You can define a man by his beard, his politics, his music and his faith. Demon Hunter’s vocalist Ryan Clark is no exception to the rule. He wears his faith on his sleeve and in his lyrics, keeps his politics as far from his music as possible, and pushes himself to write the best music he can and grows an impressive beard.
Unfortunately, only a day before calling his house in Seattle, and much to the dismay of Demon Hunter fans, the man is now without his beard. At its longest it came in at an impressive 13 and a half inches and as Clark says, it was the result of two years continuous growth.
“For me it’s a silly thing. I’m not a fan of beard culture. I’d had facial hair since I was in junior high.”
When he does let it grow, there’s a two year cycle; grow for two years, shave, grow again, he’s a man that grows out the moustache.
“I usually like to grow the moustache out at the same time and not trim it.”
At a length of 13 and a half inches it’s a beard that garnered Clark a lot of attention from a lot of people. He says, sounding a little bit bored by it all, that people would approach him in the streets. And it wasn’t something he ever did for comment or recognition.
“Judging by the comments on Instagram a lot of people are upset about it.”
He hits a common note among bearded men when he says that eating, drinking, and indeed, consuming anything becomes more than irritable. If we don’t agree on the shave we do agree on one point, that if more people had beards they’d understand just what goes into the maintenance.
Demon Hunter are loved and adored by the US military. It’s no secret soldiers have worn patches with the Demon Hunter emblem and as the band have said in a statement: they’re “humbled and honored by the troops that have told us our music has offered them some comfort while overseas.”
Clark sees no place for explicit politics in his music.
“I’m not big into politics and they tend to muck music up when they’re involved. Especially when something is blatantly happening, like in the George Bush era. Records gave an extreme pedestal to people’s point of view and it all became white noise to me.”
To Clark there wasn’t a band that stood out for for their politics. And it’s clear to see how Demon Hunter’s music can cross the ocean and bring comfort to those away from home.
“It’s more interesting to me to talk about the human condition and more existential feelings than politics.”
As he says, the political landscape is ever changing and what you talk about now may no longer be relevant in four years time.
Extremist marks album number seven for Demon Hunter and Clark says for the band, their level of fulfilment and satisfaction is at an all time high. It marks the most excited they’ve been about a record so far, “every band says the same thing but we are really excited about all of our albums and this is that excitement times two.”
It’s a combination of songwriting, dedication and more time and effort than they’ve put into an album before. But the biggest question is whether people should still care and if Demon Hunter have managed to stay relevant.
“On a musical level we don’t follow what’s happening or what the trends are. We make that a priority and we skirt around the edges of the trends, we’ve done it since the beginning.”
Clark describes the overall Demon Hunter sound as more Swedish second wave (alongside the likes of SOiL and In Flames) than anything to come out of America.
“We have a more classic approach and I don’t listen to a lot of the metal that’s out these days.”
There’s no better way to separate yourselves from the pack than destroying the pack itself and Clark says, while he’s got nothing against them, he doesn’t want to sound like Underoath.
“This isn’t a jab at any of those guys but there are those Warped Tour bands that you could put into a blender and they’d come out sounding exactly the same.”
Extremist, on the other hand, is a leap forward from True Defiance, by Clark’s own admission.
“We’ve turned up our musicianship and although we’re not a very technical band in the grand scheme of things it’s more technical for us.”
The album was the first time they’d recorded outside Seattle and instead of feeling as though they had to full the album with heavy songs and plug the gaps with ballads, there was an new approach.
This time the band did what came naturally and the result is more of a balance between the heavy and the melodic leading to an album that plants itself more in the range of mid tempo. It was always in the back of Clark’s head to top the predecessor and he says Extremist has the catchiest choruses, is the most melodic and has the most adventurous song structures they’ve done compared to the other albums.
“We don’t let our beliefs water down what we do.”
They’re fighting words, but he’s a fighting man, and Clark isn’t here to preach to the choir. For him, regardless of where you stand on faith, it’s about how he sees the world. The band’s faith informs their lyrics, it doesn’t dictate them, and for Clark it’s about offering a solution as much as it is about offering a connection.
“There are songs from other bands that see and understand depression and suicide and they pour it out. Either to face their own demons or to make people aware of it. People might listen to that music because they feel the same way or it makes them feel less alone. But we offer a solution that goes beyond that and that solution is based in faith.”
Christian music, says Clark, is split into two camps. The guys that need to say “Jesus or God a certain amount of times to feel like they’re doing it right” or “the guys that run from it.”
Clark says they don’t fit into either and that they can stand up to their contemporaries and inform people when they do.
For Demon Hunter it’s not about making music for Christians but having their faith and their metal coexist in a world where the two can be seen as incompatible.
The coexistence of the two is part of what makes Demon Hunter relevant, interesting, and stand out from the proverbial pack.
It’s clear, from one listen to the album, that the beard, the politics, the music, and the faith have been poured into every second of Extremist and it’s something you have to experience for yourself.
Interview by Sebastian Mackay