(Solid State Records)
Demon Hunter have outlived a lot. Bands of their ilk just don’t maintain fan interest 17 years and eight albums into their careers. Given all the personal turmoil that led to the longest break between records (births, deaths, disease, etc.), much of Outlive feels like a triumph, a celebration of the roller coaster of life and how important perseverance is. The album uses a number of turns of phrase revolving around death (dying, coldness, the end, one less, etc.) to flip the script on the typically morose discussion of the subject; instead, Demon Hunter push past their frustrations to a more uplifting retelling of finality that embraces life’s pain and rises above it. Outlive also helps showcase how to age your sound gracefully, by recognizing your strengths and resisting the urge to go full Dad rock.
Demon Hunter’s sound has always carried an interesting double-edged sword: Ryan Clark’s voice has always been well-suited for melody, giving hooks a sharpness to them that helps contrast with the thrash-y maelstrom that goes on around him. Demon Hunter produced some of the best metalcore tunes of the past decade-plus when at peak performance, and the quality of their heavier sound has not wavered across their extended catalog. However, when Demon Hunter went full-on ballad, the results were sometimes mixed, feeling out of place and dragging an album’s momentum down. They were rarely without any merit, but their abundance on 2014’s Extremist led to a slightly disappointing record. Interestingly, Outlive smooths out Demon Hunter’s sound, with a large number of these songs basically morphing into a banger/ballad hybrid. While Extremist was a slight cause for alarm that Demon Hunter would age like their influences (a la In Flames… the less said there, the better), Outlive proves that the group really know what they’re doing and can age their sound without compromising what makes Demon Hunter great.
And what makes them special is the potent mix of heavy riffs and clean, effective choruses. It’s not a new or novel formula, but Clark and company know their way around a metalcore song, and that has been proven for a long time now. Interestingly, Outlive reminds me of Dark Tranquillity’s (presumedly another of the band’s influences) most recent 11th album, Atoma, which split the difference between their doom-soaked mid-career and a more robust melodeath style. Here, Demon Hunter showcase that they still know how to throw the Hell down (see: “Jesus Wept”, “Cold Blood”, and “One Less”), but it’s the trio of songs starting with “Cold Winter Sun” that highlight the band’s growth. These are all basically mid-tempo tunes, but the subtle complexity (lead guitarist Patrick Judge had greater input this time around, and it shows) and Clark’s best vocal performances lead to some seriously infectious tunes. “Died In My Sleep” is a particularly noteworthy tune, that recalls DT in its effective use of synth-y melodies and a CDC-level hook.
If there’s a reason to dock the record, it’s that not every mid-tempo tune fairs quite as well as that trio. “One Step Behind” in particular feels a, well, step behind the rest of the album in quality; it’s fine but forgettable. Also, while “Patience” and “Slight the Odds” are both effective in their mix of the lightest and heaviest parts of the band’s sound, the record feels like it should have ended with “One Less” for maximum impact. Track placement and one nitpick aside, Outlive is really a triumph for a band that felt like it needed a bold statement of intent. Not everyone will appreciate the band’s decision to ease off the throttle a bit, but it’s clear that the band’s sound is more impressive in this smoothed-out form. Consistently hooky, surprisingly heavy, Outlive easily stands with Demon Hunter’s best albums; it may surpass them with its near-constant quality, though.