Some bands hit a point in their career where they appear to be incapable of failure. They’ve got their sound worked out, they’ve got a good few years and several strong, well-received albums behind them and now they’re just refining and honing their craft. Demon Hunter are just such a band. They’ve been around forever, they’ve got a huge presence in the international metal scene and they have a versatile sound that runs the gamut from blistering thrash metal to introspective ballads and everything in between. They’re on the verge of releasing their seventh full length, Extremist, and you can accept my assurance that it more than lives up to its rich pedigree.
This album is incredibly diverse. Every song has its own identity and sounds noticeably different from its neighbours. Opener “Death”, for instance, opens with echoing voices chanting words in a foreign language with a building, unsettling dissonant rumble before rolling into a slow, hateful head banger in which Ryan Clark snarls authoritative lyrics with a vicious hatred (some prime examples include “I’m not your sacrificial lamb/Just who do you think I am?/I am Death”) and we all hide under a blanket with a teddy bear. The second track is lead single “Artificial Light”, which we’ve all heard already. It’s just a straight up Demon Hunter ‘heavy’ song. “What I’m Not” follows in much the same vein, but then “The Last One Alive” kicks in and things get interesting.
“The Last One Alive” demonstrates Demon Hunter’s ability to write a rock song that still sounds heavier than the previous two ‘heavy’ tracks put together. It’s brilliantly composed and this, I feel, is the kind of music that the band is best at. At no stage does Clark descend into harsh vocals, but it overwhelms you and just feels massive. I know I say this in every review, but atmosphere is the most critical component of metal. “The Last One Alive” is the definitive example of how brilliant composition and an oppressive atmosphere can create a scintillating individual song.
Demon Hunter love their ballads, too. However, every ballad they write has two problems. First, they’ll never write another ballad that can even compare to “Carry Me Down”. “I Will Fail You” is no exception. Second, they have this tendency to write bridges that are better than the chorus. You know, the bits that are supposed to be the focal point of the song. I still maintain that as good as the “Carry Me Down” chorus was, that bridge is a million times better, and that pattern repeats itself several times throughout Extremist.
On the heavier side, “One Last Song” is an energetic punk-infused song that has a bitching chorus sure to incite huge sing-alongs at shows. It’s similar to “The Last One Alive” in terms of its composition and structure, although it doesn’t quite reach the same level (Seriously, “The Last One Alive” is up there with “Collapsing”) and has a higher emphasis on their thrash metal heritage. “Cross to Bear” is the heaviest song on the album, drawing comparisons to the title track from The World Is a Thorn and utilising some pretty full-on lyrics (well, by Demon Hunter’s standards, that is).
“Hell Don’t Need Me” is a slower, doom-laden track that, while it’s interesting, passes without any real incident, as does “In Time” before “Beyond Me” comes and beats you around the mouth with a sack of doorknobs. It’s a song that, again, just screams Demon Hunter in its composition, structure and sound.
The last two songs, “Gasoline” and “Heart of a Graveyard”, are the strongest songs a Demon Hunter album has finished on since “The Wrath of God”. “Gasoline” is a huge ballad that builds into a glorious breakdown climax that suits the song perfectly. Surprisingly, closer “Heart of a Graveyard” picks up the pace and ends the album on an energetic note. It’s got that synthesised intro reminiscent of “Collapsing” and the song itself is a bit of a departure from their traditional style; it’s almost a pop-rock song. This will probably get some radio play if they play their cards right.
In essence, Extremist is Demon Hunter as Demon Hunter. It’s nothing remarkably different to their old stuff (“Heart of a Graveyard”, for all its virtues, still really isn’t anything outside the box) and it does lose the plot a little with “Hell Don’t Need Me” and “In Time”. However, this is perhaps Demon Hunter’s definitive album. It showcases the widest variety of stylistic choices they’ve ever committed to one recording. From “Death” to “Heart of a Graveyard”, Demon Hunter have constructed a vast array of diverse tracks that draw from a multitude of influences and styles and they’ve somehow made it all flow like a mountain stream. The standout tracks here are “Death”, “The Last One Alive”, “Gasoline” and “Heart of a Graveyard”, but you really need to experience the whole thing as one complete package. Extremist is sublime.