Mercenary has gone through many changes over the years, but 2009 must have been the most drastic change to date. Creative differences lead to three members leaving the band. Though this seems like a big blow for any band to take, it took Mercenary a mere three weeks to establish a new line-up. Expectations were high for 2011’s Metamorphosis, but it seemed that the band’s creative power left together with half of its members in 2009. It wasn’t a bad album throughout, but it definitely did not live up to Mercenary’s lofty standards. Do Mercenary manage to regain their former glory with their latest release, entitled Through Our Darkest Days? I’m very happy to report that the answer is a very clear and resounding ‘yes’.
Through Our Darkest Days has everything I’ve come to expect from a Mercenary release. Firstly, the songwriting is solid as a rock throughout. There is not a single weak song on the entire album. Every song has powerful melody lines and hooks, and it all fits together perfectly. The production is absolutely stellar as well. This album sounds big, real big. Every instrument has been handled with great care and precision, and the overall sound is huge and multi-layered. The only downside to this is that the different parts tend to drown eachother out when things get hectic. Because of this, it’s hard to imagine that beneath the layers upon layers of vocal and instrumental overdubs, there are real musicians pouring their hearts and souls into the music. It’s a shame, because there’s serious talent here. When Mikkel Sandager decided to bless Mercenary with his departure, René Pedersen valiantly stepped up to the plate and took over lead vocal duties. He already showed himself a far more capable vocalist than Mikkel on Metamorphosis but he really knocks it out of the park on this one. René is an incredibly versatile vocalist. He does everything from deep growls, to powerful screams and everything inbetween. This man may very well be one of the most underrated vocalists in metal today.
Speaking of underrated musicians; lead guitarist Martin Buus really blossoms on this album. He pulls off one amazing solo after another. This isn’t the standard fretboard masturbation so prevalent in heavy metal. Martin knows how to blend melody, shredding and great phrasing into one auditive lovemaking session. No homo.
As great as the album is though, it’s not perfect. The lyrics aren’t all that great. They range from average and somewhat uninspired to downright cheesy. The lyrics on previous albums have been a lot stronger. They really seem a bit lackluster this time around, which is a shame when you compare it to the fantastic songwriting. On that note, while the songwriting is solid, it does feel a little formulaic near the end. It’s very clear that they’ve gone for the tried and true ‘harsh verses, clean chorus’ pattern that every melodic death metal fan knows far too well. Mercenary have absolutely nailed it, but it’s just too safe. It’s too predictable.
I’d love to see Mercenary explore their freedom as a four-piece even more with their next release. While they found a strong formula with this release, it would be nice if they went out of their comfort zone and experimented again. On albums like 11 Dreams and (to a lesser extent) The Hours That Remain, there are some more experimental songs. Fans may remember songs like Sharpen the Edges with its acoustic intro, dark chorus and interesting lyrics. Another fine example is Supremacy 2.0 which starts off with a guitar solo and transitions into a particularly heavy verse, which almost sounds like doom metal.
Overall, Through Our Darkest Days is their strongest release since The Hours That Remain. Despite some minor flaws, it’s clear that the Danish melodeath masters are back and here to stay. Mercenary fans, rejoice!
Here’s the iTunes link for the album if you feel the need to buy it! By all means, support the artist if you like what you read/hear!
Written by: Sander Pastoor – November 4th, 2013