Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Demon Hunter - The World Is a Thorn Album Review

I discovered Demon Hunter way back in my college years and was instantly attached to them. Their combination of the then burgeoning metalcore sound with a nu-metal slant bridged two of the genres I was heavily listening to (a bit too much nu-metal and not enough metalcore). The first 3 albums of Demon Hunter's career are still interspersed in my playlists today. After those 3, however, things got spotty. Thankfully, this album has a couple of tracks that continue to hold up over time. It also has some extremely weak songs, but at least I can come back to this album and find myself enjoying listening to it. This was originally published on April 14, 2010.

It’s hard to imagine that this is Demon Hunter’s fifth studio album. It doesn’t seem like it’s really been 8 years, does it? Toss in a couple of live releases in that same time frame and you’ll see that Demon Hunter have been quite the busy group, but through it all the band has managed to keep a relatively consistent core sound. Their mix of nu-metal, metalcore, soaring melodies, addictive hooks, and heavy riffs has created a number of memorable songs… that is until they put out Storm the Gates of Hell, which was easily the band’s weakest effort. They had softened up too much, dumbed themselves down, and lost most of the edge they previously had. On The World Is a Thorn, however, the band has managed to recapture some of their older aggression and heaviness, and in the process didn’t forget about keeping things catchy.

Let’s be frank right off the bat; this album has problems. It’s definitely better than Storm the Gates of Hell, but it is still weaker than the band’s first three albums for a couple of key reasons—pacing and songwriting. The order of the songs on the album is odd, to say the least. “Descending Upon Us” is a great start to the album and establishes the return to their earlier career form, but then you have the oddly placed sub-two minute “Lifewar” as the second track. This song is easily the worst that the band has ever written and is completely pointless. It should have been a b-side, if not left on the cutting room floor completely. Then you have “Collapsing”, the band’s first single which leads into “This Is the Line”, another weak track that drags before you get to “Driving Nails”, a ballad. From that point on the pacing is much better, but the first chunk of the album is all over the place.

The other issue I mentioned was the songwriting. With this album, both Don Clark and Ethan Luck (the band’s guitarists) left to pursue other endeavors so it was obvious there would be a change, but the change came in a way that was unexpected. The band still “sounds” like Demon Hunter; there was no deviation from their "sound" and you’ll recognize the band instantly, but there are moments in some songs where, despite the return to a heavier approach, they don't appear quite as sharp. It’s not obvious, but if you listen to any of the songs on this album interspersed with tracks from their self titled album or Summer of Darkness you’ll hear some differences.

Beyond those issues, this is actually a pretty solid melodic metal album. “Collapsing” is probably one of the best singles the band has put out—it’s melodic, it’s catchy (trust me, you’ll have it stuck in your head for days), it has a nice contribution from Bjorn Strid of Soilwork, and, quite simply, it rocks. “Driving Nails” is one of the band’s better ballads containing a nicely layered sound. And that's without even mentioning the second half of the album.

Starting with “The World Is a Thorn”, Demon Hunter throws down five heavy tracks (a couple which rarely utilize any melody) showing that the band still has the ability to play aggressive music. “Just Breathe”, featuring guest vocals from Christian Alvestam (Miseration, Scar Symmetry), may be the most outright aggressive track the band has written. It is four minutes of punching you in the face and slamming into your ears the fury that the band so desperately lacked on Storm the Gates of Hell.

Ultimately, The World Is a Thorn is an album full of peaks and valleys. There are some truly bad songs to be found (“Lifewar” and “This Is the Line” for example), but then you have some of the highest quality stuff the band has put out in some time (such as “Collapsing” and “Just Breathe”). Considering that Demon Hunter has lasted for 8+ years and 5+ albums, I’m confident that we’ll be hearing even more from them in the future, and if they can harness the best moments of this album while cutting out the crap, then we could have a career defining album. For now, though, at least we know the band is back on the right track.

No comments: