Mercyless – The Mother of All Plagues Review

Few death metal bands had as stark a rise and fall as Mercyless did in the 90s. Coming off 1993s excellent Coloured Funeral, an all time great death platter,1 they made an ill-advised grab at mainstream acceptance on utterly disastrous followup C.O.L.D.  So bad was the album that legions of fans promptly decamped, myself among them, leaving the band to slowly rot. I was long gone by the time they further embarrassed themselves on the ass-tastic nu metal followup Sure to Be Pure, as were most discerning metal folk. 13 years went by without another studio release, giving the band plenty of time to think about what they did wrong. Their Unholy Black Splendor comeback was a decent return to their death roots, but it was 2016s Pathetic Divinity that made me take notice and give them the rare Second Chance ov Steel. While the album definitely impressed me, it left a bigger impression on Al Kikuras who awarded it a fat, greasy 4.0. That brings us to the appropriately titled The Mother of All Plagues. Can the band keep their second stage career renaissance blossoming or does self immolation forever stalk their steps? With apprehension hanging in the air, off we go.

After an intro rife with pseudo-religious faux-Satanic mumbo jumbo, Mercyless roar into the pandemic age with “Rival of the Nazarene.” It’s fast and aggressive, channeling anger and angst in a tightly written 4 minute burst. I don’t love that they’re still doing the whole Satan vs Jesus thing, as that’s gotten to feel very dated in death metal, but I can’t argue with the song itself which packs ample punch. “Banished From Heaven” reminds me of a jacked up version of Obituary, with Max Otero bringing some of John Tardy’s infamous vocal excesses to the mix. The band has always excelled at moody, poignant solos and they drop a great one here full of forlorn emotion. Cuts like “Bring Me His Head,” “Laqueum Diaboli,” and the title track bear a lot of Morbid Angel and Deicide influences in the riffing and structures and the reek of 90s death metal hangs thick in the air. The title track is the album standout, utilizing a sense of building chaos that explodes at the chorus as tasty, propulsive riffs scrape your brain. Despite its moments of intensity, the song feels oddly restrained, which is something that can be said of the album as a whole. Where it mostly works here, it doesn’t work as well elsewhere.

The fact that the album is rooted in the 90s death metal scene isn’t a bad thing. After being burned multiple times by genre hopping, Mercyless is wise to stick to what they do best, and the material is largely limited to familiar takes on the 90s style. Nostalgia points aside, not all the songs grab me and demand replays. “Inherit the Kingdom of Horus” adopts a grinding mid-pace with a slightly doomy edge and though it’s not bad, it doesn’t stick with me. Penultimate cut “All Souls Are Mine” incorporates a vaguely blackened vibe and some very light prog touches yet still feels generic to me somehow, and the chants of “SATAN” trigger more eye rolls than goosebumps. Closer “Litany of Supplication” also fails to win me over, adopting a doomy, extra moody atmosphere with more Satan-themed silliness. It isn’t bad, it just feels like something Deicide would have written and discarded in 95.  Another issue is that several songs just fade out, sometimes abruptly. It’s jarring and feels like the band was short on ideas for how to wrap things up.

At 35 minutes this is a tightly written album. The songs are all concise and none crack the 5 minute mark. This is a talented group and guitarists Max Otero and Gautier Merklen have chops for days. The riffs are generally solid and the solo-work is out of this world – melodic, passionate and dripping with emotion. I also appreciate the guitar tone which is just raw and nasty enough for deathly oppression. Otero has an effective death roar that sits someplace between David Vincent and John Tardy, sounding powerful and at times nasty. Yann Tligui’s bass is a very present, rumbling and bubbling away and adding cool fills here and there. If the writing was just a bit more consistent and urgent, this would be on par with Pathetic Divinity.

The Mother of All Plagues is a competent, enjoyable death metal platter, but it lacks that next level of intensity I crave. At times it feels too restrained and like Kronos at a Jørn concert, I’m left wanting MOAR brutality. Over the decades Mercyless has taught me not to rely on them for consistent output, and they’ve reaffirmed that lesson here though without the extreme quality plunge. Death heads will find things to like even if there’s nothing especially earth shaking present. In a nutshell, you could do a lot worse in your death metal mongering.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: XenoKorp
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: August 21st, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. Seriously, go check this album out immediately or sooner. It’s a true classic and doesn’t get nearly the amount of love it deserves.
« »