Released: 2005, Century Media
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
5/5, 6/6, 10/10, 100/100…yes, it’s true. However it is measured, 11 DREAMS, the latest CD from Denmark’s Mercenary, is deserving of every compliment, accolade, kudo and rave review that is being been written about it. Many times, the press can jump on a release and proclaim it the greatest thing since sliced bread but in the case of 11 DREAMS, it really is THAT GOOD! The band’s heads must be so big their necks can barely support them with the nonstop praise being flung at them but one listen to 11 DREAMS and it becomes blatantly evident why this is happening. Improvements have come tenfold in the band’s songwriting, musicianship and most notably, production since 2002’s EVERBLACK. 11 DREAMS is an absolute sonic monster that is as devastatingly heavy as it is soothingly melodic. The employment of two vocalists—one clean, one harsh—as well as two guitarists create a wall of sound that can only be compared to a less manic Strapping Young Lad in its breadth and ambition. Jacob Hansen of Hatesphere continues his lush treatment of Mercenary’s sound over these eleven tracks drawing listeners deep into the soundscape presented before them. Every cymbal hit, bass shudder, keyboard tinkle, vocal line and guitar solo is expertly laid down creating one of the most impressive production and mixing jobs that this reviewer has ever heard. The band, production team and everyone else involved with bringing 11 DREAMS to fruition should take a well-deserved bow.
The symphonic intro of “Into The Dark Desires” readies the listener for the majestic experience about to encompasses him/her as “World Hate Center” kicks in with a double bass attack and sizzling guitar riff a la THE JESTER RACE-era In Flames. The rhythm section is gargantuan here as Kral’s bass and Mike Park Nielsen’s drums execute a punishing assault. This track is just the beginning of the perfect blend of melody, aggression and heaviness found on 11 DREAMS. With Kral picking up the harsh vocals and Mikkel Sandager unleashing something that can only be described as the bastard child of Devin Townsend, Rob Halford and Geoff Tate, the signing is unsurpassed in metal today. The title track is an insanely catchy keyboard-driven number that never drifts into the dreaded gallows of prog-metal, or worse, cheesy 80s power metal territory. Like Strapping Young Lad, Morten Sandager seems to have a handle on maintaining the slippery slope between ethereal sonics and overdone keyboard presence (many bands can learn from this example). “Firesoul” is a thousand tracks rolled into one. Shades of emotive Evergrey, frenetic Strapping Young Lad, complex Dark Tranquillity and melodic In Flames come at the listener like a heavy metal dervish, implanting a seed of anxiety that is only eased once the calming vocals of Monika Pedersen kick in. The twisted lyrics of “Firesoul” as well as “Sharpen The Edges” show the band’s darker, creative side. Mercenary is far beyond the archetypal lyrics of sex, drugs and rock & roll! “Sharpen The Edges” is a semi-acoustic piano ballad that borders on prog but the homestretch unleashes some intense vocals that truly showcase how well the voices of Sandager and Kral complement each other. When juxtaposed alongside the mammoth guitar and drums of “Falling,” the band’s treatment of “Music Non Stop” (originally a 2000 hit in Europe for the Swedish band, Kent) is pure fluff but never distracts from the overall power of 11 DREAMS. It is purely the sign of a band having fun with an obscure (in North America, anyway) personal favorite. “Times Without Changes” might be dubbed “one for the ladies” by a closed-minded metalhead but anyone willing to see the scope that Mercenary displays on this release will soon realize that the band is not merely “forcing” out a ballad just to be diverse. Many bands strive to be eclectic; few can be this talented, as well.
Despite its August 2004 European street date, North American audiences are just being treated to a domestic release, which justifies my prediction that 11 DREAMS will grab LotW’s oft-coveted “Album of the Year” nomination for 2005. The only thing Mercenary should worry about is how they can possibly top 11 DREAMS. I fear that their next release will suffer under the same scrutiny that befell such acts as Soilwork with NATURAL BORN CHAOS and Strapping Young Lad’s CITY, who had the bar raised so high with those releases that their follow-up CDs were seen as subpar in comparison. In the meantime, Mercenary can bask in knowing that they can add yet another perfect review of 11 DREAMS to the seemingly endless list of praise being heaped upon them.
**The North American release of 11 DREAMS features two bonus tracks not found on the European release. The title track is presented in an aurally jaw-dropping “3D” version that absolutely must be heard with a good pair of headphones to be believed. A shorter version of the song is also available.
KILLER KUTS: “World Hate Center,” “11 Dreams,” “reDestructDead,” “Firesoul,” “Sharpen The Edges,” “Falling”