In the early 2010s, Kill Devil Hill burst onto the scene with two albums that blurred the lines between hard rock and heavy metal and some well-known musicians in their ranks. Vocalist Dewey Bragg and guitarist Mark Zavon were joined by Rex Brown (Pantera) and Vinnie Appice (Black Sabbath, Heaven & Hell), and both 2012’s self-titled effort and 2013’s Revolution Rise found that sweet spot between 90s hard rock/alternative metal and the fuller sound of the 2000’s. Despite the quick turnaround between those first two albums, the band would fall quiet on the recording front for close to a decade, with most of the news coming in the form of lineup changes. Appice shortly after Revolution Rise, with ex-Type O Negative and Danzig drummer Johnny Kelly taking over, while Rex Brown also left in 2019 and new bassist Matt Snell joined in 2021. With these changes in place, Kill Devil Hill has returned with Seas of Oblivion and picked up where they left off. Coming in at a whopping fifteen tracks and a little over an hour in length, the production allows the hooks to soar even higher than before and the band once again finds that perfect balance between infectious melodies and grittier riffs.
Opener “Blood in the Water” makes it clear that Kill Devil Hill hasn’t lost any of their energy in the decade since their last release, as it comes roaring in with a faster metal edge and guitar and bass work that build up to some memorable hooks while still being quite heavy. Like with their first two records, there are still quite a few moments that channel similar riffs as 90s era Alice in Chains but Kill Devil Hill offers even more variety on Seas Of Oblivion and finds that perfect balance between rock and metal. Sometimes the material brings in a bit more groove while other points showcase a bit more southern swagger, bringing to mind everything from Deliverance era Corrosion of Conformity to a number of 2000’s hard rock artists. Songs like “Undertow” and “Seize the Day” emphasize the low end of the sound and focus on hitting hard with grit and intensity, but “Pharmaceutical Sunshine” and “From the Ashes” pivot over to softer ballads and melodies that bring in a bit more of that southern swagger. In the wrong hands material this soft would totally derail the flow and energy of the album but Kill Devil Hill pulls it off with ease and these tracks stand out just as much as their heavier counterparts. It’s nothing wildly outside what you’d expect whether you’ve heard this band before or not, but the way that they hop between all these types of rock and lean into metal territory gives a more diverse sound than some of their peers. My biggest concern going into Seas Of Oblivion was that it might be too long, as fifteen tracks and an hour run time can often be a lot for this genre. But except for closer “Solitude” which stretches out its acoustic layers a bit too much, there isn’t too much that I’d cut out to reduce that run time. Whether you’re jamming to the very Alice in Chains like “Darkest Days” or feeling the scorching intensity of “You Can’t Kill Me California”, there are plenty of memorable moments from beginning to end and it’s clear these guys have focused on ensuring each riff has staying power.
Dewey Bragg has one of those voices that sounds like it’s made for the radio and had Kill Devil Hill come out in the 90’s or 2000’s you can imagine they would’ve fit in perfectly with what was dominating the airwaves during that time. His singing soars over the recording with a mix of melodic and grittier tones, and on songs like “Playing With Fire” and “Darkest Days” he sounds very close to Layne Staley. Considering there aren’t a ton of bands besides current era Alice in Chains doing that type of style, this works to the group’s advantage and it results in quite a few choruses that have been stuck in my head for days. Like the instrumentation, Bragg varies up his performance from song to song, lightening up significantly on “Pharmaceutical Sunshine” and even throwing in some screams on “You Can’t Kill Me California”. It’s great to hear that even after a decade away from the studio, Bragg’s voice sounds even better than ever.
Kill Devil Hill’s first two albums gained some buzz because of who was in the band but had some strong songwriting to back it up. A decade later and following some lineup changes, they’ve returned better than ever and their third album offers more variety and songs that will stick with listeners for some time to come. It does run a little long, especially the last track, but this is still a fantastic effort and one of the better albums in the hard rock space you’ll hear in 2023. Seas Of Oblivion is available from Legend Recordings.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg