Demon Hunter: War & Peace
The quick description I’d heard of these two simultaneously-released albums coming in is: War showcases the band’s harder side, while Peace their softer side. But that’s like saying Metallica’s black album is the softer album when compared to Ride the Lightning.
“Cut to Fit” starts off War with a great up-tempo riff and gruff vocal delivery that gives way to melodic singing. It fits in well with contemporaries like Disturbed, Godsmack or Slipknot. There’s a cool bridge section with a drop-out where the trippiest and surprising guitar picking takes place. The song ends on a dime and “On My Side” picks up with a wall of churning riffs. The entire band shines here with tightness, with drums and guitars trading off in the spotlight. The chorus is nice and haunting. “Where is the enemy / when death is on my side?”
“Close Enough” starts off with some great, screaming riffs and Clark’s angry/gruff vocals that trade places with his clean/singing. The chorus pulls in another big hook that’s hard to resist. It’s like one of those radio hit choruses that could be pulled for a 2-second sound byte in a multi-band touring bill radio spot that would bring ticket buyers out of the woodworks. The melody is definitely not absent in the War album.
“Unbound” is a fast tune with almost a rat-a-tat drum attack. Big processed gang vocals come in for the freedom celebrating chorus of “Unbound – unbound – there are no chains on me.”
“Grey Matter” dynamically starts with some almost toy-like keys that give way to power drumming and cascading guitar rhythms. The lyrics seem to weigh the tension between someone that sees things in shades of grey and another that sees things in black and white. “I’m no saint, but I can tell the shades apart.”
“The Negative” sprints along vocally with some fast snare drumming and Clark declares that “everyone starts in the negative,” seeming to beg those who want to be trusted to prove their worth by positive actions.
“Ash” also starts off with a blistering pace. It’s hard not to love this band when they rock so hard and include all the pleasant additives of wailing/shredding and string-bending guitars. Big mad props to Patrick Judge (lead guitar) and Jeremiah Scott (rhythm) for all their great instrumentation all throughout these two albums.
“No Place for you Here” heaps more pointed anger at an enemy. “Leave Me Alone” seems to carry on this theme.
“Lesser Gods” has a killer prog metal intro that quickly segues into mad riffing, then slows up to a picking delivery and the singing. The mic is later shared with some black metallish vocals. A nice mix that works hauntingly well. This would be a knockout number in concert and closes the War album very well.
While tunes like “Cross to Bear” and “Not I” are as hard as nails, it’s tunes like “Infected,” “Heartstrings” and “Carry Me Down” that get more mileage on my smartphone musical companion. They’re really good at both heaviness and melody, but Demon Hunter’s ability to capture melody in a vocal hook is musical greatness.
“More than Bones” starts off the Peace album with a rockin tempo that pushes toward the hook — “I need you more than bones.”
“I Don’t Believe You” slows things down a bit and the guitars sing and carry the song with sweetness.
“Loneliness” positions Ryan Clark’s vocals front and center for his lament. Dude’s just got a great voice.
The title track to Peace romps along like the catchy and dark/doomy vibe of H-I-M. Still distinctly Demon Hunter, but those keyboard lines and rhythms show a rare nod to an outside band.
The very next track (“When the Devil Come”) is another departure for this band, seeming to be an intentional dark and spaghetti western soundtrack. It’d be easy to imagine this in a Tarantino or Eastwood movie during one of those “hero turns his face like flint to take out the villain” moments. Or perhaps imagine Black Rebel Motorcycle Club covering “Personal Jesus.” It’s haunting and cool.
“Time Only Takes” is another slow tune with plodding riffs and words sung in split syllables. It gives way and attention to poignant lyrics: “Tomorrow may come to save our ways, but time only takes.” More tasty string-bending lead breaks take center stage at appropriate times, too.
“Two Ways” carries the intense and pointed lyric theme further, declaring that “there are only two ways to die — eyes shut or open wide.” Another catchy tune that’ll stay with you.
“Recuse Myself” is yet another tune with lyrics that’ll make you turn your head and listen in to what they’re bringing. But starting off a song with, “I’ve heard the devil speak” has a way of getting your attention. It’s hard not to agree with the lyricist’s desire to recuse and distance thyself from a foolish, devil-speaking “spokesperson” of faith.
“Bet My Life” has some cool vocal layering that’d be fun to hear replicated with different background singers in a live setting.
“Fear is not my Guide” ends things with some piano, marking the softest sounds of the album. It showcases Clark’s voice without a bombastic foundation underneath, proving once again that his voice carries this competent metal band to a higher level. Demon Hunter is certainly not a one-man show, nor has it ever been, but moments like this shine as it showcases his ability to stand alone and bring a captivating performance. The ivories get hammered during appropriate parts and they cascade into the background for the soft punchline.
To be honest, I approached this review with some pre-hype bias in my mind. It’s been said that Peace is the more melodic of the two records and, while that might be true, War has all the Demon Hunter melody you’d expect. Perhaps the two discs were divided thematically rather than stylistically.
I think these are both very good albums. I was pleasantly surprised and I can’t wait to listen to it again. I think it’ll stay on my iPhone for a good long time, rather than getting deleted after a short while.[Solid State] Doug Van Pelt