DEMON HUNTER: Exile (Deluxe Edition CD and Vinyl Edition)

Hunter Hero

Demon Hunter is my (musical) hero. As a reviewer of music, a lover of concept metal, an advocate of physical media (over digital streaming/downloads), an eschewer of social media, and a fan of Demon Hunter I find this creative, provocative and charismatic band’s eleventh release, Exile, resonating with me on every single level. Not only is this one of their longest releases to date (the Deluxe Edition version clocking in at almost 80 minutes), but Exile represents their first truly “concept” release to date.

Fears, Cheers and Tears

I confess that gushing, emotion-filled subjective praise is something I rarely express (I will try to keep it together here). But when an artist hits all the right nerves – aural, visual, lyrical, artistic, spiritual – triggering a surge of dopamine into the cerebral cortex it is hard to contain the excitement. But with the dopaminergic surge always comes the crash and withdrawal as the reality of the world in which we live forces us back into a sober state.

Demon Hunter is no stranger to this back-and-forth battle between joy and pain, triumph and defeat, life and death. Afterall, 2019’s War and Peace pairing visited these opposing vectors with vigor, as (in essence) did last year’s acoustic Songs of Death and Resurrection collection. Frankly, this is one of the few releases I’ve heard in years that has me simultaneously horrified, shouting for joy and crying all within the span of 10 minutes.

In that regard, Exile will seem quite familiar to those who have followed this band with attentive wonder and listening fervor over the course of the past 20 years. But Ryan Clark and company are never content to make the same album twice … nor are they afraid to push the envelope of established societal norms and challenge the “status quo,” both musically and lyrically.

So, in what way is Exile unique or “new” from what has been the DH experience to date?

Fringe Amalgamation

From my observation, this release is more expansive, yet simultaneously more cohesive, than anything they’ve done previously. Conceptually, all the songs are linked directly to immediate and near future events (fictional here, yet seemingly prophetic) which depict current human behavior, viscerally examining and dissecting the physical, mental and spiritual demise of humanity. Musically, these songs broadcast a band which isn’t afraid to change things up a bit without abandoning their core sounds, unafraid to express themselves by channeling their past rock/metal influences into innovative “rebellious” styles and sounds.

Fringe metal may be a relevant descriptive in that the amalgam of hardcore and melodic heavy metal with a dash of progressive flavor plays anthem for those who don’t quite find themselves flowing in the veins of established societal norms. In that regard, the themes and scenarios depicted here will resonate deeply with the outcasts/exiled … and, for that matter, those who love a good sci-fi futuristic story!

Artistic Non-Conformity

In truth, any words expressed here will fail to come close to describing the magnitude of artistic expression put forth by Demon Hunter on this release – the artistic design and integration here is at a level which far exceeds the average output of music (let alone metal) these days. In that regard, Exile feels almost ‘70’s-ish – hearkening back to socially and artistically poignant releases like Pink Floyd’s The Wall and The Who’s Quadrophenia – yet musically these songs are forward-looking, experimental and decisively metal.

[As an aside, fans of prog will find a similar (yet non-Christian worldview) exploration of the denigrations to humanity caused by tech and social media on Steven Wilson’s 2021 release The Future Bites, an album which cleverly uses “pop-prog” nuances to depict a bleak near-future world entranced by an obsession of self-importance/awareness and social media acceptance/conformity.]

Synopsis – The Comic

For those not already aware, Exile (a planned 4-book comic series) chronicles a near-future world of divide where those who embrace social and technological “conformity” succumb to the control of the M.A.S. (Ministry of Awareness and Sensitivity) while others, who cut themselves off from tech and go “off the grid,” are forced to fend for themselves, struggling to find like-minded folk known as LOTUS (“Last of the Undying Spirit”).

While the comic book series/story isn’t essential for understanding/appreciating the content of the music on the album release, the comic does serve to provide a wider context for the album. Not to mention, the comic is just cool – extremely well-illustrated and the storytelling very compelling to boot. The “ads” section on the final pages is brilliantly accurate and creative. I love how Ryan Clark so ingeniously intertwines his passions (writing, graphic design, music, cinema).

Deluxe Hunter

Exile has been released as a CD mainstream release (with 12 songs), as a 2LP vinyl (in various colors and splatter patterns) and as a Deluxe CD version. This latter version is reviewed here. The Deluxe version comes in a comic book sized slipcase which contains a 40-page book with lyrics, credits and extensive liner notes by Ryan Clark, an expanded 20-track CD which includes interlude/narrative tracks plus two bonus songs, “Sleepwalker” and “Exile,” and 44-page comic #1/4 (as noted above). Additionally, there is a 12×12 inch poster and smaller lithograph card (pictured near bottom of this post).

