The fifth album of the revolutionary Christian metal band, Demon Hunter, was promised to be heavier and more melodic. We hear that promise all the time with metal bands, but rarely do they deliver on that promise. Well, I believe that The World Is A Thorn is exactly what it was said to be. But it begs the question--is heavier and more melodic better?
Before this album was released, I had heard it. The only thing was that I didn't have any written lyrics to go by, which was at first a bit of a disappointment, but gave me time to dissect the musical aspect of the record. "Descending Upon Us," the album's first song, has both aspects that the DH guys guaranteed. While some things are different, it's a standard DH song. It opens up with heavy guitars and screaming that fades away to a slower chorus with Ryan Clark's talented vocals. But the next song, "LifeWar," is something totally out of the ordinary. To start, it doesn't even top two minutes. Secondly, it's heavier and darker than your average DH song. While the lyrics are somewhat meaningful, I'm tempted to call this song filler. That's extremely disappointing, seeing how Demon Hunter doesn't come out with new music as often as some other bands do. In my opinion, every moment of the album should be something extraordinary if they're going to make us wait three years between albums and barely tour at all. But I guess this song must have been important to the band, otherwise it wouldn't be on the record. I just don't care for it.
However, the music climbs from a valley to a peak with the album's first single, "Collapsing." It experiments with a few different styles, and Clark gets to use his singing vocals a lot more. It's undoubtedly one of the very best from The World Is A Thorn. "This Is The Line" combines the heavier side and more melodic side expertly in its opening few seconds. It carries on to become an overall heavy track, with a chorus that I think the band's biography sums up best: as a "hard-driving, fist-pumping anthem." A fantastic guitar solo by one of Demon Hunter's newest members, Patrick Judge, is one that fans will find particularly appealing.
The most melodic track on the album is a song called "Driving Nails." It's even more so than Storm the Gates of Hell's epic "Carry Me Down." It's another one of my close favorites on this record, mainly because of the character given to it by the unbelievable string section. The combination of the strings and Clark's voice is perfect. No other word can describe the sound of this song.
The following two songs, "The World Is A Thorn" and "Tie This Around Your Neck," are both heavy songs, the former being one of the heaviest on the album. It's not so heavy that it's not enjoyable, but there is no singing at all, something that kind of disappoints me with a Demon Hunter song. Sometimes I wonder why Clark doesn't just sing all the time. Yet it remains a fantastic song, in my mind. "Tie This Around Your Neck," follows suit in regards to heaviness, and even touches on the dark side a bit more. Unlike the previous track, this one does have some singing, which gives it a little bit of a lighter feel. "Just Breathe" is another hard track, but comes across as almost catchy. It opens with what sounds kind of like a synth, and the chorus is something you could find yourself tapping your feet to--aggressively, but tapping nonetheless. The much deeper and creepier screaming provided by Christian Alvestam--much like Bruce Fitzhugh's contribution on "Sixteen" last time around--does give the song a bit of a heavier sound than it would have with just Clark's vocals. An outstanding guitar solo near the end of the song is one of its many highlights.
"Shallow Water" is a song that tends to get a little annoying with certain repeating guitar parts. The vocals are slightly irritating and dark throughout without much to make things better besides a very short chorus. It comes close to being one of the worst songs on the album. "Feel As Though You Could" just barely recovers from the slump, but ends up sounding a lot like "A Thread of Light" from Storm the Gates.... It's a brutal track displaying Yogi Watt's expert drumming a little better than most songs. It's definitely something for hardcore metal fans to get into, being among one of the heaviest on the album, although coming across as a little weird. The album's finale, "Blood In The Tears," is the second ballad on the album. It doesn't have the amazing strings that "Driving Nails" has, and it's most interesting attribute is its lyrics. Which brings us to an examination of Ryan Clark's writing.
All lyrical content of The World Is A Thorn is as to be expected--rock solid. While certain songs like "Tie This Around Your Neck" or "Blood In The Tears" seem questionable upon first listen, a quick examination of the actual lyrics ought to clear any doubt. "Driving Nails" stands out as an incredibly poetic track, while songs like "The World Is A Thorn" are meant purely for pummeling our eardrums with a message that screams, "Won't bow to man/ Won't bow to government/ Won't trust in a failed system of self-fulfilling lust/ Won't love a world where my God is mocked/ I defy."
So is Demon Hunter's fifth effort their best? I don't think so. It's much heavier throughout, yet the ballads stick out as the dominant tracks. With a metal band like DH, it would make sense that it should be the other way around. The band took a step into different territory, and I honestly believe that heavier is better in some instances but not others. The World Is A Thorn is an instance where it works in places, but overall doesn't sound as impressive as their past two albums. I'm sure I'll find myself enjoying this album more and more in the days to come, but I just don't see it as standing up to some of their older work.