Ryan Clark has often pointed people to bands like Living Sacrifice as the purest expression of what truly legendary heavy metal should sound like. Somewhere along the way, in the midst of what is now eight albums (and a live album, a tour soundtrack, and a side band), it became rightfully common for others to point to Demon Hunter as what someone would expect in a truly legendary heavy metal experience.
Frankly, most bands would do anything to have just one album as powerful as what Demon Hunter consistently produces… even while having growing families and “real” jobs that they focus most of their time on. With so many truly legendary albums to choose from, fans have had more than a few arguments as to which piece of DH goodness is truly the top of the heap. Many point to 2004’s Summer of Darkness as the essential must-listen album in DH’s growing discography. For me, it was always The Triptych… that is, until 2014’s absolutely incredible Extremist.
From my very first listen, Extremist stole my heart and quickly became my go-to Demon Hunter experience of choice. “Gasoline” became not only one of my favorite songs for that year, but truly of all time. In interviews for that record, Clark mentioned that he felt the band was channeling the “Demon Hunter of 2018,” as Extremist was that much of an evolution for the band. I remember reading that and thinking to myself, “so what happens on the next album if 2014 was DH 2018?”
Outlive is where we all find out how the Demon Hunter of 2017 has grown in their post-2018 sound. To perhaps no one’s surprise, they just keep making great music. Outlive takes the precedent set by Extremist of moving away from chugging and more cut-and-dry breakdowns and continues to develop further into a sound that includes a more refined guitar work mixed into the pounding drums and Clark’s signature blend of paradoxically near simultaneous grizzled and smooth vocals.
In this, Outlive is an evolution on everything that set Extremist apart. Long-time fans will find a balanced mix of DH staples that include a few ballads, a few head-bangingly aggressive tracks, and everything in-between, including a few select moments that feel inspired by Clark’s work in NYVES.
Similarly, Outlive builds upon themes DH weaves through many of their albums. In the Deluxe Edition notes, Clark talks about how he has a fascination with death and funerals that seems to seep its way into many of his writings. This album is no different. Similarly, Clark tends to tackle issues within his Christian faith, again present and accounted for. The big difference this time around, Clark notes in the D.E. liner notes, is that between albums 4 members of the band became first-time fathers, which provided some new thematic elements of Clark wrestling with being responsible for another human being’s every moment of life, and thinking even deeper about the state of the world that his daughter was being born into. He also notes that sleep seems to be a theme across the album, lamenting that this is likely because he no longer gets much of it, himself.
With Outlive DH continues their tradition of opening with a gripping, brief, and utterly powerful first track. Really, however, with this album we are not just talking one opening track, but a one-two punch across the first two tracks. “Trying Times” and “Jesus Wept” are really two different moments of one anchor experience. In this, the album tone is set as Clark first laments “these are trying times, made to break the heart wide,” but then powerfully moves into the first anthem moment of the album by proclaiming “but we still defy, we will make the dead rise.”
“Trying Times” then moves thematically and musically very seamlessly into “Jesus Wept.” Pulling its name from the Bible verse most remembered in its entirety simply because it is just those two words, “Jesus Wept” continues the album’s anthemic opening charge. Looking at the hypocrisy that often rises up in his own heart, Clark begs for a holy reminder not to forget “I’m why Jesus wept.” Musically, “Trying Times” is perfectly melodic with just a hint of aggression peeking out from behind the curtain, while “Jesus Wept” opens up the full onslaught of holy aggression.
“Cold Winter Sun” follows and solidifies early on in the experience just how impressive Outlive will most certainly be. Having released this track early to fans, most will be most familiar with this jam already. The tone is one of a somber and fittingly harrowing soundscape that matches the mental picture of a cold and dank world. This is due to the inspiration piece behind the track being the many world tragedies taking place around the time of its writing. “Cold Winter Sun” peers through the void of a depressing world, but also gives glimmers of hope noting that “we are the kingdom come.”
“Died in My Sleep,” which is also the first video released for the album, moves into a full-on DH power ballad. Thematically, it continues the dire view of “Cold Winter Sun” to wrestle with the reality that we have not been a solid witness for Christ (on the whole) this past season of life, and yet people still find faith in Him. Once more the dire elements of reality find that hope that peers through even the darkest of veils.
“Half as Dead” reverses course into a full on power-metal experience, sure to have people pumping their fists both at live shows and while driving down the road. This track also has my favorite lyric of the album, “When I go to sleep, bury me three feet deep. I’m not half as dead as they are…” Here the hope of sleep is used in place of the word death as many places in Scripture similarly use the term.
“Cold Blood” features some powerful guitar work to open and progresses into Clark’s more gritty vocal work leading into a smoother chorus featuring some beautiful chord progressions. In this, “Cold Blood” feels like one of the more “classic” Demon Hunter tracks on the album. Thematically, Clark is railing against internet culture, and specifically the trap of social media, which he himself admits is a double-edged sword he also uses despite his feelings against it.
“One Step Behind” feels just a small bit like a NYVES song as it opens up, though quickly moves into familiar DH territory, proving to be one of the best purely clean-vocal tracks on the album. Ryan wrote this song as an encouragement to his newborn daughter that he would always be with her, but, of course, it works as a dual meaning with the Father of Light Who will always be there for His little ones.
“Raining Down” serves as a reminder that when we are experiencing good times we often overlook the fact that others feel like life is raining on them. In this, the track offers a glimmer of hope to those in pain, and a reminder to those experiencing sunshine to be there for others.
“The End” works as a great follow up to “Raining Down,” as it more clearly draws the listener to a place of hope and longing for help from a greater outside source. Each time I listened to this track, I couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like live as the crowd inevitably come together around a chant for each of the “One more second” moments on the track. I imagine it will be serene.
“One Less” opens with the power of a whisper before breaking back into a fully aggressive moment most akin to “Sixteen” both vocally and thematically. This track explores the divide Clark himself feels from both a more lax “modern” Christianity and similarly the rigidity of fundamentalism. In this Clark picks right up on Extremist‘s “Last One Alive” and “Cross to Bear” and further explores the divide he feels at times from the very people he is called to be united with as one body. Certainly, “One Less” will be on many fans minds as a standout track. That said…
“Patience” however, is the sleeper standout in my book on this album. It’s not my favorite track (“Jesus Wept” is), yet every time I play it, I am drawn in by the infectious melody. Thematically, it builds off of an continues the charge of “One Less” by exploring how too much patience can be a hindrance. That is, that some things are worth fighting, and therefore “you should pray for patience, starting with me.”
The conclusion of the standard album is “Slight the Odds,” which opens and is infused through with a nice string-driven metal-fusion. Here, Clark writes of the reality of many around him who have lost their faith and how the odds seem stacked against him to keep his own. In spite of this, he proclaims the hope that he will beat the odds and end his life with faith in tact. As a closing track, “Slight the Odds” works as a sort of fusion of the style of “The Heart of a Graveyard” mixed with the line that “Gasoline” drew in the sand.
The two deluxe edition tracks are good. Neither are the highlight of the album, yet both are fantastic additions in the mix. One wrestles with Demon Hunter’s own legitimacy in the industry when it is a “part time” band. The other wrestles with the reality that while we may look at the man with tats and piercings as a problem, it is often the man in the suit who causes just as much pain in the world.
Living in a streaming-first world, deluxe editions are a little different animal. In years past, they were truly exclusive songs you had to pay more to get. While this is still true, especially since these tracks do not appear on the streaming version of the album so far, it is often not long before both the standard and deluxe version of albums are available on streaming platforms. Case in point, you can stream either version of Extremist right now.
That said, for the purist who just has to have the tracks early, they will not be disappointed. Still, I don’t know that the two tracks justify a huge mark up on their own. Luckily, those who purchased the epic deluxe box for this album ended up with quite a bit more than they bargained for, as you can see in our unboxing video.
Overall: Following 2014’s career-defining Extremist, Demon Hunter builds upon the evolved sound they introduced there and continues to grow it into a musical force to be reckoned with. Outlive features a balance of “classic” DH sounds that range from full on aggression to powerful ballads and many roads in-between.
While I think Extremist was simply a hard act to follow, Outlive certainly holds its own as a whole, earning its place on the band’s epic discography. Songs like “Trying Times,” “Jesus Wept,” and “Half as Dead” all belong on any fan’s “best of” list for the band and many other tracks are not far from that status.
Overall, Outlive is an absolute must buy for any heavy music fan and it is battling it out with label mate Death Therapy’s debut album for best heavy album of 2017 so far. This album not only earns its place on Demon Hunter’s impressive discography, it certainly belongs somewhere near the top of it.