Review & Full Album Stream: Devil to Pay, Forever, Never or Whenever

devil to pay forever never or whenever

[Click play above to stream Devil to Pay’s Forever, Never or Whenever in full. Album is out Nov. 8 on Ripple Music with preorders here.]

Devil to Pay have come to chew bubblegum and play hooks. And while I don’t know the status of their Watermelon Bubble-Yum supply, they’ve definitely got enough hooks for everyone at the bank. The Indianapolis four-piece have riffed and riffed and riffed their way to a well-earned veteran status, and throughout the 10 tracks of Forever, Never or Whenever, which is their 44-minute sixth long-player — third for Ripple Music, behind 2016’s A Bend Through Space and Time (review here) and 2013’s Fate is Your Muse (review here) — they prove to be comfortable in their core processes while willing to expand their sound in some new ways, fleshing out aesthetic turns that might surprise some longtime followers and even just finding more ways to add character to their songs, whether it’s the mini-funk-jam on “Imminent Demise” or the moodier and more patient rollout of the earlier “The Cautionary Tale of Yen Sid,” a moody bit of philosophizing that serves as a reminder that guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak splits his time between Devil to Pay and doom outfit Apostle of Solitude (and now the reunited The Gates of Slumber as well).

Between that song — which may or may not actually be about Walt Disney and/or his fictional sorcerer representation throughout the Mickey Mouse canon — the subtle vocal layering in “Light Sentence” and the spacious echoes in the penultimate “The Pendulum,” Janiak, fellow guitarist Rob Hough, bassist Matt Stokes and drummer Chad Prifogle bring a fair amount of variety to Forever, Never or Whenever, and six albums deep into a tenure that covers the better part of the last 20 years, there’s just about no way it’s a coincidence. Rather, it’s Devil to Pay refusing to stagnate in terms of style and pushing themselves toward fresh-sounding avenues of expression even as they maintain the focus on songwriting that has carried them since their inception. At their heart, they’ve always been a band about the songs.

You’d think that would be every band, right? Why be a band who writes songs if you’re not going to be about writing the songs? Truth is there are plenty of reasons. Sometimes the song is an excuse to have a solo, or to jam, or it’s a stand-in for some broader message. All of those and a 100,000 more can potentially work, but with Devil to Pay, it’s always been the song itself that has come first. Their style has never been overly flashy, and one supposes it still isn’t, though neither would I call the production on Forever, Never or Whenenever flat. Instead, in the initial salvo of “Heave-Ho,” “The Devil’s Barking Up Your Tree” — which delightfully shares a similar staccato cadence to the second half of “I’m Tired” as performed by Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles —  “The Cautionary Tale of Yen Sid” and the driving fuzz of “Get on Down” shove the way through the album’s first half with due energy and a sense of the dynamic that Devil to Pay share on stage.

As it passes its midsection, “Get on Down” slows down and Janiak‘s vocals echo a bit, leading to a winding rhythm that builds its way toward a solo and a final few vocal lines. The presumed side A finale, “Tap Dancing on Your Grave,” is more melancholy as its title might suggest, and sees Hough and Janiak part ways on guitar, one holding down a steady chug while the other complements with a more open, winding line and some foreshadow of the percussive element in the (relatively brief) jam in the subsequent “Imminent Demise” is given. Very much in the spirit of classic heavy rock methodology, side B pushes further stylistically as songs expand on ideas presented in the earlier cuts — “Imminent Demise” taking the percussion aspect of “Tap Dancing on Your Grave” and running with it is perhaps the clearest example, but it’s true throughout in mood and arrangement. This too might be considered the band benefiting from their experience, at least on the most basic level of how they present the material, since their central philosophy remains intact wherever they might veer sound-wise. They’re always about the song.

devil to pay

Forever, Never or Whenever isn’t the first time Devil to Pay have offered variety in their craft, either. Indeed, in its structure, the album seems to be directly building off of what A Bend Through Space and Time brought together in terms of its general modus and range, but it does legitimately push farther. “Imminent Demise” leads to the tense verse and release chorus of “37 Trillion,” a song right in Devil to Pay‘s wheelhouse when it comes to structure and tone. The standout line, “Say you’re a bucket of blood,” would seem to remind of a human’s place in the universe, but the track is quick and doesn’t hang around long enough for much philosophizing. As noted, it’s in “Light Sentence” that the band once again dives into more brooding fare, with Janiak‘s croon answering itself at the end of verse lines, a far-back background layer adding to the atmosphere.

That’s a suitable transition into “The Pendulum,” which follows that path deeper into echoing reaches and an emergent metallic riffing in its second half, threatening to break out in a way it never lets itself do, instead shifting into the dual-leads and more fervent popping snare of “Anti-Gravity Depravity,” a title which hints at a more lighthearted spirit than either of the songs prior. Also the longest cut at 6:26, the closer indeed brings about another turn of vibe, but the track is hardly a goofball ending or anything like that. It calls back to some of the catchier songs early on without being a total redux, and effectively uses lead guitar to offset its deceptively nuanced chug, ending in a last build with Prifogle railing on his crash cymbals before a few last hits around a quick reprise of the track’s opening caps with a duly symmetrical spirit.

Whatever Devil to Pay might be or might do stylistically, they’re a heavy rock band, and an underrated one at that. They bring more character to the production of Forever, Never or Whenever than they’ve ever had before, and perhaps unsurprisingly, it suits them and enriches the material itself. Perhaps most fortunate of all, none of the growth of method the band have undertaken in the last five-plus years has pulled them away from the foundation of their songwriting. It is that which ultimately allows them to flourish as they do, and the ground beneath their feet is as solid as it could possibly be here. A balance of consistency and growth after more than 15 years together? I think maybe it’s time more people started paying attention to and learning lessons from this band.

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2 Responses to “Review & Full Album Stream: Devil to Pay, Forever, Never or Whenever

  1. dave #1 says:

    These guys smoked all my weed and stole my girlfriend, but i wasn’t even mad.

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