Demon Hunter Goes Extreme, Track By Track

Looks like it's time to storm the gates of Hell again, kids. That's right. Demon Hunter returns today with Extremist, an aptly-titled album that raises all of the various and sundry elements of the band's burly signature sound to new maximal intensities before melding the whole shebang into a more cohesive, focused whole than ever before.

Or, as the Demon Hunter Facebook profile prefers it:

Whether the battlefield is as weighty as spiritual warfare, as fundamental as the struggles of daily life or as important as the fight against mediocrity in popular culture, Demon Hunter will stand in proud defiance. If that’s labeled as EXTREMIST, so be it.

This morning DH vocalist Ryan Clark breaks down his latest rebellion for Decibel...

01. Death

We knew "Death" would make a great opening track before we started recording the record, so with that in mind, we did our best to make it the perfect introduction. Although the structure of the song is simpler than anything else on the record, there are more layers and details in this song than in any other. It would be a good one to listen to with headphones.

The more likely name for the song would be, “I Am Death,” but with pre-existing songs like “I Am You,” and “I Am A Stone,” just “Death” seemed like a better solution.

The chant during the intro is “mors, obitus, decessus,” which are three varying synonyms for “death" in Latin. There are many words for “death" in Latin, however these not only fit the necessary syllable structure -- matching that of the main guitar riff -- they were also the best suited by definition.

I describe the bones of this song as something of an extremely simplified Meshuggah song, without the complex time signatures. The lyric structure is definitely along the lines of “LifeWar,” in that they follow more of a simple pattern, repeating certain elements more often.

02. Artificial Light

The structure of this song is a bit more complex that most of the others on the record. There are a couple points in the song that stray from what’s most typical for us. The verse segment plays with an interesting time signature, which is a little different for us. And the title of the song is actually heard in the pre-chorus, as opposed to the chorus, which is the only example of this on the record.

The vocal melodies in this song are definitely some of my personal favorites on the album. I was able to play with a variation in range that I don’t usually have the opportunity to do.

Our Swedish influences are definitely worn on the sleeve here, as is the case with a lot of our material. There’s something about this style that has stuck with me over the years -- from At The Gates to In Flames and Soilwork, there’s a delicate balance of ferocity and melody in these bands, whether it’s in the music or the vocal -- or both -- that to me, is unrivaled in most other sub-genres.

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03. What I’m Not Lyrically, this song takes a similar approach as the song “Not I,” from The Triptych, in that it focuses on the things that we choose not to buy into -- or distance ourselves from -- as defining characteristics...that sometimes feel just as important as the things that we choose to adhere to.

Someone told me the chorus vocals almost have a pop punk vibe to them, which wasn’t intentional, but I do hear it... Especially with the harmony at the end. All those years of listening to Lagwagon, No Use For A Name, and Face To Face... I think that influence is bound to slip out here and there.

Speaking of the chorus, this one in particular was probably the most difficult to figure out the right melody for. Sometimes when I write a chorus, I just write the melody in my head, then I write the music, and then realize that the key that I want the music to be in doesn’t mesh well with the vocal melody I’d written -- specifically, I usually find that it’s not in “the pocket” of my natural range… so I find myself either reaching for notes that are too high for me, or dropping an octave down from there, which can sound too low and drone-y. Aaron Sprinkle is great for these instances, as he’s able to steer me in a direction that fits somewhere in the middle, but retains the intended vibe that I was going for.

04. The Last One Alive

I think this songs falls somewhere in the “Fading Away” or “Collapsing” realm. It’s that middle-ground territory that ended up being more of a focus on this record -- songs that maintain a heavy groove, but lean more on melodic vocals than the split scream/sing structure that’s more typical for us. I guess you could call it closer to hard rock than straight-ahead metal, but that’s what I’ve always loved about this band. We’ve allowed ourselves loose enough boundaries to be able to explore everything from relentlessly heavy to slow and somber -- hopefully without any of it sounding like a departure. With this mindset, I feel like I have the potential to be creatively satisfied on a number of levels that I wouldn’t have if we just aimed for heavy all the time.

I was really pleased with the chorus melody from the start, but I think what really pushes the chorus over the top is the harmony, which Aaron Sprinkle had a lot to do with. He’s great at hearing harmonies that might not be a natural go-to for me.

05. I Will Fail You

Songs like "I Will Fail You," "Hell Don’t Need Me,” and "Helpless Hope” -- which can be found as a bonus track on the deluxe edition of the record -- call upon our specific brand of ballad, but also for the first time, I feel, introduce a certain element of slow doom that we haven’t really explored in the past. In short, they’re slow and brooding, but with heavy, usually muted guitar riffs that cut through, and slower, darker chord progressions.

There's something almost Queensrÿche about the verse melodies -- I don’t know if it’s just me though. The cadence is a little looser than what I usually end up writing. It feels different to me, and I like that.

The chorus melody is in a lower register than the rest of the vocals, which is also unordinary for us, but nevertheless, I think it feels like the “biggest” part of the song, which is ultimately the most important thing for me.

Patrick recorded the guitar solos for almost every song after they were otherwise completely finished, and I had already left Nashville, where we recorded, and was back at home in Seattle. Over the course of about a week, the guys would send me the songs with the finished solos, and each one just blew my mind. I think this is one of the last songs they sent me, and I listened to it probably ten times in a row. It’s absolutely my favorite solo on the record, and quite possibly my favorite of any solo Patrick’s done. I still get pumped when I hear it. I just think it’s incredibly tasteful and unique.

