Devil's Backbone - 'Holy Temple Mother'

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In October of 2014, I lauded an independent outfit called Devil’s Backbone for their ‘eclectic mix of rock and roll and Texas blues.’ The band, I described at the time, echoed “the Ramones if they had gotten lost in Texas and never found their way out.” Now, over two years later, the Texas Hill Country act is back with a new studio endeavor: ‘Holy Temple Mother.’

‘Holy Temple Mother’ is a lengthy twelve track effort that fleshes out Devil’s Backbone and their sound in unique new ways. The band has certainly grown in the two years since I last analyzed their music, and most notably, their sound seems to embrace a much higher level of metal influence than before. The opening track for example, ‘All The Angels,’ is a bombastic introduction chock-full of sweeping metal guitar power chords and thunderous percussion.

One could argue, however, that the band exhibits early into ‘Holy Temple Mother’ that some of the finest outings are when they maneuver away from the more traditional “metal” sound. The melancholy ‘Alter Call,’ for instance, is a fantastic acoustic jaunt through compelling atmosphere and instrumental performances.

With that said, ‘Bad Well’ is a far better execution of Devil’s Backbone’s more gritty, intense sound than ‘All The Angels’ is. The sheer gravitas of ‘Bad Well’ is fascinating, and it’s the first moment on ‘Holy Temple Mother’ that the experience feels like a rock record incorporating metal influence that isn’t dated. There’s no way to dance about it: many of the tried and true sonic tactics of metal don’t translate as well into a contemporary setting as they maybe should. Tunes like ‘Bad Well’ get over that hump very well.

Similar to their previous work, there are many elements of ‘Holy Temple Mother’ that dabble in other genre inspirations. ‘Big Guns,’ for example, boasts a raw slide guitar that’s reminiscent of Americana blues. This, of course, is accented by the hard rock aura that Devil’s Backbone injects into the track, which gives the sound a unique dichotomy of range.

There are tracks on this LP that probably could have been omitted, though, as they aren’t as fully realized as some of their counterparts. ‘Burn The Bridge’ is one of them. It sounds too similar to the album’s titular track that follows after it, but not as completely fleshed out. ‘Holy Temple Mother,’ the song, however, is a solid hard rock effort in the middle of the record that houses some of the better musicianship, especially on behalf of the drummer.

Devil’s Backbone has some excellent production on  ‘Holy Temple Mother.’ I was given the album in an uncompressed format, which was particularly suiting to my studio’s sound setup. The band did run into issues, though, when they attempted to inject low-fi elements into their slickly produced sound. That happens in the choruses of ‘It’s All True.’ They’re just unnecessarily drowned out, and the track suffers awkwardly from it.

Poorly mixed vocals are problematic in the first minute and a half of ‘On The Other Side’ as well, a track that’s otherwise one of the album’s most unique efforts. The growing, explosive nature of the song makes for a truly fantastic listen for hard rock fans. It’s also worth noting that, again, Devil’s Backbone makes great use of acoustic instrumentation alongside their highly distorted electric rock style.

‘Preachin’ To The Choir’ is one of the collection’s better uses of production, and everything in the track is simultaneously polished and inherently raw. The anthemic track is good, foot-stomping fun - something that arises again on ‘Rattle My Bones,’ a fuzzy, erratic rocker that’s a joyful time to listen to. In fact, those two tracks are two of the best harder rockers in the sequencing of ‘Holy Temple Mother.’

‘Say You Love Me’ is, admittedly, the track that appeals to me most on this album. It seems to be a culmination of Devil’s Backbone’s two best elements: sincere lyricism with classic roots and intensity that’s designed for being blasted at obscene volumes. The album’s closer, ‘Talkin Crazy,’ is quite enjoyable, too, and experiments more with the atmosphere the band can create with reverb-laden effects.

I don’t think there’s anything that’s necessarily profound about ‘Holy Temple Mother.’ It would be unfair to argue that there should be, I’d think. It’s a fun rock album. While some of its lyrical content is forgettable, the instrumentation and gusto that Devil’s Backbone bring to the table is perfect for fans of indie metal and hard rock that have trouble weeding out the mediocre acts in that scene - of which there are so, so many. This is niche music, and for that niche, this is a collection worth taking a look at.