “why can’t it be heavier?” Everything, from the dubbed-down drums to the detuned guitars, screams “bulldozer” more than “buzzsaw.” I can’t stress enough how beautiful and effective this album is in its simplicity. No eloquent time signatures, no artistry for artistry’s sake. Just a simple, doom-laden metal pounding.
The guitar for the powerful “Whores of Babylon” rings from just so many Black Sabbath riffs, as the rhythm line drips with raw muscle, and the lead line, even at the fore, sounds forlorn and desperate. “The New Black” is similar, but with a more emotive chorus, backed by a titanium spine of overdriven six-string.
Slightly apart from the others is “Toreador,” which possess the usual dense riff, but it comes equipped with a natural springiness that you don’t get almost anywhere else on the album.
There’s still so much more. The pure infectiousness of “Swathe” or “Lowest Common Denominator,” needs to be mentioned. These notes and lines just get caught in your ears, and before long, you’re humming them to yourself at work, and your coworkers are giving you funny looks because you’re playing air guitar to a song that no one can hear but you…not that that happened to me or anything.
Viking Skull, Soundgarden (specifically the “Badmotorfinger” album,) Black Sabbath, Monster Magnet, Clutch, The Cursed, Danzig, Type O Negative…if any of these bands have ever at all appealed to you, you owe yourself “Thirty Pieces of Silver.” If you even begin to call yourself a fan of blues metal, doom metal, heavy metal, stoner metal, or anything, to quote Type O “slow, deep and hard,” try this out. “Thirty pieces of Silver” is a heavy metal earthmover.
Devil to Pay actually has a new album out which reminded me of this in the first place. I’ll get my hands on it and get y’all a review.