DEMON HUNTER: Songs of Death and Resurrection

Death and Resurrection cover

Compilation of Acoustic Resurrections

Demon Hunter has been a solid staple of innovative and powerful God-centric metal for almost two decades. With 9 releases (10 if you count War and Peace separate) during that span they have covered a massive landscape of metal styles and lyrical themes. Durability, consistency, credibility and creativity all apply – the epitome of “solid state.” But the one thing they have never attempted? – the “all-acoustic” album.

While the more melodic/acoustic ballads have been present since the debut album in 2002, there was never an emphasis to make these songs the Demon Hunter trademark … but to the fans, it happened! The melodic meanderings of this band became a striking paradox in the extreme metal genre – one which would become an essential part of their musical identity.

I remember when I first listened to the debut/self-titled album. Not only did the heavy tracks possess this coarse/clean vocal schizophrenia, there was this song – “My Throat is an Open Grave” – that just lit up the monitor. Not only did the name of the song provoke so much imagery, but at first listen, it seemed so out of place … but then the hooks kept clawing deeper with every listen and it soon became apparent that it was one of the best songs on the record!

Fast forward almost 20 years and here is a magically reworked version of that very song! How appropriate for it to be the lead-off track for this celebration of death and resurrection release!

“It feels good to be alive, I’ve been dead for so long.”

With the exception of Outlive (a more contemporary metal direction), this pattern continued on every subsequent DH release with these more accessible, incredibly well-written ballad songs with lyrics that cut to the heart.

“Tell me that your hopes and dreams, don’t end in the heart of a graveyard.”

For this special release, eleven of these wonderful classic ballads have been re-worked and “resurrected” with an acoustic interpretation – all here on one compilation! Joanna Ott (piano) and Chris Carmichael (strings) have joined Ryan, Jeremiah, Patrick (guitars), Jonathan (bass) and Yogi (drums) to craft one of the most memorable acoustic albums in the history of metal. Yes, it is that good! All these songs are great in their original formats, but the new versions just bleed more tears of emotion – if that’s possible.

Eleven re-worked songs. Twelve tracks. “Praise the Void” is a bit of a bonus track – positioned as the 4th track here – because its from the upcoming album entitled Exhile. Three of these tracks were previously released in acoustic versions on The Tryptich Special Edition (Open Grave, Heartstrings, Tide), but those “raw” guitar and vocals only versions have been re-worked into more expansive expressions here with the addition of piano and strings (on all 3 tracks) and drums ( on Open Grave, Tide).

The Music of Death and Resurrection

As mentioned above, “My Throat is an Open Grave” leads off – this track has traveled a long way since 2002. Not only has Ryan’s voice matured – a deeper quality/tone – but the pace has been slackened from the original recording. The string/effects have been replaced by more acoustic/less-processed tones – most significantly the piano now carries the melody on the intro and throughout, while the strings supply support over the top. The drum tones are deeper on bass and snare and the whole thing flows so smoothly.

“Dead Flowers” was, for me, easily the best song from True Defiance.  I would rate it extremely high on my all-time DH song list. I just love the melody in the chorus, the flow and the words. On the original, the guitars just rejoice so perfectly with the vocals, not to mention those disturbingly distorted vocals in the latter half of the song to that harpsichord-ish outro, that I would be hard-pressed to re-imagine this song in any way, shape or form. That said, the re-orchestration of this song is simply jaw-dropping. Once again, the piano drives the melody, but there is an underlying snare/kick that is so subtle under the symphony of strings. The guitar solo is now acoustic and perfectly plays right into Ryan’s final vocal chorus – the distortion all gone in the “round” of voices section. The snare drum, like a funeral march, accompanies Ryan’s push to the end with those magnificent “pipes” closing it out. Beautiful to tears.

