Over the years Demon Hunter has filled the niche role for Christian metal bands. As such their songs have always been extraordinary, with each album reaching beyond its metal spectrum and including at least one song that is not metal in a traditional sense. Those songs are now being repackaged and re-arranged for a full album of oddities on Songs of Death and Resurrection.
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The album, out March 5, features 11 songs from 10 albums plus one unreleased track titled “Praise The Void.” The track list does not boast hits or chart toppers, instead the criteria were for more fan loved tracks that were unique and interesting to re-arrange with new and more classical leaning instrumentation.
“These are the odd tracks on any given album in that they’re not exactly the same style most of our material, but they have become kind of fan favorites and sort of a gateway,” vocalist Ryan Clark tells American Songwriter. “I think for a lot of fans that are maybe not metal heads, start listening to the band and then they slowly but surely kind of come around to some of the heavier stuff. I wouldn’t call these songs like the most normal formula for us, but they have been the sort of thing that we do every record, whether it’s two or three tracks. Over 10 records we’ve got a nice little collection of these songs.”
Many of the songs which include, “I am a Stone,” “Carry Me Down,” and “I Will Fail You” have already been conceptualized acoustically on tour so that was not the aim this time. Instead Demon Hunter wanted to take those same songs and strip them down in way that could also include a full band.
“We’ve done acoustic things in the past, but it’s been mostly just me and a guitar player and they were a little bit half baked,” Clark said. “This was our opportunity to really put some effort into and care into those songs and we enjoyed it so much.”
The album creates that full-band sound with lush rearrangements offered by string sections, piano and layered vocal harmonies. The most natural song to attempt this with was “I Am a Stone” from their 2012 record True Defiance, because the song was originally composed with minimal instrumentation, so it was easy to revert back to that and build out from that foundation.
“It’s almost the reverse of the other tracks,” Clark explained. “It started out as about as stripped down as you can get. When I demoed it and originally 10-odd years ago, I just did it with a guitar, just one single guitar and then gave it to the guy who does our strings Chris Carmichael.”
“I Am a Stone” was the oddity for this reason and was a track that the band did not want to add too many strings to and instead added a more solid rhythm section with a piano. It kind of took on a life of its own when we did that,” Clark said. “It almost started sounding like an entirely different style. We did it about three or four different ways and recorded it so there are versions that are just a piano vocal or versions maybe 10 BPM slower than what the album version is.”
Not all the songs were as seamless to revamp as “I Am a Stone,” especially the oldest ones that the band has played hundreds of times like “Carry Me Down” and “Heartstrings.” Many times the percussion was the catalyst for new perspectives and breaking down the original versions.
“Some of the ones that we’ve played to death were the most difficult only because of the kind of self-induced difficulty,” Clark said. “It’s not that it had to be hard it was just that we had played songs like ‘Carry Me Down’ or ‘Heartstrings’ so many times, so it was about going back and sort of rethinking how we would breathe new life into it. And so a lot of the times that came by way of the percussion. There are some sort of interesting drum patterns that our drummer Yogi came up with, specifically for ‘Carry Me Down,’ where it more follows the guitar more.”
After all the re-arranging and innovation needed to re-package the 10 previously released tracks, Demon Hunter also wrote one more new song that already adhered to what they were doing with the other tracks. “Praise The Void,” has never been released and instead will get its stripped-down debut on Songs of Death and Resurrection and later be restored as a full-on metal track.
“That one was basically a demo I wrote for an upcoming record,” Clark said. “And at the time we had about two or three, you know ballad-esque sort of tracks demoed and that one just made the most sense because it was upbeat and heavy but really adaptable into something like this. So there will eventually be a version of ‘Praise The Void’ that is sort of what I originally wrote, but it was kind of interesting before we even got to that point, we already kind of like stripped it down.”
Songs of Death and Resurrection also includes a crucial custom artwork element that has always been a staple to Demon Hunter’s album covers. The artwork was facilitated by Clark, who is part of the design company Invisible Creature, which has created artwork for iconic bands like Alice in Chains, Sevendust, and Foo Fighters. Clark oversaw the vision and concept and then commissioned a superb artist, Eilliran Cantor to draft the artwork. Designing albums has been chief for Clark who actually was involved in the art world before music. The two have grown to become equally important for him and tying Demon Hunter’s music to a visual aesthetic.
“Visual art was there before music was for me,” Clark said. “It was something I always wanted to do as a kid. I’ve been really fortunate to have sort of a certain level of success on both sides with the band and design stuff so I kind of get to have my cake and eat it too. Last night I worked on a song but throughout the day I was also designing and that has been my daily life for twenty-something years.
“I’ve done a handful of covers for Demon Hunter over the years, but the ones that I really liked the most were the ones that I hired out for like Elliran Cantor,” he continues. “He’s done a handful of heavy metal album covers and has this sort of Renaissance realism style that he’s really good at. I was immediately sort of drawn to it.”
In addition to staying busy with Invisible Creature, Clark plans to write more with Demon Hunter soon, in hopes for a new record. They are already off to a good start with some demos because unlike many other bands, Demon Hunter has a keen sense of what song will make it onto each album and therefore doesn’t waste anytime recording anything else.
“I always know exactly which ones I want to do, and I just go for those ones and kind of cut all the fat,” Clark said. “So we’re in the process of doing that right now and I would say we probably have about a full records worth of material.”