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Review: Mercenary, Through Our Darkest Days

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The tale of bands like Mercenary is told far too often. During the melodic death metal boom, Mercenary made a name for themselves by matching the Swedish-bred movement’s heavy yet melodic riffing with a touch of power-metal that set them apart from the pack. Given time and numerous lineup changes, we’re now left with an almost different group entirely. As with most melodeath-turned-modern-metal groups, Mercenary have moved towards more accessible songwriting that, while predictable, does its job at being catchy.

This site often lovingly refers to fellow metallers Scar Symmetry as “Death Jovi.” If that’s the case, then Mercenary is certainly worthy of the pet name “Death Halen.” Van Halen’s Sammy Hagar days are openly mocked by many, but 5150 was an underrated and fantastic album, and it would be an easy bet to think that Mercenary would agree; Through Our Darkest Days sounds vaguely as if Strapping Young Lad were paying homage to the classic record, from the patented SYL and Devin Townsend mannerisms in “Dreamstate Machine” to the upbeat and poppy “Starving Eyes.” Vocalist René Pedersen’s high screams certainly have a Townsend-esque cadence, and when he belts out one of the album’s many soaring choruses, you’re left wondering why the group didn’t just commit to throwing in a cover of “Dreams” or “Why Can’t This Be Love?” and calling it a day.

This has all the makings of an overly campy power pop record, but it’s actually not that bad for those that don’t really mind the feel-good rock anthems like album opener, “A New Dawn.” One can’t help though but feel that Mercenary relies a little too heavily on this formula, and it reflects through some phoned-in lyricism. At least two choruses on the album beg listeners to “never surrender,” and the silly soapbox lyrics of “Generation Hate” hold the song back despite it being one of the more punishing and brutal tracks on the record. This doesn’t stop the rest of the record from reaching moments of greatness, however. The band’s musicianship hasn’t fallen by the wayside just yet, and there’s plenty to stop and gawk at. Album closer “Forever the Unknown” for instance houses one of the most haunting guitar riffs of the year, and every solo heard across the record is fantastic.

When it comes down to it though, there’s really not all that much that can be said about Through Our Darkest Days that hasn’t already been said countless times about other “modern metal” releases from the past decade or so. Sure, the record is catchy and has its thrilling and anthemic moments, but in the grand scheme of things, there isn’t much available for true long-lasting appeal. The predictable formulas and song structures, along with an overall play-it-safe attitude, keeps the record from putting the band back into the spotlight as melodeath stalwarts. This is an album full of songs you’ve heard elsewhere before, but at the very least, they’re done well enough to make Through Our Darkest Days an enjoyable listen.

Mercenary’s Through Our Darkest Days comes out July 30 on Prosthetic. Stream the album here and purchase it here.

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