Review Summary: Heavy and full of energy, this is probably Demon Hunter's best album.
Demon Hunter holds a special place in my heart, and with much reason beyond nostalgia. Granted, I did basically grow up listening to them after hearing another album (The Triptych) earlier on in middle school. But their legacy lives on with me to this day, even after I have heard many other excellent bands, because they really are an excellent band too. And so I’m going to review one of their greatest works: Summer of Darkness.
Now, if you’re not into metal, well then too bad. You’re really missing out here. This album is fantastic. There, I’ll get it out of the way at the beginning of the second paragraph. There’s no other way to put it. Anything less would be giving Demon Hunter less credit than they deserve, and this masterpiece of an album rakes in more bonus points than any other album. It is somewhat surprising that their sophomore album is probably their best; there are plenty of bands that don’t “find their sound” until album #3 or even later (I’m looking at you, Between The Buried And Me). But Demon Hunter managed to tweak their music to the point of mastery for this album, and you’ll hear the same formula in every other album that follows. Well, except for their latest effort, "The World Is A Thorn". But frankly, with the exception of a song or two, I sometimes try to pretend that album doesn’t exist.
Back to what we were saying here, where do I begin with Summer of Darkness? Well, let’s start from the bottom and go up, beginning with overall sound quality. As the producer, Aaron Sprinkle (who also did work for Anberlin and Emery) outdid himself with this album: everything hits like a sack of potato-shaped bricks. If you were to crank the volume with this record, you’d find yourself being hit with a wall of sound, as everything is very evenly blended together to make one sonic impact. My usual complaint is that the bass in metal albums takes a back seat (read: non-existent), but it’s definitely prevalent here on the low side of things. It’s more along the lines of something that you feel when you listen to the album rather than something you specifically hear, but with Demon Hunter, it works. Because the guitars maintain a very heavy, chunky sound throughout the album, the bass gives them a foundation to stand on. Another common problem with metal (depending on the intent of the album/artist, of course) is that the drums can overpower everyone else. However, Summer of Darkness nicely sidesteps that problem and sews the drums in very well while still maintaining that heavy, jabby, thick sound we all love. Overall, it carries an amazing sound, which can only add to the music as a whole.
Speaking of the music: the composing, musicianship, and song list all work together to make this album step out above the others. Remember that formula I was talking about earlier? It definitely takes hold here in Summer of Darkness, and most certainly in a GOOD way. Demon Hunter has a certain style compared to other bands: there is little to zero soloing amongst the rolling riffs, and the vocals vary from rap-like screaming to clean, soaring tenors (usually within the same song, too). We don’t need to discuss the actual instrumentation very much; it’s a tried-and-true, low-end, rattle-your-teeth riff work pattern. I will make one special mention here, though, and that is about the electronic portions on this album. I will say this now and stand next to it: every band that wants to use electronics in their music needs to model them after this album. The only exception is if the music itself is indeed electronic, or if there is a dedicated keys player without an inferiority complex that causes him/her to inject every second of music with obnoxious, unnecessary electronica. Other than that, bands need to look at Demon Hunter for inspiration. Here’s why: the synths and electronic riffs that they use are tactful and well-placed, and actually add to the music rather than distract. Too often do bands try and shove as many synth parts as they can into their music, causing a distraction from what’s actually good. Notable tracks that do this are “Less Than Nothing” and “My Heartstrings Come Undone”. Listen to the highlights of synth. They’re good! They add to the song! It’s just plain well-done.
The other notable part of Demon Hunter is the vocals. I do indeed love Demon Hunter vocals because they are heavy and unique; Ryan Clark is a ferocious, talented singer. The extensive layering of his screamed voice makes him sound three times bigger than he is (in real life, he’s like 5’4” or something short like that), and his amazing clean vocals highlight so many Demon Hunter choruses. But what makes the vocals so different is that during a lot of the clean vocal intrusions there will be a subtle background of screamed vocals underneath. This also adds more girth to the clean parts, helping them maintain their heavy sound throughout 100% of the song if needed. It’s brilliant, really; a simple addition of a quieter distorted layer adds miles of sound to the vocals. On Summer of Darkness, we also hear the addition of guest vocals from bands such as 36 Crazy Fists and Thousand Foot Krutch. Like the electronic parts, these guest vocals are tactfully used and well placed; they only add a nice variety to the sound of the music. Probably the best example of this is the song “Coffin Builder”: the addition of TFK’s Trevor McNevan during the bridge is a great change-up and brings a whole new sound to the song.
What to complain about, what to complain about… Honestly, I’m going to have to try to find things to complain about. In the context of a Demon Hunter album, this one is overwhelmingly good. I guess there is one thing that I could mention: repetitiveness. While Demon Hunter’s formula is great for what they do, some songs can sound very similar to each other. There are times where you may ask, “Hey, haven’t I heard this riff before?”; but to be honest, I have a hard time hearing that for the most part. I believe that those tactful additions of synth and guest vocals keep the album from becoming stale. The line-up of the songs also alleviates this sonic similarity: there are plenty of songs that hop back and forth from mood to mood. While they all might be “dark” sounding (whatever that means), there’s still a distinct difference. Another complaint I can foresee is that there isn’t any soloing on the album. Period. None at all. So if you’re into 5 minute exerts of guitar scales/sweeps/general guitar wank, you’ll be disappointed. However, I would say that a lack of solos does not detract from the experience at all; if anything, it adds to that wall-o’-sound effect I mentioned earlier.
As a whole, I believe that this is still Demon Hunter's best album to date. It's heavy, thrashy, and a very enjoyable listen. While I can't justify giving them a "classic" rating, I still think that anyone who likes good metal should check this album out. All bias aside, these guys knew what they’re doing, and they did it really well.