Mercenary // Through Our Darkest Days
Rating: 3.5/5.0 — Out of the darkness and into the right (direction)
Label: NoiseArt Records
Websites: mercenary.dk | mercenary-official.bandcamp.com
Release Dates: EU: 2013.07.26 | NA: 07.30.2013
Mercenary is a band that’s given me fits over their career. I was very much taken with their fusion of melodic death, power-prog and metalcore on early albums like Everblack and especially The Hours That Remain. Architect of Lies lost some of the charm the older stuff had and didn’t hit me as hard, but it was still decent. However, things really fell apart on their 2011 Metamorphosis release which came across like a generic mix of emo/screamo metalcore and pop. I wrote it off to the massive line up changes the band was weathering at the time and there were a few decent tunes that gave hope they could regain their footing on subsequent releases.
Despite this half-hearted optimism, the eternal Law of Dimishing Returns [Ahem. That’s Angry Metal Guy’s Law of Diminishing Recordings™ — AMG] suggested their best days were behind them and I wouldn’t find much to praise on their new album. Apparently these once great Danes anticipated such attitudes and instead of crawling further down the metalcore rabbit hole, they took stock of what worked for them, tweaked their sound and found a happy medium between the infectious early albums and their more modern style. Through Our Darkest Days sees them make a partial return to the kind of melodic, catchy song writing that graced The Hours That Remain and the metalcore-ish tendencies are tempered by a good deal of big choruses, keyboard noodling, proggy touches and influences from Darkane, Dark Tranquillity, Nine Inch Nails, Machine Head and Killswitch Engage. While it doesn’t fully recapture their glory days, this is a massive improvement over Metamorphosis and has a goody amount of slick, enjoyable songs which successfully walk the delicate line between the old and nü.
Through Our Darkest Days follows the very simple and well-worn pattern of harsh riffs and vox until the super poppy, hooky chorus arrives. There are loads of big, crunching and mechanical riffs and a lot of the time they sound like Darkane mixed with Machine Head. While that isn’t usually my cup of tea, the writing is so effective and the choruses are so damn hook-tastic, I can’t help but go along. Songs like “A New Dawn” feel light and buoyant, despite the on and off harsh vox and when the chorus arrives, it’s an ear worm bomb. The rest to the album flows right along in the same mind share and “Welcome to Sickness”, “Dreamstate Machine”, “Starving Eyes” and the title track all throw huge hooks at you.
Some songs are way more edgy and aggressive than others and when they dial-up the punch in the riffs, they make sure to also dial-up the melodic touches come chorus time. There aretraces of Dark Tranquillity‘s cold, remote vibe and NIN‘s weird electronica on “Beyond This Night” and they even throw in black metal symphonics and blasts during “Generation Hate.” They use the keys to add a touch of extra melody and prog sensibility, but they’re generally understated and not as out in front as on the old albums.
None of the songs sound like filler and the album has a high level of consistency, though “Generation Hate” is a bit cheesy and “Forever the Unknown” runs on a bit too long. The biggest issue with the writing is that it feels so tightly confined to the specific template and overly formulaic. They give you ten songs in the same style and though each has merit, it does feel a bit forced at times.
Being that this features almost the same line up as Metamorphosis (Peter Michael Mathiesen joins as the new drummer), it offers ample evidence of just how far the band chemistry and song writing has improved. Every aspect of their style sounds more mature, thought out and complete. Jacob Molbjerg and Martin Buus Penderson don’t try to reinvent the wheel with their riffing and a lot of their leads have been heard many times before, but they amplify those with some interesting ideas and nice solos and the end result works well enough. The vocals by Rene Pedersen are much improved and while I don’t care for his screamo style, he mixes it with enough death roars to make it tolerable. His clean singing however, is very good and he shines on every chorus. He has a great tone to his cleans and really makes the transitions pop while causing their sound to lean toward power-prog like the old material did.
I was really disappointed with their last outing so it’s an extra nice surprise to see Mercenary finding their strengths again. While I take issue with them being dubbed “the Danish Killswitch Engage” by some wonks, I can’t deny the metalcore elements in their sound, but when they fire on all cylinders as they do here, I don’t care about that like I usually do. If you liked their old stuff, you may want to give this a spin. It’s a big slice of hook pie, core or no core.