Every so often a Metal band comes along with a CD that could possibly change the direction and level of quality in the genre. With the release of “11 Dreams” on Century Media Records; Mercenary has proved themselves to be one such band. As you listen to this piece you will find yourself surrounded by a wide variety of textures and feels. Is it Black? Is it Progressive? Is it Traditional? To be honest there is a fine mix of all these aspects of the Metal genre which makes it very difficult to define under one label or criteria. After a brooding keyboard intro the game is on with “World Hate Center” which thunders in guitar and drumming and even in one’s living room or desk at the office you will find the fist raised in Metal support. Taking a page from the Soilwork book the guys in Mercenary use two vocal styles to some positive effect. Most of the piece is growled through by bassist Kral yet the clean and powerful voice of Mikkel Sandager take you through the darkness. At times Mikkel reminded me of Midnight from Crimson Glory with his pure and passionate vocal lines.
There are a lot of strong musical expressions on the CD and I admit that my very favorite tracks comprised the earliest section of the record. “11 Dreams” and “Firesoul” are excellent and in each of them the band performs admirably. These guys are a talented bunch and it’s clear from this album. After this offering I feel that we are only seeing the start of what the group is capable of. It’s the kind of band that fans of Soilwork might really enjoy because it is very in your face like they are yet they also venture off into different musical feels that one does not always find in a Heavy Metal band. The use of keyboard is impressive and the appearance of them on top of the big harmonies the band introduces in choruses brings a lot of these songs to life very well. Keyboards are delivered with finesse by Mikkels Brother Morten. There are a couple of epic numbers running at 7 and 8 minutes each and the band does not get boring in them by any stretch of the imagination. One sometimes dreads the extended artistic expression for it can lose something by being too long. Time seems to fly by in the case of Mercenary.
The bonus tracks are different renditions of the song “11 Dreams”. I felt that the radio mix is pointless since radio people get their specific copy of the release but the 3-D mix is unique. I suggest you wear headphones for this one as the effect with the recording aspects is very interesting. This truly has to be one of the best Metal releases in 2005, and given it came to us in February this was not an easy judgment call to make. It has my highest of recommendations and I think many will be on the same page with me very early in their listen.
If you wanted to place this one into a category for descriptive purposes, you'd find that it's not so easy. On their new release "11 Dreams", Mercenary plays like a jack of all trades with elements of practically all the metal styles you can find--power, progressive, black, etc. I like a lot of bands that ride the edge of genres (Childen Of Bodom, Biomechanical) innovating the metal landscape where others are content to be second rate recycling the same old sounds and songs like inbred families that grow uglier each generation.
Powered by the clean vocals of Mikkel Sandager and the extreme-ish vocals of Kral, who really isn't too harsh for those with a picky taste in vocalists, "11 Dreams" is a killer record with a dark edge that is consistent throughout. After an dramatic keyboard instrumental, "World Hate Center" powers forth as one of the heavier numbers with rapid drums and a generous blend of post-modern black metal vocals. The title track then sets the tone for the mixture of tasty confections that follow.
Mikkel is simply phenomenal with the mid-range, full bodied confidence of Zak Stevens (Circle II Circle, Savatage) and the power of Manowar's ace vocalist. He's one of the strongest vocalists I've heard in years and when you hear him hit the notes in "Firesoul" or the light "Times Without Changes" you'll be as convinced.
There's a lot less going in here musically than you think though, but Mercenary and the excellently layered production envelopes you in a wash of sound that takes many, many listens to be able to pull out and concentrate on some of the simpler guitar riffs and patterns. A few of the numbers feel a bit stretched ("Loneliness"), but there's the capability to splice them up (blasphemy!) for single-play with the excellent vocal deliveries and harmonies.
If you like simple, classic riff-metal or party anthems then this may not be to your liking, but if you get into hybrid crosses with disparate elements that speak to the discerning listener, then give this one a chance and see if you also think they are not masters of none, but masters of all.
Occasionally I run across that one individual album that really goes beyond music, beyond words and melody into a whole new mental landscape, a record that runs through a deeper thought pattern than all of the rest. At times it is refreshing and invigorating to simply step away from the music itself and embrace a higher level of creativity, to go within the music and experience the aura and mystique of the metal genre. With these rare releases one can experience a whole new vision of metal's shadowy cinema, those dark and dreary moments when all things dead of night become real and evident through musical art. One can experience just such an occasion with Mercenary's newest release "11 Dreams".
With this chapter, Mercenary begins a brand new journey that will take them full course through metal's various sub-genres. I remember buying Mercenary's debut album in 1998 and completely becoming absorbed in the band's refreshing salute to traditional metal while taking a huge step further in the death metal circle. With "First Breath" the band began their career deeply trenched in the powerful movement of Swedish melodic death metal. Finely tuned chapters of In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, and At The Gates could be found within the group's first effort. I was a believer then, but had no idea the band could take their creativity this far.
With the band's sophomore release, "Everblack", the musical approach took a huge stride in the right direction. With the addition of clean vocalist Mikkel Sandager and his brother Morten on keyboards, "Everblack" saw a rich environment filled with melodic strategy and modern aggression. The group kept the same signature as before but went one step further to incorporate a bit more depth to their sound, something that other bands in the genre were experimenting with also.
With new drummer Mike Park and lead guitarist Martin Buus on board, the band have hit the studio with famed producer Jacob Hansen (Ancient, Raunchy) to create their biggest album to date, a diverse tapestry of darkest delights. With "11 Dreams", Mercenary go well beyond the genre's limited space, establishing a whole new level of musical creativity. Breaking the chains of traditional melodic death metal, Mercenary stay within the guidelines of progressive power metal by adding in well placed keyboards and traditional guitars. But don't think for a second that this is a power metal record. It goes beyond that as well, beyond both death and power-prog to a whole new course. The band have really created something extraordinary and new within heavy metal, an epic vision of aggression and melody crossing through both power and prog.
At times the album seems to feed off of the new power metal stable we have, with many distinct references to Evergrey, Circle II Circle, and Nevermore. I can hear moments of Soilwork, In Flames, and Dark Tranquillity within this realm as well, really bringing into focus the group's earlier work on "First Breath". Clean singer Mikkel Sandager really meshes well with extreme vocalist Kral with both of them seeing a lot of action this go around. New leadman Martin Buus delves deep into his soul to offer up some extremely tight riffs and I really like what Morten Sandager has done with the keys and piano, really creating a solid backdrop for all of this musical talent to come together.
From the murky depths of "Firesoul" and "Falling" to the emotional title track, Mercenary craft a midnight world of all things dusky and sinister. With "Sharpen The Edges" the band explore the "dead heart" of Nevermore and Morgana Lefay, with plenty of clean vocals and Crimson Glory styled story telling. Evergrey's somber progressive elements come into play with "World Hate Center", an excellent opening cut that really sums up the mood and vibe of the album with one fell swoop. "reDestructDead" bursts through with a strong ability to run with the likes of Soilwork and In Flames. Other notable cuts are "Supremacy v2.0", with its strong Hypocrisy feel and "Music Non Stop", an interesting experimental rock track.
Never before has metal's darkest hour burned so brightly. Beyond the gritty underworld of Mercenary lies a sincere passion for beauty through pain. With "11 Dreams" the very essence of dark romanticism is brought to life through a stirring, emotional trek of musical experimentation. "11 Dreams" is a quite an achievement, and one that will bring more and more listeners into this nightmare world of haunting dreams and captivating sounds.