“[Note: Devil to Pay’s Oct. 2016 tour dates used in place of the NSFW cover for A Bend Through Space and Time. To view the art, click here.]
The top feature of Devil to Pay‘s work has always been the songwriting. Certainly the Indianapolis-based four-piece have evolved in sound since they made their debut 12 years ago with Thirty Pieces of Silver, and found a niche for themselves in a style following two guitars that play metal and heavy rock elements off each other fluidly, but even that has always come at the service to a notion of craft. Consistency and reliability, without redundancy, can be hard to come by over time, but as Devil to Pay showed on 2013’s Ripple Music debut, Fate is Your Muse (review here), they were still moving forward as a band. A Bend Through Space and Time is their second offering through Ripple and fifth overall, and underscores similar growth.
Its 10-track/43-minute span comes encased in well-painted/politically-debatable art from W. Ralph Walters and feels more efficient than its predecessor, leaner and crisper in its style, as guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak, guitarist Rob Hough, bassist/backing vocalist Matt Stokes and drummer Chad Profigle continue to refine their methods, but a big shift can be heard in the production value throughout. Janiak, of course, splits his time in doomers Apostle of Solitude, and so a recording/mix/master job by Mike Bridavsky at Russian Recording in Bloomington, Indiana, should be recognizable to those who caught that band’s 2014 album, Of Woe and Wounds (review here), and one can hear a similar sense of room in side A’s “Laughingstock” here, as well as a likeness in the presentation of the drums.
All told, Bridavsky‘s contributions become part of the story of A Bend Through Space and Time, along with the fleet-footed jumps between different sides of the band’s stylistic meld. Bend breaks evenly into two vinyl sides, and each one starts off with a raucous, fast punch — “On and On (In Your Mind)” (video here) opening the first half with an insistent push while still maintaining a sense of atmosphere through the layered harmonies of Janiak‘s vocals and a grim undertone that will continue to develop shortly in “Kobold in the Breadbasket” and the aforementioned “Laughingstock,” while “Recommended Daily Dosage” gets side B moving at a full-thrash clip, punctuated by cowbell with vocals deeper back in the mix to let the guitars come forward.
Come to think of it, though it cuts in its midsection to a doomier nod, the galloping chug of closer “The Demons Come Home to Roost” is plenty speedy as well, as is the bulk of the penultimate “Your Inner Lemmy” (video here), though that song too shifts in pace, touching on some more strutting fare in its quick and fitting tribute to the late Motörhead frontman, most if not all of its lyrics derived from just some of his many famous quotes — see, “I did it all/Whatever I did/I can’t remember/But I’ll never forget,” and so on.
Through all of this — and even an earlier rocker like second track “Don’t Give Away the World” qualifies, though its focus seems more to be its sing-along-ready hook — Devil to Pay maintain a sense of urgency that Fate is Your Muse touched on but was not defined by, and going back further, to 2009’s Heavily Ever After, one can only conclude that the band have in the years since let go of the trappings of genre concerns and instead set themselves to the goal of making the music they want to make. A Bend Through Space and Time isn’t about heavy rock, doom, thrash or metal — though it offers all of them with a fervent overarching groove. It’s about Devil to Pay writing the songs they want to write and executing them at their highest level to-date. That’s precisely why the album succeeds the way it does.
And though I’ve bounced around the tracklisting a bit, another of A Bend Through Space and Time‘s strengths is the flow it sets up between songs, which can be heard as side A develops following “On and On (In Your Mind)” and makes its way toward the gloomier “Kobold in the Breadbasket” — perhaps the closest moment Devil to Pay and Apostle of Solitude have shared since Janiak joined the latter in 2012 — and “Laughingstock” before the more boogieing “The Meaning of Life” revives both the mood and tempo with a still-spacious adrenaline surge and highlight guitar lead in its back half, rounding out on a relatively positive note and a long fade before the thrust of “Recommended Daily Dosage” blindsides the listener. Side B works similarly, with that opening cut running at a sprint until its finish gives way to the slower chugga-chugga of “Knuckledragger” — a song very clearly and very correctly named after its central riff.
I’ll call it a highlight because that riff is such a standout and so obviously the product of Devil to Pay reveling in a kind of sheer heft in which they don’t generally traffic, but with leads peppered over top of the lumbering thud and the still-prevalent vocal melodies, it doesn’t at all come across as one-dimensional in the way the title might lead one to believe. Because it is a relative pivot in approach, one imagines it was something of a task to place “Knuckledragger” on A Bend Through Space and Time, but five albums in, Devil to Pay are no strangers to structure.
It turns smoothly from “Recommended Daily Dosage” and precedes the also-charmingly-titled “Kerfluffle,” which is more mid-paced and in line with a rocker like “Don’t Give Away the World” earlier, setting up a transition into “Your Inner Lemmy” and “The Demons Come Home to Roost.” As a finale, the latter cut seems to be playing at once to the various sides of Devil to Pay‘s sound. Checking in at 7:42 as the longest inclusion on A Bend Through Space and Time, it uses that run to include shifts between harder and heavier visions of rock.
By no means is it the first time Devil to Pay have sought to execute their stylistic swath as a single idea, but it might be the most effectively they’ve done it yet, and in terms of a look at where their progression might continue to carry it seems reasonable to think further bridging the gaps they’ve explored in these tracks might be at least part of their story. But likely only part, because what has always typified Devil to Pay can only keep doing so for as long as the band exists, and that’s their songwriting. I don’t think they’d have it any other way, and as A Bend Through Space and Time demonstrates, they have the ability to cover a range of ground while keeping that ultra-solid foundation beneath them always.