[A note on the notes: In the Deluxe lyrics/narrative booklet Ryan Clark nicely encapsulates the meaning and inspiration behind each song and additionally provides songwriting/musical exegesis on each track. Essential]

The Music to the Soundtrack of The Divide

Musically speaking, those who love the more melodic side of this band will probably be more apt to embrace these songs, and conversely, those who prefer the metalcore sound of much of the band’s canon may feel a bit slighted. Additionally, there is a progressive element to some of these songs, influenced by Ryan Clark’s love for Evergrey (dark introspective melodic progressive metal), which shines forth in a few songs.

[Note: This Deluxe version CD is a unique listening experience from the standard CD issue because it contains all the “narrative” tracks plus two extra songs. Honestly, I was disappointed in the physical digipak media for the standard release with limited booklet and no song commentary. However, its nice to have on hand if you just want to spin cycle through the songs only]

The saga begins with the brief introductory track “Scared and Alone” (the interludes on the Deluxe version CD feature our heroine “Hunter” reading from her diary or chronicling the events of her journey) where Hunter, secured within the confines of her makeshift sanctuary, frames her dilemma … and her struggle for action.

Rare is it for a lead-off track on any album to feature a guest singer, but in true “non-conformist” fashion, Max Cavalera’s voice adorns the opening track “Defense Mechanism,” one of the more aggressive songs here. Immediately noticeable to me is the sound mix – feels like emphasis on a heavier bass push, Watt’s kick punching through the mix with more depth and impact than ever before. The sound is so expansive, crushing and almost cinematic.

“Bleed for him”

“Master” represents the musical and lyrical companion to 2019’s “Recuse Myself” (Peace) as Clark expresses his distaste for politics and the forced expectation to “choose a side.” Tons of reverb in the vocals and massive bass push once again impart a movie-like quality to the sound – something quite new in a way for DH. This wider EQ range quality stands in contrast with much of the band’s discography where the hardcore/punk linear shred tends to dominate the sound mix. In the liner comments in reference to “Master” Clark alludes to this: “What would Demon Hunter sound like in 2030? … the idea of writing 10 years in the future was top-of-mind.” The end-result is a stunning mix of old and new.

“Sounding your desperate tone/All of your meaningless cries/How will I sleep until all this dies/All of this dies?”

As mentioned previously, Tom Englund and Evergrey have recently intrigued Clark, particularly 2019’s immersive introspective journey The Atlantic. “Silence the World” was not only inspired by Evergrey but the song features Englund (Everygrey/Redemption) himself on both verses and choruses in glorious dark melodic fashion. This song represents not only a longer song for DH, but also a departure from the band’s comfort zone. Credit them for stretching their musical muscles and skin in order to deliver a melancholy prog metal ballad with a somber message – social media is exacting a massive collapse of logic and reason, and no one wants to admit to its detrimental qualities on the mental, physical and spiritual well-being of humanity.

“The Journey Begins” reveals Hunter’s choice to action – solitude too much to endure – as she sojourns out of her safety zone in effort to find like-minded people who have survived the divide.

“Heaven don’t you cry/We will find the rest in time”

“Heaven Don’t Cry” is probably one of the most positive and melodically enticing moments on Exile. I’ve never heard Demon Hunter channel Queensryche, but darn if this couldn’t qualify as a first. An anthem to unite the dispersed, yet spiritually united remnant, the music here is once again massively inspiring, and the chord progressions impart to the music a sense of victory (or at least encouragement). If a radio single hit was still an entity in our current world (or the near future for that matter), this would be the song that would “sell” the album.

One thing I didn’t know about DH was that the members all share a love of grunge (revealed by Clark in the commentary of this song). Never has that been more apparent than on “Another Place.” While many a metal fan (myself, I confess) find much to disparage about the whole grunge movement, there are qualities of the much-maligned genre which shine and so leave it to this band to augment those qualities, incorporate them within the context of the DH music-verse and make it actually work for the good. Lyrically this is a cry to find that place of “exile” where common interests and beliefs find refuge in the storm of technological oppression. [Okay, confessions out, I’ve grown to appreciate over the years some of the qualities of bands like Stone Temple Pilots and Alice in Chains. I need to stop gushing … or is that hemorrhaging!]

