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Music: God's Warriors

Unabashedly Christian, Demon Hunter strives to save souls with Metalcore

By Aaron Epple · June 18th, 2008 · Music
  Demon Hunter
Solid State Records

Demon Hunter

It was a surreal moment calling up Demon Hunter vocalist Ryan Clark for our interview.

Not only is his Metalcore band a prominent fixture of Tooth and Nail Records, but he's also employed as the label's art director, responsible for CD packages and overseeing photo shoots.

"It's definitely different," says Clark. "It has its perks and its setbacks. We get to dictate what we do and when we do it a bit more."

One is tempted to ask whether Marilyn Manson is inhabiting the next cube.

Demon Hunter has just released their fourth album, Storm the Gates of Hell, a record that is taut, poetic, melodic, heavy and militantly Christian. Spreading the Christian gospel with a style of music traditionally, often flagrantly, associated with Lucifer has a long, uneasy history. However, Demon Hunter is among a wave of bands today where the tag is no longer a liability.

"I think the perception has changed because a lot more (Christian) bands now are good at what they do," he says. "It's harder for people to discredit them because of their faith."

Indeed, Demon Hunter is a long way from the age of Hair Metal Christians, Stryper, who made Poison sound like Nuclear Assault. Not only does Demon Hunter have the technical skill to appeal to non-religious listeners, but Clark also has some refreshing counter-arguments to a particular pair of clichéd musical talking points. Clark openly cites his increasing use of clean vocals as part of a strategy to make Demon Hunter more ear-friendly.

"The stuff that resonates with us has more singing," Clark says.

"As we do more records, it's been increasingly important for us to write songs that are catchier, that get in your head; songs you remember after you've heard them."

Secondly, because many Christians have felt backed into a corner by the secular left, wearied by stereotypes of hatefulness, they're often quick to say they have no interest in preaching or converting. If you have any doubt about Clark's stance on the issue, just check out the back cover of Storm the Gates of Hell, which depicts a group of bulky, menacing-looking men wearing sleeveless black T-shirts and Catholic priest collars. This isn't to say that Clark is a heavily tattooed version of Jerry Falwell, only that he refuses to be wishy-washy about what he believes. This has, perhaps surprisingly, led to greater success for the band.

"We didn't really have any expectations, we just wanted to do something fun and be who we are," says Clark. "It's a part of growing up, too. When you're young, you try to appeal to everyone. We decided to make the stance that we make. Our fans appreciate it and we don't have anyone picketing our shows."

Demon Hunter's stance is evident in the very first song, the title track. If "Storm the Gates of Hell" isn't unsubtle enough, note how strikingly similar in message the lyrics are to that of Slayer's "Haunting the Chapel." Both songs describe an identical scenario -- the only difference is which supernatural entity emerges the victor. Clark knows Slayer quite well. Coming off as a biblical literalist, Clark says he writes songs like "Storm the Gates of Hell" specifically to counter such messages.

"A lot of themes in Metal are rooted in a biblical context," he said. "Even if you're coming from drastic opposite places, you're getting your information from the same place. My problem is that bands like Slayer take things out of context and make (Satan) into something he isn't."

Asked whether it was ever difficult to reconcile his faith with his musical tastes produces a mixed response. Although Clark grew up in a religious household, as a teenager he went through a typically sullen period where he vaguely acknowledged his Christian roots but didn't really take them seriously. It was also the age where he was most likely to discover and embrace Heavy Metal music.

"It was basically just a response to living in the suburbs, the world around me," he says. "The aggression, the vibe of Metal and Hardcore addresses a lot of the issues that young people deal with, the feeling that you're an outcast. It was more about having a sense of identity than anything."

And when he came of age and became re-acquainted with his faith?

"I've always been pretty comfortable listening to music regardless of what face is entailed," he says. "That's not something I've been conflicted with." However, he later admits, "I like Dimmu Borgir, but find them hard to listen to sometimes."

In fact, the song "Fiction Kingdom" on Storm the Gates of Hell is a direct assault on the Black Metal genre and the other songs on the album reflect Clark's rumination on a fallen world.

"It's about the state of humanity in general," Clark says. "What's happened to people in this country in the last 20 years. The Hollywood-ization of peoples' lives, the dumbing down, the increasing importance put on cosmetic things."

All that being said, unlike the core base of the Republican party, Clark doesn't believe that we are living in the End Times.

"There've been some crazy things in the past, like World War II, where it was easy for people to think it might've been (the end of the world)," Clark says. "I don't think natural disasters reflect anything. I think it's more of a personal affliction with people and how they operate. Everyone is born of sin and some strive against it while others get comfortable with it. But I'd have to say, (the apocalypse is not around the corner), though I can't say for sure. The Bible says no one will know." ©

DEMON HUNTER plays Bogart's Thursday. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.



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