The Extremist stands up as one of the band’s best releases to date. On an album full of killer songs it was always amazing to me that it could end on the even more brilliant note of “The Heart of a Graveyard.” No distortion this version, just clean piano and guitar push the melody underneath the vocals. The drums provide a nice mid-tempo pace with tom pounding accents, yet never overpowering Ryan’s clean vocal delivery.

For those who love the “preview” to next release … “Praise the Void” is a new song – to be released on the upcoming Exhile – and is another piano-driven ballad full of the typical DH insight and catharsis. As would be expected, the lyrics are no less provocative or compelling…

“Praise the void/For this love, wasted love/Praise the void/We found nothing is enough.”

Musically, this is indeed a song of worship, yet the paradox can be found in the object of praise. I suspect this song has much to say about our current “exhile.”

“Blood in the Tears” (the finale from The World is a Thorn) is another song which is hard to recreate – the original so iconic, so sincere, so full of truth. When I first heard this new version my impression was that the song was slower than the original, but after comparing the two I conclude the pace is nearly identical. I think the acoustic translation is deceptive – making the song seem somehow mellow – yet it stands up quite compatible with the original. The warmer tones, though, make this version shine. In fact, one of the greatest aspects of Death and Resurrection would be that the songs have such a warm, analog-ish sound when compared to the originals.

“Is that you in my head? Have you woke from the dead? Or is it loneliness?”

“Loneliness” is the sole representative here from War & Peace – which is hard to imagine because there are so many great melodic songs on that work. Just demonstrates how replete with potent arrows is this bands’ quiver. While I might not have selected this song for the symphonic treatment I have to say the swirling strings and piano have enhanced the impact of the song to the point where this is the first time I would say that DH sounds a bit like Eric Clayton/Saviour Machine. Bravo!

The shuffling snare in “I Am a Stone” simulates the rushing of water in a stream or the ocean – this one of the faster paced songs on the album. The piano and new orchestration imparts an even more positive vibe to this triumphant song of persistence and perseverance.

That song of steadfast obedience and resilience is countered with the other melodic gem from The Extremist. “I Will Fail You” is one of those songs you love and hate – the melody so addictively infectious yet the words so surgically invasive.

“I will fail you of that I’m sure/I will remind you of the pain forevermore/And when my sins are just a memory/Faith restored/I will fail you to the core”

I love the lead-in acoustic guitars because they seem so gentle and forgiving like spring rain, the cello laying down a heavy string heartbeat. At first, you think the song will be less painful without abrasive electric sounds, then you are cut to the core by that melancholy cello. It is beautiful, it is ugly, it is the reality of where we live stuck here between Heaven and Hell. The final section is sublime – those piano notes plucking away beneath Ryan’s vocal and then the strings gently closing it all out.

It feels strange to hear “Deteriorate” without the electronic overtones, but this “clean” version gives me yet further appreciation for the brilliance of this song. No album in the DH catalog had more impact on me than The Tryptich, probably because of what I was going through in life at that point in time. The words from this song are now made more powerful in the open nature of the piano/vocal acoustic duet.

“Awaiting my end/Breathing in the day that finds me new/Redemption begins/Bleeding out the flaws in place of you … Our careless feet leaving trails/Never minding the fragile dirt we all end in.”

Beginning anew. Life from death. Amen.

For many people, Storm the Gates of Hell represents the finest moment in DH history. While other releases carry more meaning for me personally, there is no denying the power of “Carry Me Down.” The original song is spectacular in power, message and execution and I can’t, once again, imagine how the band could improve its presentation or impact. The acoustic interpretation is brilliant, at least matching, yet not surpassing, the original – it is the perfect complement to the electric version. Like “Dead Flowers” this version is quite a departure from the original – in a good way. In some ways this song could be the theme to this album.

