Mercenary
11 Dreams

Denmark’s Mercenary took a sucker punch at me a couple of years ago, with their Everblack album. The mix of two completely different genres, (dare I say, melodic) death metal and power metal, showed that it isn’t impossible to marry the two together if it’s done with the needed boldness and disregard for naysayer opinions: it just works. Indeed, the band has more in common with acts like At The Gates, Nevermore and Angel Dust than with Tobias Sammet’s various endeavors or Luca Turilli’s stories about trolls and dragons. And while Everblack wasn’t an album worthy enough to be raised to the status of an instant classic, it showed a lot of promise and it intrigued me endlessly.

So two years later, the band still continues in the path which they stepped on with the previous album, but it seems that they’ve finally gotten around polishing the songs from everything that shouldn’t be there. Things seem well thought out and while there’s plenty of stuff going on every second, nothing seems to be in the wrong place. The main problem I had with Everblack was the length of it all. While the 50 plus minutes is quite standard for such releases, some of the songs just couldn’t carry the whole (average) 5-6 minutes allocated to them, despite the nice blend of melodic and aggressive elements. It just became slightly repetitive after a while. However, this is not the case with 11 Dreams, which is almost odd as the songs are even longer by a couple of minutes, as the total time goes a little over an hour. This clearly proves the point that the band has been able to learn from the past and inject the songs more life, more space to breathe, thus making it all roll on more fluently. The songs are also better organized in proportion to one another, so you get the hards and softs in the proper order; never thinking “when is this going to end?”. Production wise, this is grade A material. Crystal clear, yet heavy and with an edge; I would expect nothing less.

The vocals have improved quite a bit from the last time as they’ve been balanced more to work better with the different styles. While there’s more clean singing from Mikkel Sandager’s behalf, bass player Henrik Kral Andersen’s part with the growls and screams hasn’t lost any of its relevance. The vocal harmonies are extremely satisfying and executed without any contradicting style-errors. There’s variety, there’s emotion and there are moments where singing along is more than encouraged. A good example of the diversity is the song “Sharpen the Edges” which’s acoustic passages could be from Nevermore’s repertoire – both musically and vocally (just can’t seem to avoid comparing the two, even though they don’t exactly battle against each other), while the choruses feature the band singing a choir and the end gives some time for Kral to shout his lines in more rawer fashion.

Needless to say, the rest of the crew also impresses the heck out of me. Mike Park on drums uses the whole arsenal, rather than just settling down with hitting basic beats. Maturity shows from the adequate fills and pleasantly rich cymbal. And I’m sure the double bass fanatics get their money’s worth as well. Morten Sandager’s keyboards work as a backbone for the music, but luckily there is none of the needless wankery to be heard. Instead of forcing himself to the spotlight when unwanted, he helps to add depth to the songs from the background, tastefully adding depth and substance to the soundscape. As for Jakob Molbjerg’s and Martin Buss’ guitar work… there isn’t much to criticize either. Whether it’s the soaring solos, rhythmic thrashings or melodic dueling – it just works like a brand new bullet train on a sunny day. The vigorous team work can be witnessed through out the album, but I’ve come to adore the first three tracks: “Into The Sea of Dark Desires” (which works as an intro), “World Hate Center” and “11 Dreams”. Especially the title track, which delivers a good example of the magic happenings. From a catchy chorus, it goes to a nicely paced guitar solo, after which the guitars give room for Sandager to hit some beautiful notes on his piano. One becomes so involved with the music that you just let yourself go and allow all the different parts transform into a seamless entity.

The only major complaint I’ve got with this album, is the eighth track, “Music Non Stop”, which is a cover version of Kent’s song (of the same name.) Now, I wouldn’t be so hard with it if it had been at the end, but it breaks the momentum that has, up until that point, been quite flawless. It’s completely carved from another piece of wood. Sure, the lyrics are a direct continuation to the overall theme of the album, but why not make the music continue the legacy as well, rather than make it look like a commercial break? Nevermore did this successfully with Paul Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” on Dead Heart in a Dead World album: why take the easy way out by just adding some distortion, rather than actually play around with it and forge out something that sounds like you? Meh.

11 Dreams meets and goes beyond the expectations I set for the band after 2002’s Everblack. It’s hard to predict what the follow up will be like, and perhaps I don’t even want to know if it fails to reach the ridiculously high goals I’ve now set for it in my head. But even if everything fails in the future, at least the band has produced an album to which one can fall back to and admire its greatness similar to the perverted monolith seen in Kubrick’s Space Odyssey 2001… without further unnecessary rhetorics: metal at its finest – worth everyone’s attention. Get it!

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Mikko K.
December 21st, 2004

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