Mercenary – Soundtrack for the End Times (NoiseArt Records)Wednesday, 20th September 2023
Sometimes it takes a lot of patience to be a metal fan. Some bands may dole out new songs on the regular, but sometimes you might just have wait…and wait…and wait some more. Such is the case for fans of the ever-underappreciated Danish act Mercenary, who released their last studio album a mere decade ago, in the form of Through Our Darkest Days. Said album seemed to recapture the magic of the band at their peak (arguably that was the era of 11 Dreams – Architect of Lies), with in-between Metamorphosis being solid but definitely saw them reshaping the band after some notable departures. Given the Darkest Days‘ strengths, the hunger for new material was immense, and the band seemed to toss little nuggets that they were in the midst of writing and/or recording new material for a while. But nothing much seemed to surface until 2020 with a single in “From the Ashes of the Fallen,” and then “Where Darkened Souls Belong” last year. So when Soundtrack to the End Times was officially announced, there was a huge sigh of relief…and even greater anticipation.
With both of the early previews showcasing Mercenary not missing a step since their last material, all signs seemed to point to another great outing by the band. After listening to a bunch of Soundtrack to the End Times for a few weeks, it’s easy to say that the band have lovingly returned with some equally impressive and top shelf melodic death offerings. What made Mercenary such a force to begin with, and still does, is their ability to craft these larger-than-life melodies and connect them seamlessly to some heavy riffing, groove-laden death metal sections, while simultaneously implementing a progressive structure that allows for epic-length songwriting without being pretentious about it. Mercenary have always been masters at building up a song so that the hairs on your neck stand at attention as they unload a charismatic chorus (“Firesoul” anyone?) and closer “Beyond the Waves” carries that momentum to 2023. A slower paced track, but one that swirls with grandeur (especially the synths) and immense grooves to create a rallying finish.
To the more aggressive end, which was always a treat with the band, “Through this Blackened Hatred” stands as a highlight, with big, headbang-friendly mid-tempo riffs and Rene Pederson’s roars hitting a massive sweetspot as the song rolls along – but Pederson also shines in the track with the more melodic chorus, giving it those soaring wings that help to build up the dynamic between the two sides of the act. Extensive lead/solo work in the song also makes it a pleasure to sink into, as it leads up to one of the album’s strongest cuts in “Anthem for the Anxious.” That particular cut, already shared as a rightful single, carries a more melodic feel to it, with the build to an uplifting and impressive chorus that swerves back into crunchy yet memorable riffs and melodies. If there’s one song that seems to exemplify what Mercenary can provide in 2023, it’s this song.
While it’s not too far off of the beaten path of what they’ve accomplished to date, there’s an instant recognition that it’s Mercenary as Soundtrack for the End Times cranks from the speakers. That unmistakable sound is one that’s been rightly missed for a long time now, so to hear an entire new offering of songs done at the same level of polish as the band has always been capable of 10 years after their last album is an achievement in and of itself. It finally finally curbs that nagging feeling that’s been there since the band went into quiet mode for a while, as few acts can scratch that progressive melodeath vibe in the same way Mercenary can. A very welcome return to a band that never got their due, showcasing them as being just as hungry, and deserving, as they ever have been.