Sorry, not this Demon King.
While he does not elaborate as to why he left, a series of teasers unfurled daily on MCC’s social media, culminating in a May 5th digital release of The Demon King.
There are three new cuts on the EP – the title track, “Jennifer” (a Bert Sommer cover), and “Mayfire” – along with two revisited tracks in “Sway” and “Turn”. Persner is joined by his brother, Arvid, and Par Glendor (along with some guest appearances mentioned later).
The Demon King begins with the haunting title track, a song in which Persner characterizes anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder as devilish spirits that incessantly wreak havoc on not just his psyche, but on his physical prowess as well. As the song transitions into its middle section, we see how the act of confronting these personified monsters has debilitating effects on not just Persner, but all those with whom he comes into contact; like a virus, the Demons’ enmity does not discriminate.
Persner is an avid Pink Floyd listener, and “The Demon King” is rife with their influence, imbued with nods to some of R.E.M.’s and Riverside’s more forlorn offerings. The track’s initial minimalism, featuring layered synths, an echoing tempo block, and a recurring guitar motif, conjures up feelings of loneliness and isolation, emotions that parallel Persner’s lyrics (“I don’t even know what your name is / It’s odd, ’cause you’ve always been here / Please, let go of me / . . . Please find someone else but me”).
It’s not my place to single out colleagues and friends here; so many of you have shared your stories related to anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and striving to cope with your mental health in [preferably] constructive ways. Even problems with adjusting to the many, many curveballs and audibles that life calls on us unexpectedly – death of a friend, partner, and/or parent, a bad break-up, homelessness, chronic illness, feeling alienated at a new job, school, or neighborhood, suicide (disclosure: obviously, this is not an exhaustive list) – are not exempt from the Demons’ clutch. As Persner and the song’s supplemental instrumentation become stronger and the song reaches its zenith, there is some creative freedom in deciding if Persner has toppled the Demon King or not, and this poetic license can easily translate to your own life as needed.
As mentioned earlier, both “Sway” and “Turn” are reimagined tracks, and in terms of songwriting arrangement, both significantly improve upon their demos and earlier recordings:
On these new offerings, the guitars ring brighter, the rhythm section sounds more robust, and Persner’s vocals have palpably improved. “Sway” is also heartened by The Great Discord’s Fia Kempe, a longtime friend and Swedish compatriot (for the foreseeable future, nearly any band from Linköping will seem to be interwoven with one another). While “Sway”‘s resplendent, passionate intro and hearty main theme are noteworthy, its unmistakable highlight could be found in the pop sensibilities in the song’s last minute-and-a-half, bringing once again to mind Pink Floyd-meets-All That You Can’t Leave Behind-era U2. Meanwhile, “Turn”‘s lyrics have been revamped, namely in the chorus: the wistful “Days turn to hours / Days are the years / . . . Everything is ours / This is what it plays / What is wrong?” has metamorphosed into the melancholic “Minutes turns to hours / Days are dating years / . . . / Everything is hopeless / Drowning in our tears / Fuck it all”. While one could argue that the more luminous guitars and keys run in stark contrast to the song’s overarching philosophy, this off-kilter balance feels aesthetically congruent with the EP’s capricious temperament.
Blooming closer “Mayfire”, named after the studio where 2009’s Goodmorning Restrained was recorded, ends the EP on a pleasing note. Interestingly enough, “Mayfire” seems to pay homage to the aforementioned record, encapsulating many of that album’s ideas and sonic palates in the span of five minutes, although I confess that this might be more of a coincidence than an intentional homage. Primarily synthesizer-driven, with subtle guitar flourishes here-and-there, the effervescently cinematic closer goes out like a lamb.
Some minor vocal issues and underlying guitar parts being buried aside, The Demon King‘s production and engineering is quite sharp. I wasn’t as enthused with the “Jennifer” cover initially, and while it grew on me with subsequent listens, it pales in comparison to the EP’s other selections.
Listen if you like: U2, R.E.M., The War on Drugs