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I kind of lost interest with Mercenary after The Hours That Remain, and their last album Metamorphosis particularly didn't impress me. I'll definitely say I've found myself outgrowing this kind of style, though on the other hand I will say that I think this is a pretty good release.
For one it's good to see Mercenary sounding more like they did back on The Hours That Remain and although I still feel they lost the majority of their talent with the exodus of Mikkel Sandager, Morten Sandager, and even Signar Petersen it's nice to see the other guys aren't the slouches I once thought. If you're at all familiar with the Mercenary sound, particularly from 11 Dreams onwards, then you'll definitely feel at home with Through Our Darkest Days. As for the uninitiated, Mercenary sport a blend of Danish progressive metal, power metal and of course melodic death metal, coming across as a nice mix between Evergrey and Scar Symmetry.
While I like that this sounds like The Hours That Remain version 2.0, it definitely feels like they're plowing well-trodden ground. There aren't any surprises across the album and it stands as both the biggest boon and flaw here on Through Our Darkest Days. Also there are a few aspects to the sound which aren't as good as they once used to be, particularly the aggressive vocals which definitely feel a little too metalcore for my liking. For the most part though, this is a solid album and somewhat of a return to form. If you like Mercenary then you really can't go wrong here, and it's good to see that they're getting back to what they did best. Hopefully they'll take this sound further next time around.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
The seventh full-length offering from Danish melodic death metallers Mercenary, “Through Our Darkest Days,” remains in the bands’ steady tradition of quality melodic death metal infused with copious amounts of power metal grandeur and atmosphere.
As has become apparent for the band by this point, the band hasn’t changed up their style all that much now. The riffing is still done in a predominant death metal mode in terms of the overall pattern and technique, but is still played in the tone and level of power metal so there’s no real brutality or evil-ness to come from this part of the band. It’s fast and somewhat thrash-like at times in terms of its speed while there’s a sense of epic grandeur and stylized melody that makes this quite addictive at times when those melodies come through at their best. While this riffing style is undertaken, the keyboard washes over the top of the music adds another spectacular level to the music as they’re placed at the appropriate moments to make the music even more majestic and atmospheric by complementing the music to the point of nearly shifting this into the symphonic power metal genre but is just missing the speed and technicality to do so officially. Another rather fun point to the music here with this style of melodic guitar riffing and keyboard washes is that it manages to evoke a style similar to the Finnish melodic death metal scene who utilize the same pattern, only there’s more clean vocals here and less growls than those particular bands which tends to lower the aggression here considerably.
All that said, this isn’t a terribly bad album by any means and really manages to make this rather obscure and potentially damaging style all their own, as they have been all this time. This is mostly done about by their penchant for writing strong tracks that manage to generate a fun, energetic vibe that normally dissipates when in contact with death metal but doesn’t here as the brutality, such as it is here as there’s not much to speak of but is more of the traditional death metal conflicting with the lighter power metal in their sound, and the lighter material manage to come across pretty cohesively. Evidence, indeed, of their collective past as a new band wouldn’t have the strength to generate this kind of material over a full-length album as it would’ve petered out by the second half of the album which doesn’t happen here, as that is where the band really turns it up and delivers some of their stronger tracks instead of being placed up front and creating a noticeable difference between these two halves. The same style is performed, yet the grandiosity works better in the second half, the atmospheric washes seem more epic and majestic in the second half and it really seems to gel a lot easier in that section, despite the first half being of a similar-sounding approach and format. Overall, this is a strong testament to the band’s endurance to do so at this stage of their career and helps the album tremendously.
The first half of the album is all quite good, managing to make good work of their chosen sound and really coming through with some good songs. Opener ‘A New Dawn’ opts for some grooving riffing that’s quite infectious with a charging tempo delivered with thrash precision and plenty of atmospheric touches, if only the computerized clean vocals weren’t as damaging as they seem in concept, for the execution of them is also quite rough and out-of-place, considering how well a tactic is performed on the other songs. First-single ‘Welcome the Sickness’ fixes this mightily by utilizing more death metal touches like blast beats and growls, perfectly mixed with soaring croons and atmospheric riffs blended together into a swooping, epic extravaganza topped off by a fine solo break at the end that seals the song together in fine form. The title track switches gears by heading into more of a melodic atmosphere with grooving riffs that remain light and adventurous, inner-mixed with growls and cleans with equal mix death and power metal patterns quite effectively and making for two strong songs back-to-back. ‘Dreamstate Machine’ drops off an even lighter tempo with effective atmospheric riffing, clean singing and near-complete dropping of brutality with sparse death growls and riffs. Similar is ‘A Moment of Clarity,’ which features a mid-tempo groove with down-played cleans and less energy but packed with marvelous solos and atmospheric acoustics to really seal the example that this first half is featuring the more laid-back and relaxed offerings of the band.
The second half of this is where the real meat of the songs are, still featuring those atmospheric touches but managing to pick up the pace far more consistently to make for a strong effort. Starting with ‘Beyond This Night,’ which somewhat retains the vibe of the previous half with a melodic and mid-tempo tempo without generating a lot of energy, instead it focuses on lame cleans with chugging riffs and atmospheric mid-section that really makes it feel more in keeping with the previous material and feels out of place with the stronger material that follows it. This is highlighted by ‘Starving Eyes’ which has washes of keyboards and soaring croons intermingled with infectious melodic, atmospheric riffing that really make this an epic power metal soundscape and delivers one of the album’s best songs. ‘Generation Hate’ has a charging death metal-like intro, complete with a devastating double-bass drum pattern that’s conspicuously absent most of the time, somewhat wasted by playing it in a power metal tone though the rest is saved with soaring cleans, chugging riffing and bombastic keys work well in generating a solid, up-beat and enjoyable track. Closer ‘Forever the Unknown’ contains the album’s most epic structure due to the lengthy pace that allows it to be crammed with shimmering keyboards, tons of atmospheric power metal riffing and expansive, adventurous cleans that equal an effective experience overall and close the album out in fine style.
Despite being the seventh full-length offering from the group, there’s a rather strong and enjoyable vibe here that’s quite memorable overall, for they’re one of the only bands effectively playing this style and have honed it well over the years to be as tight and cohesive as they are. The strong production job certainly helps this, giving this the sheen and gloss of a power metal band and allowing those particular elements, especially the keyboards, to soar and glide over the music with the grace and glory of such bands, but that’s also one of the biggest hindrances here as well, for a typical death metal fan won’t be won over by the constant clean singing in favor of a few sporadic growls, the lack of vicious, evil riffing that’s instead far more lighter and grander-sounding than anything the genre puts out, and an overall lighter, less dirty feel that again really plays into the genres’ strengths. This makes this a troublesome product for true death metal fans for its’ more-than-likely not going to appeal to them and instead places this one much more firmly of the camp for those that prefer the melody over the brutality or adventurous power metal fans that don’t mind a little muck here and there.