MERCENARY — Architect of Lies (review)

MERCENARY — Architect of Lies album cover Album · 2008 · Melodic Death Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Oh, Architect of Lies. How I loved you so, back in high school. You are so flawed, and yet…I couldn’t keep my ears off of you. Of course, I am into other things now (mainly human females), but you will always hold a special place in my heart and music collection. I promise that I will one day dust you off and take you for a spin in my CD player, even though I have long since copied you to my iPod. That’s how much I love you.

Now…okay, so this wasn’t released all that long ago (2008). I’m not trying to act like those old people that go around telling people how Master of Reality was their jam back in the old days. I just wanted to make a point that Architect of Lies, despite falling short of being an essential, is a timeless album…for me, anyway. Here goes.

Mercenary have always had good vocals. That’s usually not the first thing you’re looking for in a metal band (and if you’re looking for vocals ahead of everything else, then I’m sorry), but on Architect of Lies it’s unavoidable: the vocals on this album absolutely floor you from start to finish. Mikkel Sandager, after making a name for himself as one of the best metal vocalists in Scandinavia on The Hours that Remain, gives another stunning performance here. His cleans are obviously very good, most noticeably on the album’s infectious choruses, but where Mikkel really shines is in the falsetto department. His shrill screaming, layered over bassist Rene Pedersen’s core-ish shouts, creates something special (the verses of New Desire, I Am Lies, and Bloodsong are the best examples of this). No, it isn’t the wall of sound that Mercenary achieved on 11 Dreams, but it works all the same. Also worth noting is his expressiveness; whenever Sandager’s voice hits the upper register, you feel it. The combination of vocal technique and eloquence on this album is again, special.

On Architect of Lies, Mercenary claimed to be aiming for a more streamlined sound. To a point, they got it right; this album is considerably shorter than most of their other work, clocking in at a bearable 52 minutes. The songs are, for the most part, written with the same structure, verse/chorus yadda yadda. This makes it plenty accessible. There are your fair share of hard riffs, best shown in Execution Style and The Endless Fall. Fortunately, almost zero quality is sacrificed, with the traditional Mercenary sound intact as always: layers upon layers of guitar melodies with a tasteful keyboard atmosphere to compliment the soaring vocals. I wouldn’t call it melodic death metal, straight up…I’d say that it’s more of a melodeath/power metal hybrid would be more fitting. As for the drums, Mike Park Nielsen gives the best performance of his career. His excellent double bass work, benefited by the album’s beefy production, sounds more like a tank than a drum kit. Park’s style fits the band’s “not really technical, but why should it be?” attitude perfectly, and as such he’s as big a part of this album’s success as anyone. As a whole, think of the sound on Architect of Lies as modern Soilwork on steroids. What kind, I don’t know…songwriting steroids? Does such a thing exist? Hrm.

However, the strengths on Architect of Lies can also very well be considered its weaknesses. The album’s consistency might suggest that there are no standout tracks (although I disagree with this, I can see where it’s coming from). The harder sound (Pedersen’s vocals in particular) might be too metalcore-y. Worse still, when used alone, they are taking away from Sandager, leaving the band’s main vocalist to wait until a chorus or bridge to shine. This “problem” came to a head when Mikkel left the band in 2009 because of “creative differences”. Of course, most if not all of these viewpoints are arguable, making the sound on Architect of Lies an acquired but accessible taste.

As I mentioned earlier, the songs mostly follow the same format, and they’re all very good. You have Embrace the Nothing, striking the perfect balance between melody and aggression, Bloodsong with its amazing vocal trade-off, I Am Lies and its thrash riffage. Then you have New Desire. My goodness, this song rocks. I must have listened to this hundreds of times. The verse is great. The chorus is catchy. The bridge is probably one of the best things Mercenary has ever done. Just listen to that drumming! AAH! I’ll bleed your name! Yeah, it’s sick. The perfect album opener. And as an aside, the bonus track, Death Connection, should not be a bonus track. I don’t know what Mercenary were thinking, because this track kills. Look it up on Youtube or something, it’s just as good, if not better than the other material on Architect. Woof.

Truthfully, I don’t know what makes Architect of Lies so special to me. It’s a great album, no doubt, but it’s not the best of its genre, nor the best of Mercenary’s discography. But you know what? I love it. I love it to death. For me it’s timeless, for you, I can’t be so sure…but it would certainly be well worth your time and money to find out.
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