Review Summary: An excellent release from a band that doesn't seem to be slowing down.
Mercenary is one of those bands that get very little recognition in the grander scheme of things, but motor along anyways. Though the Danish metal band has only five albums to its name since being formed in 1991, they've been fairly consistent, managing to release an album every two years dating back to 2002. And if Architect of Lies
is anything to go by, Mercenary doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon. Combining elements of power metal and melodic death metal without really sounding like either subgenre, Mercenary brings a straightforward brand of metal to the table; and while purists might scoff at their more modern leanings, fans of the melodic metal will likely enjoy the record.
More or less, Architect of Lies
leaves off where 2006's The Hours That Remain
ended. Most of the songs carry a power metal flair, though not in the traditional Helloween/Gamma Ray mould that has been done to death in Europe. In fact, tracks like Bloodsong and Black and Hallow draw parallel to fellow Danes, Manticora. Differing from the riff driven endeavours of Gamma Ray or the upbeat, keyboard focus in the works of Sonata Arctica, Mercenary's style is a bit more rhythm based. This essentially means that while Architect of Lies
features some excellent musicianship, the group's sound is never so over the top that it's off-putting. That isn't to say that Architect of Lies
completely lacks the shred, as several songs, most notably Isolation (The Loneliness in December) and Public Failure Number One, feature some nice solos. The difference between Mercenary and some of their contemporaries is that the former manages to avoid the virtuosic over the top-ness which plagues so many metal bands. More interesting, however, is the works of keyboardist, Morten Sandager. Aside from brief leads in The Endless Fall and Black and Hallow, the keys stay in the background, playing more of an atmospheric role. In a way it resembles Dark Tranquillity, though more in song structure rather than actual sound. Since Sandager plays a more subtle role in the mix, his performance will take a few listens to properly, appreciate, but when it sinks in it adds a welcome dimension to the music.
The driving force behind Mercenary's sound, however, is the vocals. Performed by Mikkel Sandager (clean) and new bassist, Rene Pederson (harsh), the vocals generally set the tone of the band's compositions. Sandager's efforts, heard most prominently throughout Architect of Lies
, are exceedingly varied; Mikkel transitions fluently from Halford-like shrieks to lower key singing reminiscent to those of Lars Larsen (also of Manticora) and captures the intensity of the moment exceedingly well. On the other side of the spectrum, Pederson, Mercenary's first official bassist since Kral Andersen, handles the growls. Pederson's grunts and growls are standard fare for melodic death metal, but they accent Mikkel's clean vocals superbly, as Bloodsong shows. For what it's worth, but Pederson's delivery puts so called melodeath leaders, Anders Friden and Bjorn Stride to shame.
If Mercenary's previous albums had any inherent flaws, it would be rooted in their length. Though not particularly lengthy – each album, save for Everblack
, is around 60 minutes long – the albums sometimes feel drawn out and overlong. Architect of Lies
is a full ten minutes shorter, a feat accomplished by the general shortening of the album's songs. Whereas both 11 Dreams
and The Hours That Remain
featured several tracks that ran six to eight minutes. Architect of Lies
features only one song over six minutes long, that being Isolation (The Loneliness in December). As result, the record flows a lot better, making for an easier, more exciting listen.
If Architect of Lies
proves anything, it's that Mercenary has more or less mastered their craft. The chugging riffs laid out by guitarists, Jakob Molberg and Martin Buus can get somewhat irksome every now and then, but aside from that, Architect of Lies
is quite a fun listen that gets better with every listen. Whether or not the album will give Mercenary the breakout they deserve is yet to be seen. However, if any band in the Danish scene is poised to make the jump, it's these guys, as their brand of music should appeal to most metal fans. The only question remaining is: where can Mercenary take their sound from here?