A demon’s skull, shattered via a bullet between the eyes. America’s Demon Hunter certainly have some blunt imagery, and aren’t shy whatsoever about their faith. I don’t mind being preached at, being a fan of Rage Against the Machine and their absurdist politics and Behemoth’s cool death metal saturated with Satanic sophistry, so Demon Hunter’s blatant Christianity doesn’t bother me a whit. Overcome is the band’s eighth studio record, and the follow-up to 2014’s Extremist. While I doubt that Demon Hunter is particularly popular around these parts, Overcome is a big record in 2017 and should be given some attention in the form of a review from AMG’s most overrated philosopher.
For one reason or another, Demon Hunter has been moving more and more towards the sound of later Soilwork in some sense over the years. This is not pejorative, but it has dialed down their intensity a wee bit in favor of more coherent, sharper, and hookier compositions. Overcome represents another step in this direction, channeling the simplicity of Stabbing the Drama, the big melodic hooks of the good parts of latter day In Flames, some hints of Dark Tranquility, and the influence of massive arena bands like Disturbed. Demon Hunter wisely avoids being too sugary or melodramatic for the vast majority of the record, and Ryan Clark’s vocals aren’t whiny whatsoever; Bjorn Strid clearly played a major influence on his pipes, and Clark consistently does right by the songs by not over- or under-singing his lines.
Outlive succeeds in crafting hooky songs that bring Swedish melodicism, modern American burliness, and hard rock structuring together remarkably well. Opening one-two punch “Trying Times” and “Jesus Wept” see Demon Hunter completely in their element, building tension and exploiting Clark’s constantly improving clean vocals in the former and the latter being a thrashy Swedish-American number with instrumental instead of vocal hooks taking center stage. “Patience” begins on soft piano keys and proceeds to sound like a newer Dark Tranquility song for a short time before Demon Hunter introduce some Thranenkind into the verse, much to my surprise. This all works within Outlive’s established sound, which rears its head in the prechorus and chorus to great effect. “One Less” is the most punishing tune here, and has some Dimebag influenced playing in the refrain that serves it well. The whole song is well-written, memorable, satisfying, and suits its position near the end of Outlive perfectly.
While the direction Demon Hunter has taken here succeeds far more often than not, there are a few minor quibbles I have with Outlive. Chief amongst these is the almost too cheesy “One Step Behind,” which is basically a power ballad with a new American metal vibe. It’s not a bad song by any means, but it certainly pales a bit in comparison to every other song here. Demon Hunter merge their burly material with their extremely accessible stuff expertly throughout, but “One Step Behind” feels like a slight move too far in the direction of the latter. If I was feeling particularly nitpicky, the wordless singing at the tail end of the chorus in “Died in my Sleep” toes the lactose overload line a bit too closely, but it’s not hugely detrimental nor anything that sinks an otherwise good song.
I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time listening to Outlive, and I have yet to grow bored of it. The production is thick, modern, and tasty, with each instrument being audible and pleasing to the ear. I couldn’t touch on every highlight here due to spatial constraints, but suffice to say if you enjoy the sound Demon Hunter traffics in, you’ll have plenty of fun with Outlive and keep it in rotation for a good long while. This isn’t the heaviest thing you’ll hear this year, this month, this week, or likely even today, but that doesn’t have a bearing on the quality of the music. While it may be a largely straightforward and unchallenging record, there’s something compelling about Outlive that kept me happily coming back.
Occam’s Razor (or, if you prefer, Aquinas’s non-superfluity principle) dictates that the simplest explanation is most likely the correct one. Applying this to Demon Hunter’s latest leads me to conclude that this compelling aspect is quality music, well-constructed songs, and a consistent ear for melody on behalf of the band. Very good records are simply very good records, and Outlive fits that bill to a tee.