Track By Track: Demon Hunter, “True Defiance”
DEMON HUNTER vocalist Ryan Clark takes us track by track through the band's new album, True Defiance.
I had the idea for this song long before I wrote it. We knew we really wanted to start this album with a ripper, much like we did with the title track on Storm The Gates Of Hell. I'll have to admit we definitely took a cue from Pantera on how to open a record. This song was really fun to write because the idea was to keep it as relentless as possible, but still musical. The guitar harmonies on the verses are some of my favorite riffs on the record. I think this song displays a perfect blend of classic thrash and European influences... a lot of speed and a little groove.
For the intro, we wanted to do something that sounded like an old cassette recording. There are a lot of elements and themes on this record that point back to the old-school, DIY approach to doing things as a band, and this was an idea that further drove that concept. We set up together in the live room of the studio and just played the song, recording through a single room mic. We also recorded the performance onto an old cassette, but interestingly enough, the room mic sounded just as junky.
This was the last heavy song I wrote for the record, and it's very possibly my favorite. As fate would have it, the songs I write towards the end of a writing session tend to be my favorites... which always makes me think, "What if I just kept writing? Would they get even better?" We may never know.
The chorus is actually comprised of two chorus melodies I was trying to decide between. In the end, it sounded great to combine the two. I really like how the keys bring out the lead guitar melody in the chorus as well--which was our producer Aaron Sprinkle's idea. You can hear Patrick's handiwork in all of the lead guitars. I especially like the creepy guitar line that comes in over the outro and finishes the song... probably because it reminds me of a Slayer lead.
This song features the only tempo change on the record--at the very end of the song. When I finished writing the song I kept hearing this tempo drop in my head, so I just had to add it. I think it adds a really unexpected dynamic to the song.
This is one of the only Demon Hunter songs that is heavy and aggressive pretty much all the way through, but tells a really uplifting story. I call it a "heritage" piece, because it's about growing up in the suburbs, spending most of my time skateboarding with friends, getting into trouble, not knowing what I wanted to do with my life... and the moment that I found music, and everything changed. I remember going to my first live show and just being enthralled by it all. That's what the song refers to when it says "but the fear, the blood, the sweat and sound." It was the passion and the honesty of it that drew me in. Ever since I was 15, I knew that I'd be doing music for the rest of my life.
My favorite part of this song is probably something that would go unnoticed by most people. In the first chorus, the drums are playing the beat straight... just riding on the crash cymbals. In the second chorus, Yogi starts to throw in these tom accents every other measure... and in the final chorus, every measure is filled with this killer tom pattern. I just love how it gradually builds up to that point.
One thing I noticed about this song after the fact is the absolutely unyielding use of double-kick. I think the only time it's not being steadily used is in the verses, where the snare takes the place of every other kick, and the breakdown section before the guitar solo. Now that's metal.
I wanted to do a couple songs on the record that were heavy, but had singing throughout the verses. I think it's cool to play within the blueprint we've created--sometimes (in subtle ways) doing the opposite of what we're used to doing. Things like this also help keep the album interesting. The intro vocal was something I heard in my head after we'd finished recording the song. I thought it might be cool to start the song with vocals, which is a pretty rare thing for us.
The opening riff is also a little different for DH, but I think it fits nicely in context. I think it's one of the more "brutal" (for lack of a better term) riffs on the record.
I think "Wake" has possibly the most technical and impressive drum performance on the record.
"Tomorrow Never Comes"
This is stereotypically the point in a Demon Hunter record where things will chill out a bit. I like albums with peaks and valleys. I get bored with records that sit in a singular dynamic from start to finish, which is why we've always incorporated songs like this on our records. It allows us to explore an entirely different set of emotions and a varying musical style at the same time. There's still a dark, heavy quality to it, but it comes as a welcome calm from the preceding brutality.
I love the opening lead that Patrick wrote. It's got that epic 80s hair metal vibe without being too obnoxious. Every time I hear it, I picture Patrick playing it standing on top of a grand piano with a giant fan blowing his hair back. I absolutely love the guitar solo in the bridge of this song as well.
I have to admit I like to play with words that sound like they're saying something but actually mean another, which is definitely the case with the chorus on this song. "If tomorrow never comes for all the cold and bitter ones, we can breathe." At first glimpse, it seem like I'm saying "if the cold and bitter people would just die, we could breathe easy," but what I'm actually referring to is someone whose life is in a downward spiral--and the hope that whatever ill fate dwells around the corner, never comes for them.
