Nearly two years ago long-time Christian metallers Demon Hunter released their sixth full-length studio album, True Defiance, to mixed reviews, with the majority being critical of the band for losing its edge. So when it came time to announce their follow-up, many fans were a little leery initially, unsure of exactly how Extremist would sound. Now that the new record is finally here, the time has come to determine where it ranks among the band’s other releases.
Extremist begins with an eerie chorus of echoing chants over a stomping drumbeat, which slowly crescendos, thanks in part to the help from some loud guitars. A bell is struck, and the madness commences in one of the heaviest songs the band has ever written in “Death.” Ryan Clark’s screams take the forefront and the background is set by a slow, gut-wrenching rhythmic pattern laid down by the instrumentalists. Lasting just a touch longer than two and a half minutes, “Death” is one of the band’s shorter songs, but it fits perfectly as an intro to Extremist, and is only a prelude of what is to come. “Artificial Light,” the second song on the record, is exactly what the band has learned to do so well over the years, with a melodic screaming throughout the verses, heavy guitar rhythms during the entire song, and, of course, the classic singing chorus. The guitar solo in the bridge even adds a neat little flair to everything.
“What I’m Not” comes next, and once again follows the ever-so-famous Demon Hunter formula, reminiscent of something from the band’s previous album, True Defiance. As a result, there really isn’t anything super-special about “What I’m Not,” but it’s a solid song nonetheless. “The Last One Alive” keeps the instrumentation heavy, but switches things up vocally, as Clark sings the whole time, not just on the chorus. This song is very power-ballad-like, holding many similar qualities with a Demon Hunter staple like “One Thousand Apologies.”
“The Last One Alive” is followed up with “I Will Fail You,” a track that keeps the singing-throughout trend going, but slowing the music down a little. “One Last Song” picks things up right where “What I’m Not” left off, bringing back the signature DH song structure. The chorus here does give it a bit more staying power, but other than that it’s about on the same level as the others as far as how well it was written. The next track on the record, “Cross to Bear,” has a speed metal (and at times thrash) feel to it and maintains the heaviness by keeping the screaming throughout the entirety of the song. The bridge only seals the deal when the music stops briefly; making Clark’s screams the only thing heard for a very short time. “Hell Don’t Need Me” is another ballad, seemingly there to make up for the onslaught of heaviness offered up by the previous tune. It’s a decent song, but there’s nothing about it that really makes it stand out from the other slower songs on the record.
“In Time” puts the singing and screaming combination back into use, and is a bit more technical than the others like it. The tempo is slower overall, yet the riffs somehow end up being faster at times. “Beyond Me” packs an atmospheric punch during the verses before mellowing it out on the chorus; the mood set during the verses is all that differentiates it from many others on Extremist. “Gasoline” is one of the strongest tracks on the album, with an overwhelmingly melodic flow reminiscent of a “Carry Me Down.” The exception is that “Gasoline” brings the heavy on the chorus, giving it a different vibe than many other Demon Hunter songs, and essentially using the polar opposite of the typical DH song structure. “The Heart of a Graveyard” closes out Extremist on a relatively high note, bringing back the power-ballad feel and adding electronics in to the mix to enhance the sound (think “The Last One Alive” slowed down, but with a little bit of samples thrown in for some extra flavor.)
Extremist has its ups and downs, but only about half of the songs have staying power. The few completely heavy tunes are done well, the formulaic Demon Hunter tracks are hit-or-miss, and even a few of the ballads are unfortunately skip-worthy. There are a few outstanding songs on Extremist, and it may be a better album overall than the band’s previous record, True Defiance, but it’s not quite of the caliber of some of DH’s earlier releases.