Demon Hunter outlives their competitors

The faith-based melodic metallers come with accessible blood-pumping goodness.

Maxwell Heilman, Writer

The release of “Outlive” finds Demon Hunter at the top of their game — having realized the perfect niche between melody and brutality.

Melody and brutality

Besides solidifying themselves as one of the only Christian metal bands to gain widespread recognition in the new wave of American metal, Demon Hunter has also found a unique niche within early 2000s metalcore, European melodic death metal and groove metal. While “Outlive” hardly elaborates on the template the band settled on, it has certainly earned its place in their discography.

While most of Demon Hunter’s discography starts with a fast, thrashy track, “Trying Times” gives “Outlive” a slow-burning start. A tone setting track, it draws attention to the events preceding the album’s release. In spite of personal, financial and spiritual struggles, Demon Hunter still musters their musical skill, as exemplified by “Jesus Wept.” Providing the burst of energy fans expect, Yogi Watts’ tight drum fills send this track stampeding through darker lyrics about the Lord’s lamentations regarding the state of the world. Having gotten their blood pumping, “Outlive” begins balancing Demon Hunter’s extreme and accessible components better than any of its predecessors.

Inexorable grooves

Division between loud and soft becomes less polarized. Even on “Cold Blood,” which features the overt good-cop-bad-cop structure of Pantera-esque crunch and hooky choruses, the band avoids falling into a rigid formula — choosing songwriting over gimmicks. For the most part, this album lends itself to a reliable sonic palette of inexorable groove, tasteful chops and convincingly anthemic refrains.

Demon Hunter delivers their most consistent album, showcasing different aspects of their musicality without forsaking what elevates them above most “Top 40” metal. “One Step Behind” comes the closest to a ballad, while the venomous growls, pounding dissonance and barbaric rhythm of “One Less” make it the most aggressive song, but polarizations still fit into the album’s flow.

Tasteful shredding

Guitarist Patrick Judge solidified himself as the hero of Demon Hunter the moment he joined the band, and “Outlive” only gives more proof of this. Every guitar solo — especially the tear-jerker in “One Step Behind” — is impeccable, but his Southern-esque phrasing and tasteful shredding translate into every aspect of the song. “Cold Winter Sun” and “Died in My Sleep” earn their place as the two singles from the record, showcasing the Judge and Jeremiah Scott’s Swedish metal roots as well as Ryan Clark’s voice. This album’s preference for singing over harsh vocals actually improves the band’s sound, allowing the band to explore more of its songwriting while leaving the rhythm section to beef everything up.

Whether one looks to the quarter note triplet bounce riff of “Half as Dead” or the tumbling melodies of “Patience,” “Outlive” finds itself in catchy leads and crooning vocals and uses its aggressive sections sparingly and effectively. Neither of these songs feature screaming, letting Clark’s distinctive baritone drive these and many other songs.

What ultimately sets this album so high in Demon Hunter’s discography is its lack of gimmicks. The synth leads in “Raining Down” and “The End” do not dominate the mix any more than the strings in the closing “Slight the Odds.” By keeping these elements supplementary, Demon Hunter’s songwriting chops stand on their core instruments. Some might call this “playing it safe,” but the quality of the result is undeniable.

“Outlive” has nothing to hide. It will not win over detractors, but it stands as Demon Hunter’s most succinct album to date. It took them 15 years to achieve this level of consistency and the payoff now demands respect.

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