Storm the Gates of Hell
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2007 11 Nov
- Storm the Gates of Hell
- Lead Us Home
- Fading Away
- Carry Me Down
- A Thread of Light
- I Am You
- Follow the Wolves
- Fiction Kingdom
- The Wrath of God
I'll readily admit that I'm no hardcore metal expert. It's one of the few genres in which the aesthetics are sort of mystifying to me, because it's clearly not just about decibel level and pounding instrumentation. But while some metal bands offer strong melodic hooks, they're often dismissed for sounding too pop. Meanwhile, those that rely entirely on intensity and guttural screaming lack the broad appeal to develop beyond a niche following. As with most any genre, if a hardcore metal band is to break big, it somehow must find balance that maintains stylistic credibility while bringing something more accessible for a larger audience.
Demon Hunter offers something more, though they're certainly not the first. P.O.D. comes to mind, evolving beyond straight-up hardcore metal by incorporating elements of rap, reggae, jazz, and pop. In turn, Underoath has moved beyond mere "noise" into something more that defies easy categorization and requires serious musical chops. Bands like these prove exceptional through their willingness to advance further than formula and bring stylistic range to their sound.
Range is exactly what makes Storm the Gates of Hell impressive. The band's fourth album in five years is certainly intense and not for the faint of heart, yet it also refuses to get stuck with any one approach. Based on the bombast of the opening title track, it'd be easy for some to dismiss Demon Hunter as more of the same old hardcore. But then "Lead Us Home" kicks in, starting with more hard-hitting metal before unveiling an anthemic chorus that rivals (if not trumps) P.O.D. and Linkin Park.
It's a strength that the band so easily alternates from dissonance to melody, demonstrated by Ryan Clark effortlessly alternating between throat-shredding screams and powerhouse rock vocals. The common complaint is that hardcore metal has no sense of melody. Demon Hunter helps prove otherwise—they just don't always choose to wax melodic. Thus the stylistic range mentioned earlier, bringing a dynamic that's not typically heard in the genre. The band even treads close to pop metal at times. "Fading Away," about waiting on the Lord and acting in faith, could be mistaken for Seventh Day Slumber, and "Carry Me Down" is an uplifting meditation on death that's this album's equivalent to Demon Hunter's previous hit, "My Heartstrings Come Undone."
The other misconception with hardcore is that it's always dark and evil. How can something so loud be considered godly? (Answer: think of the intensity as an unleashed heart's cry to God.) How can a band call itself Christian when it blatantly features a frightening skull on the cover of all their albums? (Answer: consider whose devilish skull is being depicted in defeat.) The album's art is inventive, particularly the way the booklet opens, and the back cover depicts the band wearing clerical collars. Demon Hunter takes their calling seriously, offering scriptural inspiration and thoughtful ideas for every song on Storm.
Demon Hunter is known for writing about spiritual warfare, but Storm the Gates of Hell exposes the battlefront that's present in everyday life. "Sixteen" refers to the minute after the first fifteen of fame, taking aim at hypocritical Christians who publicly live their faith for the wrong reasons. Hard to believe Demon Hunter is a hardcore band based on the pop piano hook that opens "Thorns," an anti-cutting/suicide anthem that points to the wounds of Christ as reason against further self-infliction and shame. "Follow the Wolves" challenges believers to not conform to the worldly ways of sheep, but rather dare to live a higher spiritual calling. "Incision" with its awesome progressive-metal feel deals with role models and trying to measure up to perfection. And "Fiction Kingdom" even warns young listeners to stay away from false gods and demonic aesthetics present in the music of other bands.
What's striking about Storm, produced again by Aaron Sprinkle (The Almost, Emery), is the way it makes hardcore simultaneously credible and accessible, balancing Demon Hunter's sound without compromising it. Unlike most other bands in the genre, you can actually understand Clark's singing/screaming without need of a lyric sheet (most of the time). This band is more thoughtful than most, never resorting to cheesy cliché s like Christian metal bands of the past, yet never ashamed of their beliefs either. Their faith-based expression is another example of balance in their music.
Those who know hardcore metal is not for them know enough to stay away from this album. But those more on the fence with their rock music may find themselves pleasantly surprised by Storm the Gates of Hell. For all its pounding musicianship and dark imagery, there are plenty of other qualities that bring another word to mind not typically associated with the hardcore genre: beauty.