Review Summary: Merciless was one of the original death metal bands, drawing the line between Death Metal, and Thrash with their classic debut.
In the subgenre of Death/Thrash, Merciless are a band that has almost no equal. Every aspect of their music pushed the boundaries of both speed and aggression to the very limit of human capabilities. Appearing somewhat late in the Thrash scene, Merciless delivered what could be the most forceful sounding album in the entire genre which was much needed at a time when many thrash metal bands were stagnating, and the still developing death metal genre threatened to surpass Thrash in all aspects. Merciless was very unique in that they were on the borderline right between the two genres, and their style displayed the limits in which aging thrash style could played, as well as the many possibilities that the newer death metal genre could yield. Their 1990 debut, The Awakening can be described as bloodthirsty brutal and unrelenting blackened Death/Thrash, which shows no mercy to the listener whatsoever, their innovative style was similar in many respects to Brazil's Incubus, which could be the only band who could match Merciless savagery.
Without even knowing about the band it is clear as soon as the first track, Pure Hate starts playing, you are in for a truly merciless bashing from start to finish. Never before have I encountered an album that can not only displays extremity in terms of speed, but can also convey the emotion associated with the music, directing the atmosphere of it right at you. The thunderous echoing sound of the chainsaw-like tremolo riffs coupled with the steamrolling drums taps into the very mind, and the beginning track Pure Hate conveys just that, savage hatred for mankind, and the ignorance of mainstream society. The energy builds until finally, an unstoppable wall of violent thrashing death reveals itself, which sets the tone for the entire album.
Merciless at this stage in their development bear huge resemblance to Pleasure To Kill era Kreator, only being played about 5 times faster. From the shrieking vocals to the Kreator like tremelo there are many parallels. Additionally, Bathory and Sodom influence are obvious. That still doesn’t keep this band from being original, as in a way, they improve upon and perfect every their predecessors ever did, with even more effect. The Awakening takes everything that made the Teutonic scene for example, and innovates their style even further. The customary Teutonic tendencies of going all out and never loosing intensity is displayed here, only with a level of intricacy, never becoming sloppy, or amateurish.
Just as with Serpent Temptation, the drumming on this album seems to be what sticks out the most. The Driving and Forceful sound of the drums give The Awaking an awe-inspiring level of intensity; even without any blast-beats. Instead, the rare and unique style known as hyper-snare is used here. While not fast enough to be a blast-beat, it's faster than any conventional thrash beat, and effectively aims for the grey area between the two. The hyper-snare style used here is a more deathly feature for the band, and while still used with thrash structure, displays death metal's intensity. Very few thrash metal bands dared to use this style, and was instead a common feature of first-wave death metal and Death/Thrash bands, such as Vulcano, Sepultura (on Antichrist), Incubus, and a French band called Agressor. At times, it seems as if the band is playing so fast everything will fall apart. Take for example the song souls of the dead, which after building momentum, explodes into a fury that seems inhuman. Drummer Stefan "Stipen" Carlsson shows a great amount of talent being able to play at such blasting tempos with such precision. Without a doubt this band, as well as Incubus show the limit in terms of speed in which thrash styled drumming can be applicated. In order to get any faster, blast-beats must be relied upon.
Another interesting aspect of the band, is the twisted, yet well though-out, lyrics. The depth of though and creativity here is more than most you will find. The song Denied Birth speaks about the consequences of eternal life, and impending doom approaching a soul many of millennia old, that desperately searches for mortality, but to no avail. Very different from the more primitive, gore influenced lyrics typical for early death metal.
While being mostly fast, the band does have some moments of time signature changes, and even semi-technical riff work, as heard in Realm of The Dark, and Dying World. These songs in particular are more varied than the rest, and incorporate more complexity, giving hints to what the band would do on later recordings. This is far from primitive material.
In conclusion, I believe that this album displayed two main points; the inherent limitations of the thrash metal genre, and the many possibilities and capabilities of the up and coming death metal genre. The band had shown that the thrash metal structure had been carried to its very limit in terms of aggression. The Thrash beats here were being played as fast as humanly possible, and made in clear to future bands that blast beats use in the death metal fashion were to be incorporated if they wished to achieve higher level of speed. Albums like The Awakening, as with Serpent Temptation, and Neverending Destiny were not only transitional, but were very innovative and revealing as to the future of Death/Thrash, and full-blooded death metal. The once mighty flag that thrash waved was being gradually lowered, and the flag of Death Metal was soon to take its place. Merciless was a band that stood the knife's edge between the two, putting the final word on one genre, and pioneering another. The Awakening is an underrated classic.