06. One Last Song

This was the first song that I wrote for the album. I actually wrote most of the lyrics for the chorus laying in the makeshift bunk of our van while on tour in late 2012. I really wasn’t in the writing mindset, but the idea just came to me, and I liked the concept. I guess it came from just enjoying where we were at as a band... The words are essentially about my desire to continue writing and playing music for as long as I live.

The chorus melody for this song took several different shapes before committing to what you hear now. What I had originally felt too word-heavy and crammed, after hearing it all come together.

Although the verses have more of a Scandinavian metal vibe -- somewhere in the At The Gates or Amon Amarth territory -- this is the only song on the record that features more of a hardcore-style breakdown in the bridge. We have made some pretty broad steps away from metalcore over the past few years, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

07. Cross To Bear

Definitely the most “no holds barred” song on the album. Not an ounce of melodic singing. It follows the same kind of style as songs like “Storm The Gates Of Hell,” “The World Is A Thorn” and “Crucifix,” which are about as fast and heavy as you’ll find on any of our albums. And although we’ve often started records out with a song like this, to essentially “come out swinging,” it felt best to reach this point later on this record.

I rewrote the bulk of the lyrics for this song probably 3 times before I was satisfied with them. I had the chorus first, and I knew I’d be shaping the rest of the lyrics around that, but I found it hard to say what I was trying to say. In the end, I think it all works.

There’s a little guitar walk-down that happens at the top of the bridge -- which is derived from the pre-chorus riff -- that I liked so much, I ended up building an outro from it. It has a nasty Pantera-sounding drive that I just felt we had to emphasize, so we essentially took this repetition, and built it bigger and bigger as it progresses.

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08. Hell Don’t Need Me

This is another example of a song that fits somewhere in the middle of our usual polarized styles. Although this album features more songs like this than any other, I still feel like it comes across as a very heavy, aggressive record as a whole.

The lyrics in this song are a little different than anything I’ve ever written, but they ended up being some of my favorites on the album. They walk the line between more poetic but also somehow more laid-back than usual.

I especially like the fluid guitar lead that Patrick added over the chorus. I think it really adds to the melancholy nature of the song.

09. In Time

I like the idea of choruses that center around one or two simple words. I find it’s more natural for me to write word-heavy parts, which sometimes works, but sometimes can jeopardize the hook. I’ve always been jealous of songs that manage to have the catchiest choruses, while using like four or five words. I guess you could say this is my attempt at keeping a chorus as simple as I possibly can. Playing with a harmony that varies throughout manages to satisfy my desire to keep it less straight-forward.

Jeremiah had the idea to extend the ending of the song, fading into a multi-layered acoustic rendition of the chorus. It’s one of my favorite parts on the record.

10. Beyond Me

I think this is the fastest double-kick tempo on the record. Possibly the fastest double kick we’ve ever had. Luckily, Yogi gets better with every record, so he nailed it no problem. One key element to the sound of this record is less programming and sound replacing in almost every aspect. That’s not to say nothing was edited, obviously, but there is more of a natural sound throughout, which comes from spending more time getting the right sound and best possible performance...which means less to edit after the fact.

Certain sections of this song almost give me a Dimmu Borgir vibe, although not as symphonic...and definitely not the pre-chorus or chorus. There’s a pretty drastic difference in the vibe of the verses compared to the chorus. I like to find a natural progression from really heavy and extreme to big, sweeping melodic territory. In songs like this, the pre-chorus plays a big part in that. In order to move from the intensity of the verse to this big open chorus, the pre-chorus has to be the perfect transition. It can be easy to botch that concept if you don’t have an appropriate way to bridge the two sections.

It’s a bit of a shame to bury songs like this, which I love, towards the back half of the record, but feeling strongly about every song on the record is a good problem to have.

11. Gasoline

Troy Glessner, who mastered the record, and also a good friend, told me that this song was his favorite on the record. He thought that he had the song figured out until it came to the chorus, and he was pleasantly surprised at the turn it takes. He dug that it kind of threw him off.

“I Play Dead” from Summer Of Darkness has always been a favorite song of ours. Like “Gasoline,” it almost tricks you into thinking it’s a standard ballad until the chorus kicks in, and you find yourself into territory that’s just as heavy as anything else we do. It’s almost a flipped version of our standard structure, where the heavy screaming usually resides in the verses. Since “I Play Dead” I’ve always wanted to revisit that concept. It just took five records to get back to it.

The lyrics are obviously very sarcastic, but I didn’t want them to come off tongue-in-cheek. The idea of putting out a fire with gasoline is something that came to me very early in the writing process for this record. I think the concept behind the lyrics actually meshes well with -- and possibly informed the writing behind -- the almost bipolar nature of the song.

12. The Heart Of A Graveyard

Quite possibly the “poppiest” song on the record. Admittedly, it was hard to find the right place for this song in the track listing. We knew that we really loved how it came out though, so we decided it worked best at the end. I like how it wraps up the album: It’s unlike any last song we’ve done before. And it works well as a final song from a lyrical standpoint as well, as it deals with death and the afterlife.

This is another song that I explored for quite a bit through the writing process. I went back and forth trying to figure out the best chord progressions for the pre-chorus and chorus. The vocal melody was set in stone, but there were so many possibilities for how to structure the chords. For instance, you’ll notice the pre-chorus comes back in, over the chorus, on the repeat. Which means the chord structure on the chorus works just as well for the pre-chorus as well, but I wanted to make sure we varied the two, giving each part their own definitive place.

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