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Thursday, July 05, 2012

Demon Hunter -- Demon Hunter


The Demon Hunter of today look quite different from the one that slowly emerged from the shadows in 2002. No one knew who they were, where the came from. All we had at the start of that year was a song on a Solid State Records compilation under their name, and a picture of obscured faces in the compilation booklet. The song was raw, but promising, building anticipation for whatever Demon Hunter was. Finally, near the end of the year, a Demon Hunter album was released. There's a haunting darkness at the heart of Demon's Hunter's self-titled debut that none of their following work contains. A statement by a spokesman for the band said that "Demon Hunter" as a band name was meant to be metaphysical--to describe the things we battle with on the inside--but looking at the horror-inspired song-titles ("Screams of the Undead," "I Have Seen Where it Grows," "Infected"), one can't be blamed for taking the moniker literally. The horror film imagery continues in the apocalyptic booklet artwork, and this bleeds right into the music. The opening howls and chains set the tone immediately, and movie quality strings ("My Throat is an Open Grave"), spooky organ ("Turn Your Back and Run"), and insect like noises ("The Gauntlet") continue it throughout.
This isn't Opeth, though the music is quite heavy. There are definite verses and choruses, and most of the choruses are sung, though the melodies aren't at all poppy, if that makes any sense. Also, the singing is manly, as screamo hadn't taken hold of popular interest yet. The harsh vocals go from growling to screams, to even some goth-style speaking at seldom moments.
That's all well and good, and would make for an impressive debut, but I've left out what elevates this album to classic status: Jesse Sprinkle's drumming. Sprinkle, who was revealed to be Demon Hunter's drummer shortly after the album was released, puts on a performance for the ages. His drumming is absolutely relentless, but for the vast majority of the album, he avoids the double-bass and smash the cymbals approach that saturates the scene today. Sprinkle sounds like an incredible session drummer who's never played metal being tasked to record a metal album, and in the process of recording, it sounds as if he's inventing a new style. Sprinkle brings every song to the next level, and at the end of the album, the apocalyptic "The Gauntlet," the band generously gives him the final two minutes to go absolutely bonkers. The song itself is a statement for what Demon Hunter used to be. It's one of their "ballads" in the sense that it contains no screaming, but unlike some of their more recent work, it sounds nothing like a ballad. "The Gauntlet" has the feeling of some type of dark inevitability, the guitar pattern repeating, the drums going more frenetic as the song progresses. The album lyrically deals with a lot of self-conflict, as promised, but "The Gauntlet" takes it to the darkest place Demon Hunter has ever been. "Not a hand, not a finger. This is my home, I'm dying here. I hide in the corner. That look on your face, I'm accustomed to it." And then the drums go nuts.

A FINAL NOTE ONE: The band eventually released a nicely intense video for "Infected," which revealed their identities.

A FINAL NOTE TWO: This album came out within a month of Metroid Prime, one of the greatest video games of all time, an epic and isolating journey. Demon Hunter's self-titled album could soundtrack that game perfectly. During Winter Break of '02, I would often mute the television and turn up the album while taking Samus Aran into the depths of Tallon IV. Here's a song I would blare, and a clip of Samus jumping over boiling magma and blasting things. Watch and mute the second one, and play the audio from the first. Viola. Perfection. That game ruled.

2002 Solid State Records
1. Screams of the Undead 4:34
2. I Have Seen Where it Grows 3:14
3. Infected 3:08
4. My Throat is an Open Grave 3:54
5. Through the Black 4:27
6. Turn Your Back and Run 3:48
7. And the Sky Went Red 0:29
8. As We Wept 3:42
9. A Broken Upper Hand 4:29
10. The Gauntlet 6:56

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