In the metal marathon, musicianship is the key differentiator that separates the men from the boys. So for a band that titles its songs with phrases like “HTML Rulez D00d” and “Assistant To The Regional Manager” (a subtle homage to Dwight Shrute of The Office), one might assume a menial level of maturity.

Christian metalcore band The Devil Wears Prada though, has found the loophole—its members know that success can very well hinge on making soulful, thoughtful music and having fun doing it. It’s all about playing just as hard as they work. The Dayton, Ohio-bred six-piece is comprised of Mike Hranica (lead vocals), Chris Rubey (lead guitar), Andy Trick (bass), Daniel Williams (drums), James Baney (keyboards, synthesizers, piano) and Jeremy DePoyster (rhythm guitar/vocals).

TDWP’s most recent album, Dead Throne, peaked at number 10 on the Billboard 200, selling more than 32,000 copies in its first week. TDWP to date has released four full-length albums, one DVD, one EP and six music videos.

The album is a compilation of pure metal—stripped to the core tracks infused with ungodly screams, dirty, dark riffs and haunting backdrops—the things that nightmares are made of. But these are dark dreams worth having, and a solid progression from TDWP’s 2005 demo, Patterns Of A Horizon, which ultimately provided fodder for the band’s 2006 debut studio album, Dear Love: A Beautiful Discord.

“It’s refreshing and rejuvenating to see attention on something a little bit less radio or secular [on the charts],” Hranica says of Dead Throne. “It’s rad.” Contrary to the implications of TDWP song titles, Hranica is a sophisticated, eloquent 22-year-old clearly committed to his role in a band leading the metalcore pack.

The band’s approach to Dead Throne, Hranica says, was to let the riffs lead the way, as guitarist Chris Rubey, the band’s primary songwriter, developed demos on his computer to create music that the rest of the band built on.

Toward the end of 2010, TDWP spent time recording in Kansas, and then took a break to tour before wrapping up recording sessions this year in Chicago and Massachusetts.

“I really liked demoing everything out,” Hranica says of the process. “We had skeleton songs that didn’t have vocals on them, so we went in well prepared. And I think it paid off to work on [producer Adam Dutkiewicz’s] potential, as far as being able to work on the songs early. He had more creative input because he had something clear and coherent in front of him. That technique was really rad—that’s something we did well with Dead Throne and we’ll keep in mind again.” (Dutkiewicz, guitarist of Killswitch Engage, also has produced albums for bands including All That Remains, Every Time I Die, Shadows Fall and August Burns Red.)

TDWP is leaving no stone unturned as the band reaches high-level stardom. Hranica is unlike other lead singers in that he draws primarily on his career growth ambitions—rather than solely creative ideals—to fuel his work ethic.

“I have a lot of work for the next full-length already good to go, but it’s a lengthy process,” he says. “We’re beginning to space out album releases a bit more, and that’s a good thing. It helped to ensure that Dead Throne is a better record than [2009’s] With Roots Above and Branches Below.”

The band has vastly progressed from its early days when touring would be limited to spring, winter and summer breaks in high school. Six years ago when TDWP started playing together, Hranica was 17 years old, numbering songs and then forging eccentric titles after picking phrases and names out of books in the basement of Rubey’s parents’ house.

“The song titles had absolutely no meaning at all,” Hranica notes. “That’s what we named our songs because we needed titles to put on the EP. That stuck around to With Roots Above…”

But Hranica really wanted to assign more merit to the song titles, although he and the band feared loosing fans if they took a turn for the serious.

“The track titles on the Zombie EP didn’t have any meaning, but we did serious song titles and it went over well,” he says. “That was kind of my sneaky transition into having serious song titles.”

Particularly for Dead Throne, which chronicles a uniquely significant period in the band’s lives, TDWP calls for more sophisticated identifiers. “Dead Throne is a very hearty period of our lives,” Hranica notes. “So why would you degrade that with stupid song titles? So we put the time in, and now the songs actually have a meaning behind the words. I’m happy about that.”

The band has harvested compelling nods in its six-year span. Early TDWP singles were quickly picked up by MTV and Fuse, while the band toured with All That Remains, Sky Eats Airplane, Emarosa and Killswitch Engage, and joined the 2008, 2009 and 2011 Warped Tour installments. Additionally, the song “Dez Moines” was released as downloadable content for the video game Guitar Hero World Tour, and the song “Hey John, What’s Your Name Again?” was released for Rock Band and Rock Band 2.

But beyond mainstream recognition, Hranica feels the pressure to put out quality material, largely because he’s exhausted of what’s current. He emphasizes the need to innovate musically.

“I do get rather crabby toward bands that achieve that success without ever having the right idea, without contributing something positive, never really seeking truth in their music, or trying to understand something bigger,” he says. “Everyone wants to write stuff that sounds heavy, epic, or ‘world-ending’ but it’s all empty to me. It all falls short because it doesn’t have any substance to it.”

The future of TDWP looks promising, not only because of the band’s unique ambition, but also because of its overall commitment to growth and greatness. In an interesting twist, Hranica says one of the band’s hopeful tours would bring together TDWP and Slipknot.

“The way I look at metalcore and TDWP in metalcore is to cast other bands out of it,” he says. “I just want us to be the best that TDWP could be. Ideally I’d like to see the band push out of that and be a band that’s progressive or innovative enough that it’s hard to classify them as something else. I’m not saying we’re anything as good as that, but all I want to do is be the best I can be.”

Regardless of its endeavors, the band as a unit will own the music it creates and the decisions it makes.

“I’m always very happy to admit that we’re a very truthful group of dudes,” Hranica says. “We make music and we don’t compromise and I think that helps. As long as it’s what we wanted to do, there is so much reward there, because you created something that is honest. That’s what music is. That’s what all art is, as rather forgotten.”

The Devil Wears Prada will play Electric Factory in Philly on Dec. 10, Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ, on Dec. 11 and Best Buy Theater in NYC on Dec. 13. For more info, go to facebook.com/tdwp.

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