“I had a dream we had a reason to fight/We knew the soul and the context/We never wanted to ascend the divide/Then I awoke to a voice saying/Freedom is dead”

“Freedom is Dead” represents the prototypical Demon Hunter punk/hardcore beat alternating with groove/crunch. The urge to resist the need to pummel this song all the way through with the same rhythm saves the day – this song yet another example of how DH is trying to escape the confines of familiarity and forge the future.

“Lighting Pathfinder” finds Hunter discovering and implementing her greatest weapon and guide, the most frightening moment when she says, “He tells me of the evils that will bloom when the world decides nothing is enough.” [Are we there yet?]

“Praise the void, we found nothing is enough”

When “Praise the Void” was introduced on Death and Resurrection in a more stripped acoustic version I was totally entranced by the sadness of the lyrical content. Now, within the context of Exile, it manifests as the song it was originally meant to be. As Clark explains, we’ve reached a point in time where people utterly celebrate the vacancy of the afterlife and hopelessly chase and justify that we are just here until we die with no purpose other than to exist for a moment of time – to enjoy life to the fullest (whatever that means) because when you are dead … you are dead. Musically, the song perfectly reflects this dark outlook, and even with the “plugged” elements this song represents the darkest moment on Exile.

For those who love the juxtaposition of harsh vocals and melody which define the essence of the DH sound, “Revolutions” will fall on welcome ears. This is one of the more dynamic songs on the album with tons of energy and crunch paralleled by melodic revelations about the futility of “protesting” (in its current day incarnation of violence without an understanding of purpose) which rarely serves to accomplish any purpose other than to function as an accepted (and almost expected) social duty to seed further division. Musically, this song reeks Demon Hunter and is one of the more “familiar” musical moments to Exile as the intense shred and juxtaposition of melody/harsh highlights the vocal exegesis.

“Are you descending into chemicals…”

An album chronicling our current state of culture would be remiss if there wasn’t a song about substance addictions. I feel this has become almost cliché in our current culture, but on the other hand, this issue can’t be dismissed as insignificant. “Chemicals” cleverly does its job to outline this issue and ask vital questions to the listener along the way.

However, one of my pet peeves about songs and discussions about drug and alcohol addiction is that they often fail to address the largest problem killing Western culture – unhealthy food addiction and obesity, equally linked to genetic predisposition and far more devastating in terms of the numbers of those afflicted. While many outside the medical profession don’t see this, caffeine, sodium chloride and glucose are every bit as lethal (in excess) as ethanol and illicit drugs … and the sad truth is that they effect a far greater number of the population.

Musically speaking, this song is probably my least favorite on the album, just lacks the ingenuity and impact of everything else here. Clark confesses in the liner notes this song was a late minute edition and I have to say that while the song is solid musically, it feels a bit like filler.

Hunter’s battle/confrontation with “The Drone” is an intriguing interlude track – the longest of the “narrative” tracks on the album. The text in the Deluxe version provides an even more prolonged and detailed dialogue but suffice it to say that this ominous, “your best interest is to comply vs. grant me my freedom” scenario is one currently dominating the social media and news feeds this very day.

“Godless is just the fate that you wanted/I guess you like to bleed/Regress among the frail and haunted/Godless is just a hollow hole”

Fascinatingly, its followed by one of the most chill/shred tracks on the album, “Godless,” a song which features Richie Faulkner (Judas Priest) noodling around on guitar in the Demon Hunter universe. How did he get here, you ask? Apparently, Faulkner and Jeremiah Scott became neighbors recently. The highlight of this plodding, doomy number is the intricate meandering of Faulkner’s fingers on the fretboard.

Lyrically, I love the sober nature of this song. Sometimes believers think God will just make life perfect, free of pain and full of love and a clear path. Not so fast. But if we wait upon the Lord, it does become manifest in time. Sober humble faithfulness trumps vapid rituals of duty and narcissistic perpetual optimism every time.

“Devotion free the few/Devotion draws away the dead of night/Devotion waits for you/Heals a hollow mind”

I would offer up that from a lyrical standpoint, the concept and tenets on “Devotion” resonate most deeply with me more than any of the other songs here. I would totally agree with Clark that the lack of devotion so omnipresent in today’s society translates directly into a total system failure – societal, biological, mental and spiritual. This song rips with truth, the grooves punishingly heavy, and although the song is short, I feel the message is impactfully delivered with the harsh/melodic combo which has been this band’s consistent M.O. since inception.

“Against the Wind” shows us Hunter’s vulnerability. Her humble acknowledgement a sober reminder of the reality of life in a fallen world of chaos…

“I have tried to find the will to stay … find a place beyond the pain … live to see another day … but I died along the way.”

