Mercenary, "The Hours That Remain"
The recent news that bassist/vocalist Kral split from Mercenary is not at all the positive hype a band would hope to build with a new album and prospective tours upcoming. Though the liner notes of the band’s albums do not indicate any specific member as the main songwriter, Kral’s arrival coincided with Mercenary’s shift from a simple melodic death metal band to a progressive powerhouse; ergo, while Mercenary’s last two records have both been exemplary, there were some doubts regarding ‘The Hours That Remain.’
Oh, ye of little faith. Though Kral’s mid-ranged roars (so integral to the highly-lauded ’11 Dreams’ of last year) are missing, Mikkel Sandager’s smooth singing voice and masterful falsetto have responded wonderfully to the pressure. That, and Mercenary’s use of vocal layering roughly equate to fill the gap left by Kral, so his absence is not a glaring one. Line-up changes aside, the concerns about Mercenary’s songwriting ability are immediately laid to rest by the opener, ‘Redefine Me’, which is easily one of the year’s best songs. Its core melodies are infectious to the extreme, its chorus anthematic, and most importantly, it sounds utterly sincere. Though the song breaches the six minute mark, its tight delivery is focused and energetic. Far from being just a ‘hit single’ album, though, the remainder of ‘The Hours That Remain’ also is highly satisfactory, playing mature counterpoint to the pulse-quickening appeal of its opener.
If there is any real change in Mercenary’s sound since ’11 Dreams’, it is that the songs tend to be less progressive this time around, focusing more heavily on evocative keyboards and straight-up heavy metal riffs. Too, the ‘death metal’ portion of Mercenary’s genre tag is becoming more and more obsolete as time passes. Though harsh vocals, both growled and screamed, do make appearances fairly frequently, Sandager’s clean vocals progress most every track quite competently.
For all their creative ability, Mercenary’s tendencies towards ABAB song structures and couplet phrasing in the vocal lines become highly apparent after four or five songs. Essentially, their style is Gothenburg’s infectious melody conventions put to modern, almost American guitar riffs, sometimes interspersing breakdowns for effect, tastefully and in moderation. It is the virtuosic vocals from both the death and traditional fields and their natural songwriting skills are what truly set the band apart, making their reliance upon convention a non-factor and their originality more immediately engaging.
‘The Hours That Remain’ establishes Mercenary as one of Denmark’s elite. Those who somehow missed the waves made by last year’s exceptional ’11 Dreams’ can idle and ignore no longer—the highly listenable, instantly familiar songwriting skills and broad appeal will surely propel them to the top of their field.