Review Summary: A strong addition to their lengthening legacy.
When I listen to a new album, usually one put out by a band I typically enjoy and especially when it’s one put out by a band for whom I generally have a disdain, I do my best to distance myself from my previous opinion on the band’s work in what is likely an ill-fated attempt at objectivity. Whatever objectivity, however, comes partly at a cost of an evaluation of how the band’s sound is evolving (or in some cases, regressing) in the grander scheme of things; it’s tough for me, being usually very opinionated, to be conscious of something and not have a take on it, which, by all accounts, is the reason for my creation of an account On Here. Setting aside Demon Hunter’s previous work, Outlive is a very good album, and nothing more. Evaluating it in the larger context of their discography as a whole, it is a valuable step forward for a band that, at this point in their career, ran the risk of recycling their previously proven sound.
There were many fans who, upon the release of some of the singles from Outlive, were worried that Demon Hunter’s new release would lack the heaviness of some of their previous installments – and, to an extent, they’re not wrong. To be sure, there’s definitely some aggressive tracks (“Jesus Wept” and “One Less”), but the amount has certainly decreased compared to their prior albums. They’re not really heavy in a bass-and-breakdown-heavy, throw-your-computer-out-of-the-window, tuned-so-low-my-neighbor’s-windows-rattle sort of way either, like, for example, “Death” from Extremist, but more on track with something like “The World Is A Thorn”, or, to reach way back, “Beheaded”. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, of course; the songs are well written, executed, and produced. However, the album does seem to lack on some level a true headbanger, which, for longtime fans and metal fans in general, is definitely a complaint.
Another complaint that seems to be prevalent regarding Outlive has to do with Clark’s clean vocals on the album; it seems to be the opinion of some that his performance on the album, whether in parts or altogether, lacks some of the punch that he’s had on previous releases. While I disagree with this evaluation in certain parts, there is some merit to it. “One Step Behind” is an out-of-character type of song for Clark, and it’s received a good amount of the aforementioned criticism. However, I think levying this type of criticism is unfair and misses the point; it’s a song about his newborn daughter, and naturally, both lyrically and vocally, the tone is much more soft and pensive than nearly any other song he’s ever written. In addition, he operates in his higher vocal range for a good part of the album, which was, for me at least, a welcome change, but out of the norm regardless. This change leads to some lackluster performances on certain songs (“Cold Winter Sun” being the best example).
Simply talking about the problems people have with this album, however, wouldn’t do it justice. The thing that really jumped out to me on my first listen was how diverse it was as a whole. The most noticeable change the band made was the addition of a synth to several songs. Now, I know what you’re thinking, but they didn’t overdo it (something many bands really fall prey to too easily [hello, Skillet]); rather, it supplements the melodies well, adding a distinctly new European flavor that’s really well implemented. Another thing I noticed was how well done the harmonies were, especially on songs like “Half as Dead” and “Raining Down”. Demon Hunter has always had superb harmonies on their tracks with mostly clean vocals, but the way they were mixed here really brings them to the forefront in a good way. Another new twist that Outlive brings is a more behind-the-scenes touch; for the first time since his brother left the band (pre-World Is a Thorn), Clark was not the main writer for every song on the record. This influx of different influence is evident throughout the record, on songs like “Cold Blood”, a track with a grinding, aggressive verse and soaring, melodic chorus. Another good example that actually caught me off-guard on first listen was the single “Died in My Sleep”. Despite the keyboard work in the opening, it seemed like standard fare for the band up until the chorus, which shifted to a nice, slower tone; sustained notes and subtle synth work that was, for lack of a better word, refreshing.
Outlive closes with its strongest material, “Patience” and “Slight the Odds”. The more I listen to these two songs, the more I am convinced that they are each singularly transcendent in their own way among Demon Hunter’s discography. The former harkens back to tracks like “God Forsaken”: strong melody in the pre-chorus and chorus, catchy riff, and harsh vocals in the verses over top of a robust lead guitar. The latter is tough to find a comparison for, at least from other Demon Hunter songs. The track starts off with a vibrant and cinematic strings section that leads into a fade-in of the main riff and vocals (also of note: whatever complaints about Clark’s performance on other songs on the album there may be, in no way do they apply here. The vocals in this song are fantastic). Unlike their previous convention of ending their albums on a slower or more somber note, at least as far back as their previous three albums, Slight the Odds never lets up. It’s up-tempo and bright (again, out of the ordinary for the band, but in the best way) in a way that lends itself to turning it up and singing along at the top of your lungs. The strings section not only supplements the main idea of the song, it absolutely enhances it, introducing its own distinct motifs, especially in the latter part of the track. It’s well-executed and fully realized touches like this that, for me, take this record as a whole to the next level.
A review of Outlive, or any Demon Hunter album, really, wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the lyrics. I feel it’s only fair, in the interest of transparency, to bring this up at the top of this paragraph: I am of the opinion that, by and large, Demon Hunter’s lyrics are great. I think Ryan Clark is a fantastic lyricist. Many people on Sputnik do not. I have seen widespread condemnation of their lyrical content, whether in reviews or in comment sections, and, I’m sorry, but I just don’t understand. My opinion of their lyrics as a whole is, I feel, strengthened by this release. Songs like “Cold Winter Sun” (written in the wake of a shooting at a rock show in Paris) are at the same time poignant in their expression and pointed in their message, in a time when too many lyricists are either lost in the former or aimless in the latter. Clark writes about his newfound experiences as a father on “The End” and “One Step Behind”, which, if nothing else, is less divisive than most of the other lyrical content on the album. It’s certainly a change from the darker themes present on the rest of the album, and, indeed, the rest of their discography. To be sure, however, Demon Hunter’s message in the other songs is in no way softened.
When a band releases their eighth studio album and has been around for seventeen years, the question of their legacy becomes more and more pressing. This question is clearly on Clark’s mind right from the opening track (“We set the fire/Into a song/To burn eternal/When we’re all gone”), and even from the album title: themes of things they hope to outlive them abound throughout the album. As time goes on, however, and with each passing release, there’s less and less you can do as a band to change the overall perception of your career, simply by virtue of each consecutive album being a smaller fraction of the whole. What will Demon Hunter’s legacy be? Whatever the answer to that question ends up being, one thing’s for sure: if Outlive is any indication, they’ll be remembered as a band that never faded down the stretch.
Died in My Sleep
Slight the Odds