Almost exactly two years ago, Demon Hunter gave credence to the notion that a band can age gracefully. Their eighth album, Outlive, was a great mix of their heavier and more melodic sides, splitting the difference almost perfectly without diluting what made the group endearing.
The band’s mix of metallic styles (death, thrash, groove) with hard rock, goth rock, and even some 80s new wave melodicism has proven to be a rather potent blend as it has been refined over time. That inner dichotomy has traditionally worked to their advantage, but this new two-album release doubles down on the, um, war inside Demon Hunter’s collective heads. War, naturally is the more metallic side of the coin, while Peace dives headfirst into a world where Ryan Clark and company unbound themselves from metallic ideas. It’s no surprise that the former works, but it’s the latter’s charm that is unexpected.
In fact, War feels like a more fine-tuned version of Demon Hunter’s furious mid-career stomp (think Storm the Gates of Hell and The Triptych), but with the sense of balance and melodicism that made Outlive a winner. That’s not entirely fair, though, as songs like “Unbound” and “The Negative” feel like some of the group’s most vicious songs to date, and “Lesser Gods” ends with a rather triumphant melodeath stomp. The lead and harmonic guitar-work is fantastic throughout, though lead track “Cut to Fit” is a particular standout. In all, Demon Hunter treats War as a reminder that they can throw down with the best of ‘em, and to do so in their ninth album is impressive.
Peace is a more striking work, in large part because it really shouldn’t work as well as it does. Demon Hunter aren’t at their best, traditionally speaking, when they produce more deliberate, methodical songs. It’s when the songs feel unleashed that the band typically shine the brightest. Yet—and I can’t stress this enough—this is a really fucking fun record.
Tunes like “More Than Bones,” “Two Ways,” and the title track are rather buoyant, almost bubbly, and it’s not as if the whole record is bereft of metallic influences; it’s just that thrash, groove, and melodeath riffs are slowed down and spliced into something shockingly catchy. The record loses a hair of its charm by the latter third, but the execution really stands out on Peace. The sense that Demon Hunter dove headfirst into writing an 80s-themed pop metal record permeates Peace, resulting in an endearing sense of fun.
Overall, Demon Hunter’s late-career renaissance continues with this double album, featuring some of their best heavy and melodic tunes to date. The contrasting themes work well musically and lyrically, resulting in a series of records that encapsulate the band’s strengths, even if they are at the opposite ends of their sonic spectrum.