Review Summary: Despite some nagging flaws that keep it from true greatness, 11 Dreams is an excellent album with some amazing songs, worthy of your time and money.
Mercenary have remained a relatively unknown band in the melodic metal scene since their inception. Life really began for them in 1998 when they released their debut, aptly titled First Breath. The album was met with relative critical acclaim... at least if you could find a critic who had heard of them. The problem was that, at the time, melodic death metal was coming into its prime, and Mercenary just couldn't rise above to take their place among the bands in the higher echelons of the genre, such as your In Flames and Dark Tranquillity. For their 2002 effort, Everblack, they spiced things up. They hired a clean singer, which had the effect of giving their brand of music a Nevermore-ish flavor, something that fused well with their melodic death metal roots. Once again, that album was met with praise from the critics, or at least the ones who had the opportunity to hear them.
If Mercenary's life began in 1998 with First Breath, then they sure grew up fast, as their 2004 album, 11 Dreams, marked their ascension into adulthood. 11 Dreams is an album filled with a very mature brand of melodic metal. Everything comes together to create the mood that they aim for, be it the relentless pummeling of songs like World Hate Center, or the massive melodies of the title track, or even the slow, sludgy, doom-like vibe of Supremacy V2.0.
Where Mercenary excels most is making their instrumentation always feel like part of a greater cause. This is an album filled with great guitar riffs and awesome drum work, but it never comes off as being excessive, it always serves the song. The solos feel like natural extensions of the songs themselves, rather than something thrown in to fill time or show off.
Songwise, there are a good few highlights on this album. It all starts off with Into the Sea of Dark Desires, a keyboard based instrumental that I think we could have done without. However, that song leads into World Hate Center, a massive low end thrasher that will have you headbanging furiously. After that, they throw us a curveball and give us what I believe to be the best song of the album, the title track 11 Dreams. This song is all about melody. The instruments work together to create a sort of musical landscape, the sonic equivalent of a mountain range. The singer, meanwhile, is singing to you from the top of the highest peak.
Other highlights include Firesoul, a song with a distinctively Maiden-if-they-were-melodeath approach in the guitar work and vocals, and Supremacy V2.0, which is a slow brooding monster that somehow manages to sneak up on you and devour you whole. Music Non Stop is actually a cover, and it's where Mercenary shows they have a bit of a sense of humor, cause it starts off pretty quirky.
The biggest problem with the album is that, while the highlights are extremely strong songs, the others aren't so much. Some of the songs, such as Redestructdead and Falling, just aren't enough to hold your interest, and have you pressing the "Skip Next" button on your CD player, computer, or what have you. The songs have a certain sameness to them that's just too difficult to ignore.
Despite some nagging flaws in some of the songs, 11 Dreams is still a great album worthy of your time. This is music you can truly get lost in, for its magnitude and ambition.