“Along the Way” is a fascinating number on so many levels. From the conceptual standpoint it represents a denouement of sorts, the possibility introduced that our heroine may not survive to find the like-minded refuge which she had been seeking in faith. But the song represents much more than a narrative climax as most listeners will likely perceive – it’s an honest appraisal of how life in the physical realm operates. Although we may have all these things we want to see and accomplish – well meaning, spiritually well-intended – our course may abruptly come to an end short of our envisioned finale. It is thought-provoking to say the least and humbling in the extreme to realize we may not see our race finish in the way we’ve dreamed, but the song simultaneously acknowledges that this is okay!

Musically, this is a doomy, beautiful ballad in the essence of Demon Hunter lore. As Clark points out, this is the longest song the band has ever released, which parallels the long journey of life; the extended outro section with different drum fills and rhythms underpinning the melodic guitars represents a musical highlight on Exile for sure.

The Deluxe Edition includes 3 bonus tracks, the first of which is “Sleepwalker,” a mid-tempo grind which implores us not to over-indulge in what Clark alludes to as “the screen,” for consequence that we miss out on the beautiful simplicity of a “simpler” life without all the tech and entanglements/enmeshment thereof. Musically, my favorite part of the song is when the vocals flip to the harsh side on the final chorus and we are treated to a choice Patrick Judge guitar solo. Primo!

Some may be puzzled as to why the actual title track wasn’t included on the main release. “Exile” is a great song, but fans might have found two ‘90’s styled songs on a single release a bit too “un-metal.” I actually prefer this swing-y tune over the more grunge-centric “Another Place” because this song has its roots deeply planted in the more, blues-oriented origins of rock.

“Welcome to Exile” is a statement of triumph and resolution – hope and faith prevail over fear and persecution. While this brief track may feel like an anti-climactic finish to an epic journey, it serves to remind us of that eternal truth – less is more!

Vinyl Hunter

For fans of the analog sound variety, never fear. The vinyl version of Exile doesn’t disappoint. It’s massive in sound and quality – full bass with wonderfully balanced EQ. As I mentioned previously, I love the bass kick drum sound on this album because it has a deeper tone with tons of warm resonance. That quality is accentuated on the vinyl. The more acoustical nature of Songs of Death and Resurrection fostered a brilliant analog vinyl rendition, and that expertise in sound engineering has carried over into Exile – this the best sounding Demon Hunter vinyl to date! [Now if we can only get those first 2 DH gems released in similar vinyl quality!!]

The 2 LP set isn’t gatefold, but the obi strip is an extra bonus feature worth preserving. Not only does it possess a synopsis/hype blurb, but there is the artwork and barcode on the front; and the back side of the obi (in true Japanese release fashion) has pictures of all of the band’s catalog – too cool! The 4-panel insert has the band picture/poster on the outside and lyrics/credits on the inside. The “cavern blue” (didn’t know that was a shade of color!) vinyl is clean, flat with little to no surface noise.

[Note: the song order on the vinyl follows that of the standard CD release with none of the Deluxe CD interlude/narrative tracks present.]

In summary, in my opinion, if you are a DH die-hard fan, get the Deluxe CD version of this release – its worth every penny in terms of artistic presentation, depth of content and explanation … and you get those wonderful interlude tracks which are essential to a concept album. Plus, you get the first comic in the 4-part series! But for audiophiles, the vinyl is equally vital and equally enthralling. Exile is easily one of my favorite releases for 2022, right up there with Threshold – Dividing Lines, Becoming the Archetype – Children of the Great Extinction and Reign of Glory – All Will Bow and Thee Final Chaptre – So Let It Be Done.

Deluxe Edition CD Track Listing:

1. Part 01: Scared and Alone (1:23)

2. Defense Mechanism (3:37)

3. Master (4:07)

4. Silence the World (7:10)

5. Part 02: The Journey Begins (1:19)

6. Heaven Don’t Cry (4:24)

7. Another Place (4:18)

8. Freedom is Dead (2:53)

9. Part 03: Lighting Pathfinder (1:22)

10. Praise the Void (5:33)

11. Revolutions (5:34)

12. Chemicals (6:24)

13. Part 04: The Drone (1:34)

14. Godless (4:51)

15. Devotion (4:59)

16. Part 05: Against the Wind (1:01)

17. Along the Way (8:04)

18. Sleepwalker (5:04)

19. Exile (3:57)

20. Part 06: Welcome to Exile (1:52)

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2 thoughts on “DEMON HUNTER: Exile (Deluxe Edition CD and Vinyl Edition)

  1. Great read through. You had some honest takes and we’re self-aware you were predisposed to be biased.

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