Demon Hunter

The Triptych

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Because it embodies a particularly thorny contradiction -- pairing one of rock's most consciously rebellious genres with an institution fundamentally based on blind-faith obedience -- Christian metal has enjoyed startlingly infrequent success stories over the years. So infrequent, in fact, that an '80s group as lame as Stryper is still perceived as the defining Christian metal band (Creed don't count since they vehemently refuted any Christian ties, even while being shamelessly marketed to that market), nearly twenty years after their demise. Of course there's been no shortage of candidates vying for that dubious honor in the interim, and among the hopefuls to emerge in the early 2000s, arguably only Underoath have shown greater commercial appeal than the aptly named Demon Hunter. 2006's The Triptych is the Seattle natives' third opus, and it finds them investigating alternate styles of metallic expression with a sense of freedom they'd surely never dare question their religious beliefs with. This creative questing yields a few negative results when the likes of "Relentless Intolerance" and "Fire to My Soul" insist on abusing fairly outdated nu-metal devices (rapped vocals, rhythmic, bottom-heavy riffing, dissonant squalls, etc.); but the positive dividends far outweigh them thanks to tracks like "Not I," "Undying" and "The Soldier's Song," which deal in much more relevant melodic metalcore tricks (big choruses, big breakdowns, big melodies, and alternating clean and growled vocals). Even risky reaches into softer realms such as "Deteriorate" (an Incubus-like number mixing discreet electronics with harsh shades of light and heavy) and "The Tide Began to Rise" (a surprising ballad built on acoustic guitars, strings and piano) are rather confidently executed; and you've got to hand it to them for a well chosen, rather surprising cover of Prong's "Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck." It's also a matter of no small consequence that Demon Hunter choose their lyrics wisely throughout this set, keeping them more elliptical and metaphoric than most Christian metal bands, and greatly broadening their appeal as a result (even if it pisses off a few Christian zealots). And, ultimately, even if The Triptych's audacious diversity still rubs some close-minded listeners the wrong way, it probably bodes well for the band's future capacity to navigate heavy metal's ever-changing trends. [Apparently, fear of God didn't preclude Demon Hunter or their record label from fearing additional profits, and The Triptych was reissued barely one year after its original release with four bonus tracks (three acoustic versions and one remix), and a DVD containing music videos, bandmember interviews, a complete concert, and behind-the-scenes footage.]

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