MERCENARY — The Hours That Remain (review)

MERCENARY — The Hours That Remain album cover Album · 2006 · Melodic Death Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Diogenes
Everyone loves a good underdog story, yeah? In 2004, Mercenary released one of the most original melodic death metal albums ever in 11 Dreams, garnering a hell of a lot of praise for both their excellent musicianship and unique take on the genre. That was all fine and good, but founding member Henrik “Kral” Andersen up and left the band shortly thereafter, essentially killing both hope for an album in the same vein and any death metal aspects the band had. Nevertheless, Mercenary continued on, reinventing their sound to create and album even better than its predecessor. The Hours that Remain is, quite simply, the finest metal album that both Denmark and the melodic death metal genre have to offer.

Let me get something out of the way first. The term “melodeath” is a bit of a misnomer when talking about this album, since most straight-up death metal influences flew out the door with Kral while it was being written. However, the heavy riffage and occasional screaming combined with its connections to 11 Dreams keeps the tag hanging on by a thread, and that’s good enough for me.

So, what makes The Hours that Remain so great is that it’s nearly impossible to pick out any one instrument at any time. What I mean by this is that Mercenary plays metal that’s geared towards a wall of sound, rather than just a lead being played over a riff. Sure, there are technically “leads” and solos, but they fit into the equation in a way that I have never heard before. Every single melody, drum fill, synth effect, and so on are all part of a carefully crafted atmosphere that is both heavy and soothing, aggressive and beautiful, crushing and delicate. There isn’t a lot of technicality being thrown at you, but c’mon…is that really needed?

The cherry on top of the ice cream in this case is without a doubt vocalist Mikkel Sandager. This is one of the greatest vocal performances in metal history. I’m not kidding! What the man does on this album is nothing short of magic. His voice is distinguishable. He can hit amazingly high notes with ease, while sounding nothing like a chipmunk on helium. His vocals are powerful and full of emotion, a stark contrast to all of the sterile boy-band garbage that’s making more and more of an appearance in metal. The melodies are far beyond catchy. Every single individual accolade I can hand out is well-deserved here, and yet the best part of Sandager’s vocals is the way that they are layered to act in conjunction with the rest of the band. It’s like his singing is both the center of attention and part of the atmosphere at the same time; so simple in concept, but so damn rewarding.

If there’s one flaw to this five-equals-one approach, it’s how much it’s drawn out; Hours clocks in (HA!...anyone?...okay, fine) at just over an hour, which is a little long for just ten tracks. But hang on a second…when listening to this album, it’s impossible to get bored. I swear. Even though the tracks all might sound alike at first, there are hooks running amok to keep your attention past the first, fifth, and hundredth listens. Take the album’s main cut, Lost Reality, for a spin: 8 minutes, but not a single moment where you’re inclined to turn it off. Hook, buildup, climax, repeat…again and again and again. Why can’t more metal bands do stuff like this?!

The final piece of the puzzle comes not from Mercenary, but from producer Jacob Hansen. Okay, he did play bass on this album in lieu of a full-time four-stringer, but his engineering makes Hours what it is. The guitars are thick, the keyboards add rather than take away, and all of those layered vocals couldn’t have been mixed any better. Go go Denmark metal posse!

Every time, it’s the same old story: metal bands that focus on writing good songs while playing as a band yield the best results. I’m almost getting sick of writing stuff like that. I feel like some sort of deranged preacher. But for music like this, it’s totally worth it. The Hours that Remain started off good, got better, and has not stopped rising in my collection of favorites; truly a masterpiece in every sense of the word.

Re-wrote review 10/7/11 to justify my increased rating, and because I hated the old one.
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