"Someone To Hate"
I like to think of this song as track one on side B of the album. It's a ferocious return to brutality after the album's first softer song.
The working title for the demo of this song was shamelessly titled, "Slay" for fairly obvious reasons. I think it's probably the "thrashiest" song on the record, next to "Crucifix."
The first thing I wrote was the opening guitar lead and it was just begging for a rhythmic gallop over the top. The picking for that lead was actually 1/4 the speed on the original demo and Patrick suggested we speed it up like a black metal lead, which was a great idea. The same is true for bending note in the pre-chorus. It was originally one strum, bent in time. Aside from the amazing solos, this is where Patrick really shines--he takes my basic ideas and makes them much cooler. Every occurrence of a pinch harmonic (which you can hear in this song) is also his personal input. I leave most of these details to him as he's ten times the guitar player I am. I love pinch harmonics, especially when used tastefully. Good pinch harmonics always remind me of Prong, which is a good thing.
"This I Know"
This song probably made the biggest leap from satisfactory to outstanding while we were in the studio.
The keys that Aaron added to the chorus are probably my favorite post-production addition on the whole record. They just bring out that part so much. Another element I like about this chorus is that you only hear half of it the first time through. The full chorus doesn't come out until the second chorus section. I think this just happened naturally with the way the song was structured (before I started to write the vocals), but I really dig that detail. It's something that I've noticed Scar Symmetry do on occasion, and I'm always stoked to hear what seems like an additional chorus.
The opening riff on this song is a great representation of the guitar tone we were aiming for on this record. We wanted something that was distorted and had a lot of attack, but had a certain amount of clarity and roundness to it as well. There's definitely a fine line between too distorted/dirty and too clean. I'm really proud of all the tones we achieved on this record.
"Means To An End"
This was a late addition to the record. Patrick and I sat down in the studio with a couple of acoustic guitars and no real expectations, and next thing we knew, we had this beautiful instrumental piece that we had to find a place for on the record.
I've always appreciated a good stripped-down instrumental track on a metal record. Some of my favorite records have tracks like this--At The Gates' Slaughter Of The Soul, Sepultura's Chaos AD, Metallica's ...And Justice For All and quite a few others.
Listening back to it after we'd finished, I feel like it almost has a Kill Bill vibe to it... like a creepy old western. Somehow I think it fits the vibe and flow of the record really well.
When we were writing the song, the guitars were in standard tuning. We wanted this song to bleed into whatever came next... almost as if it were the intro to the following song. We realized that the only song on the record that started with an E chord (the root note in this song) was "We Don't Care." So essentially, we kept the song in the key of E as a way to line it up with the next song. In short, the song itself is actually the means to an end.
"We Don't Care"
The opening riff for this song is one of my all-time favorites for DH. It's almost equal parts metal, hardcore and hard rock. This song as a whole is one of the simpler structures on the record, but I think that's where it shines. Sometimes it's best not to overthink or overdo certain songs... in many cases it seems the simpler songs tend to be the strongest--much the way "LifeWar" was on our last record.
I've always liked the idea of one word choruses. Although this song has some additional screaming vocals in the chorus, it's really based on that one word--resistance. Also in this chorus is the only use of the word "defiance" throughout the record--tying it in with the album title.
One of my favorite parts on this song is the guitar solo. I like how unruly it gets towards the end--it's like the whole thing comes unraveled... the way some of Kerry King's solos do--not overtly musical, but more chaotic. I think it shows a lot of diversity in Patrick's influences.
Sometimes I wish this song were closer to the middle of the record and not hidden so far in the back. It's very quickly becoming one of my personal favorite DH tunes. But on the other hand, I feel like it's the perfect closing track... so it's a catch 22. Either way, I'm glad it made the record. It was the last song that I wrote--about a week before we entered the studio.
This is another instance of using verbiage that seems to convey one thing but means something deeper. In this case, there are quite a few double-meanings within the chorus, which I think packs the song full of life. Dead flowers both symbolize and commemorate a deceased loved one. The water that once kept them alive is now being begged for as a flood of cleansing--like tears from the Heavens. And the sun that nurtured the life of the flowers is also used in reference to the son of God, offering eternal life.
The addition of the harpsichord to the intro and verses was another Aaron Sprinkle idea. I originally had that melody mapped out with guitar, and it's still in there, but lower in the mix to allow the harpsichord to shine. The outro was also Aaron's idea, and is not only one of my favorite parts in any song, but the perfect ending to the record. alt