“So if you see me losing sight of all the death in life/You’ll find peace in every time I failed to see the death in mine”

Without a recognition of death in life, we fail to attain life. (my paraphrase)

Ahh, the tide … one of the first truly symphonic experimentations was “The Tide Began to Rise.” I will never forget the first time I heard this song – the way the lyrics resonated so deeply with my soul…

“So now I’m stuck here between the guilty and the insincere/The words I spoke have left me here all alone/I should have known this/I never saw the backlash when the tide began to rise … Now I would die to cure this noise in my head…”

In some ways, this song differs the least from the original because that song was so well orchestrated already. However, the distortion is flipped here. In this version the piano isn’t distorted in the intro, but Ryan’s vocals are initially overlayed with effects. It’s subtle and some won’t notice because by the second chorus his voice sounds clean again. This is the kind of detail that makes DH stand out so brightly from the crowd.

“If this is all the love my spirit can give/Just take it back tonight/There is not a reason more to live.”

Although my worship may not always be so frequent, let my worship always be so sincere. (my paraphrase)

In 2004, Summer of Darkness shed new light on the band. Not only had their identity been revealed but they “broke big” with the likes of “I’m Not Ready to Die” (Headbanger’s Ball), the title track and “My Heartstrings Come Undone” which landed on the soundtrack for Resident Evil: Apocalypse. This new version leads-off with the haunting melody carried via amplified cello. No drums here. Feels like an acapella, but instead a duet of Ryan with strings. The cello provides the rhythm and accents. How appropriate that this song would be resurrected with strings and voice as the only instruments.

“And when my heartstrings come undone/I will wait for you, pray for you/Before I make my final run/I will stay with you, decay with you.”

All of us must face death in the flesh. When our heartstrings come undone, where, and with whom, will we stand on that final run? (my paraphrase)

Deluxe Vinyl Box

The 12×12 booklet (partially depicted above) is special because it features, in essence, the words themselves. In an era where the printed word is becoming increasingly obsolete, this book is a refreshing reminder of how wonderful it is to read print on paper. Not to mention it just enhances the whole listening experience. Ryan’s voice is crystal clear on these recordings, but nothing replaces the impact of both hearing and reading his brilliant lyrics.

[Unfortunately, the CD digi version doesn’t contain lyrics – the insert booklet just the pictures and credits.]

In addition to this booklet, there are 5 lithograph/illustrations (depicted throughout this review) and a 24 X 24 poster of the cover. Art fans will appreciate the unique qualities of each print and how they represent the different band members. All these, the double gatefold jacket, inner sleeves (depicted at the beginning/end of this review) and LPs (colored) are housed in a sturdy LP box (no flimsy sleeves).

The Death and Resurrection of Vinyl

Now I know all of the digital fans are going to hate this next part, where I talk about the vinyl – how it looks and how it sounds. I will be the first to admit that digital to analog does not always work. But there are folks out there that are gifted at making this work. These middle-weight discs are beautiful in appearance, but more vitally, they provide an alternative sound quality when compared to the CD. Little to no surface noise, the fuller frequency palette is total ear candy.

With loud music it can be much harder for the human ear to discern differences in media, but with these acoustic interpretations – the vocals more exposed – there is more space unoccupied by loudness, and so it is much easier to appreciate the quality of the recording and mixing. The tones in the piano and strings are warm and vibrant and there is less sibilance/harshness in the treble pitches overall when compared to the CD.

[I will say, though, that even the digital version seems less compressed, warmer and more expansive than most of the digital DH releases of recent past.]

Life Over Death

At this time of year, when we are remembering the afflictions and sacrifices of Christ, when we are reflecting on our own struggles, frustrations, failures and pain, Demon Hunter have delivered a massive collection of viscerally impactful and wonderfully re-crafted music to remind us that with the sorrow and death comes the celebration of victory and resurrection. Essential listening.


Track Listing:

1. My Throat is an Open Grave

2. Dead Flowers

3. The Heart of a Graveyard

4. Praise the Void

5. Blood in the Tears

6. Loneliness

7. I Am a Stone

8. I Will Fail You

9. Deteriorate

10. Carry Me Down

11. The Tide Began to Rise

12. My Heartstrings Come Undone

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