The path of the melodic death metal band is a precarious one; put one foot wrong and the internet trolls will have your reputation in tatters before you can say “I never rated that last In Flames album either”. So what are we to make of the latest album from Denmark’s melodic death metal ambassadors Mercenary?
At first glance, “Metamorphosis” looks like a statement of intent. A new logo and a nicely designed album cover depicting a phoenix rising would seem to suggest that this is a band who believe they are emerging from a dark, forbidding place to somewhere more optimistic: it’s a theme that runs through the album in terms of musical and lyrical content. They might be right, you know- this is probably their finest work to date and a welcome addition to your music library.
Mercenary does not provide a substantive change in musical direction- this is still resolutely a melodic death metal album at the end of the day but what you have here is a sense of confidence, purpose and direction. They’ve taken all the essential elements of melodic death metal and fashioned it in their own style. At one level, this may not seem important: in the context of the tribal nature of heavy metal, you’ll understand how critical and important this is.
Opening track ‘Through the Eyes of the Devil’ has the crushing riffage that you’re looking for, the swirling keyboards, the anguished vocals before the euphoric rush of the chorus. There’s no getting away from this niggling conclusion: it may not be big and clever, it may be derivative in part but, damn it, it’s brilliant.
‘The Follower’ is an obvious choice for a radio friendly single with more hooks than a fishing trip and guitar parts more infectious than a proverbial lab rat. ‘Velvet Lies’ is the album’s musical high point. A seven minute epic that genuinely feels like three, its evocative intro leads to a mid tempo, emotional rock song that has a chorus bigger than Alaska but without the irritation of a Sarah Palin. It’s pummelling mid section will keep every headbanger happy for a long, long time. It’s a blast.
‘Shades of Grey’ is probably the most mainstream rock song on the record but don’t read that as a criticism- it’s still a metal song, built around a series of massive riffs and melodious refrains. I’m a sucker for the forlorn rock song and the cheesy key change in the final chorus- so will you be after hearing this.
‘The Black Brigade’, the album’s closing track, is a defiant call to arms: there’s a sense of personal valediction running through here that draws together the threads we’ve had through the album and ties them neatly in an aggressive four minute pounding track, replete with big chorus, ample shredding and signature death metal growl. Its a cracking sign off.
Mercenary is not going to win any medals for originality and its not going to shift the heavy metal paradigm. However, it is an album that is full of optimism and defiance in the face of personal crisis. It is the strongest set of songs that the band have yet released and is a work of which they can be justifiably proud. In 2011, when all the headlines are resolutely gloomy, “Metamorphosis” is joyous, life affirming stuff.