Mercenary, "11 Dreams"
Mercenary popped onto my radar screen when they played the U.S. ProgPower Fest. Glenn Harveston's show is rapidly becoming one of the most respected multi-day metal events in the country - so any band that he books is worth checking out in my book. Thus I bought "Everblack" and thought it was decent, but I never devoted much time to it (so many bands, so few hours). It's been three years since the group's previous release and the vaunted "11 Dreams" is finally in my grubby mitts.
Mercenary play a combo of melodic Swedish death and dark power metal. Comparisons to Dark Tranquillity, Gardenian and Sentenced (the label also notes Nevermore, Soilwork and Devin Townsend) are warranted, and the material is up to snuff with all of those band's catalogs. The vocals are lush and often multi-tracked, and cover almost every style imaginable. Blackened rasps, deathly growls, throaty mid-range roars and vibrato-laden crooning all sit comfortable beside one another (and often on top of each another). The track "Firesoul" is notable for its Painkiller-styled screaming that's even more intense than Halford managed. The band even tosses in female vox to fill all the niches. Clean vocals are sung by Mikkel Sandager, who has a strong sense of melody and far more power than most cats that are trying to do double duty by singing both gruff and clean styles. Mikkel reminds me a bit of Pain of Salvation's Daniel Gildenlow. It's cool that Mercenary brought in a guy to specialize in the style rather than forcing it onto someone who can't pull it off. Vocally, this album is a tour de force.
Musically the riffs tend towards the basic, they're crunchy and laden with power chords. Nuthin' fancy, but effective. The solos are very nice, fleet fingered runs are tempered with soulful bends, and the tone is killer. Keyboards play a critical role, although they're usually set deep into the middle of the mix. There are hints of electronica's beeps and boops, but they keys are used primarily to underscore the melody or create a counter-melody. Like the guitars, the drums and bass play a journeyman role, doing nothing to call attention to themselves, but filling their space well. The production is crisp and clear, and the mix is spot on. Nice work.
The songs range from piano balladry to screaming melodic death (sometimes within a single track). The stars of the show are definitely the band's strong melodies and memorable choruses, which turn up on most every cut at some point. The songs are long, perhaps overly so in a few cases. The title track is a monster and encapsulates what the entire album is all about extremely well. My two major misgivings are that the cover song, "Music Non Stop", is too cutesy and pretty much blows (I don't know the source material, perhaps it blows even worse) and the verse on "reDestructDead" uses the exact same cadence as that on "11 Dreams". This wouldn't have been so annoying had it not immediately followed "11 Dreams" on the CD, but the power and impact of the title track is greatly diminished when the very next cut sounds just like it for the first minute or two. Perhaps this was done on purpose (no lyric sheet for me, so I dunno) - but even so, it doesn't work. Other than that, this CD deserves all the praise that it's been getting. Had I gotten it earlier and had more time to spend with it, "11 Dreams" may have made my 2004 Top 10 list. Needless to say (although I will anyway), the CD is well worth seeking out for melodic death or dark power metalheads. Alotta care and craft went into this record and it's definitely a success on the whole.