For the second review running Your Grouchy Friend finds himself reviewing an old player in the Death Metal sphere. As a band who have been around for a long time but took a decade-long break at the start of the millennium, Mercyless certainly have their credentials established with their six album deep catalogue of work (this marks number seven). There remains however something about 2020 that continues to draw an abundance of excellence out of death metal acts old and new and this one is frankly an inspired belter. The fact this album is called “Mother of All Plagues” aligns all too well with the times and its spirit is just so fresh and brutal – a beautiful immediacy that we both need and can identify with.
There is so much to be said for an ambient intro with samples and heavily reverberated atmospherics. When executed to a high standard it sets the listener up for the impact of the music to follow – Infection, the opener of “Mother of All Plagues” is one such intro. Its religious theme and well constructed soundscape set the tenor of the impending lyrical and musical assault. Your Grouchy Friend is guilty of this sentiment a lot but it bears repeating – TURN IT UP from the get-go and absorb the hit when the carnage starts. It’s what the band, your deity and your mother intended.
That carnage has a name, and that name is “Rival of the Nazarene”. It thunders in with a sound, aggression and relentlessness that rarely cease and indeed rarely cease across the whole album. The central riff to which it resolves is equal parts groove, savagery and technique, the descending bridging parts are classic Old School Death Metal and the song hammers blackened holes in the skulls of the faithful. All that said the passage that takes us out of this one is surely a fine thing musically but does feel tacked onto the end a little superficially… a minor umbrage to take with a great track perhaps, but it did feel strange.
“Bring Me His Head” is no frills, get what you pay for Death Metal. The riffs are hooky as the darkest pits of the Cenobite abyss, and the direct and brutal refrain – bring me his head – is obstinately catchy. Some beautifully discordant rhythm guitar melody combinations are scattered throughout, seething to add some flavour to an unashamed crowd pleaser.
Vocally the album is laced with technique and phrasing that more than hold their own with the better vocalists of the genre – a very raspy flavour harkening back to some earlier European mainstays that were Mercyless’ contemporaries decades ago. In covering Death Metal Your Grouchy Friend often finds himself eschewing close scrutiny of the vocals, finding them either adequate or less than so: Mercyless’ Max Otero brings it to a far more than adequate degree with plenty of character, variation and above all conviction.
The sonic structure of the album carries the strength you would expect from veterans of the scene: they know what they’re doing and I have to say this is a sound palette that really appeals. The guitars rip through with might and clarity – a savage and incisive midrange that possesses just the right low end extension to sit perfectly with the bass. “Laqueum Diaboli” is a track that is brilliantly emblematic of this and has sections of which Trey Azagthoth would be proud. There seems a tendency for some to glorify low production standards across the genre, and the extremely impressive mix will likely draw some unwarranted criticism but there is a blatant misnomer in the idea that dirtying things up makes them heavier. Put simply mixing something adeptly can make it heavier. Clarity of frequency can make it heavier. Perhaps most importantly intelligent arrangement can make it heavier. Mercyless’ latest offering possesses all these elements in spades and should be celebrated as a truly great sounding piece of Death Metal. If you have doubts about the above statements crank the volume and enjoy the concise and heavy impact this one imparts – without frequencies that will at best muddy things or at worst make your ears bleed.
…and not in a good way as “Descending to Conquer” is prone to do. Another that skips along at a pace, with a tasty death-thrash aesthetic interspersed with slower and melodic bridging parts. The chorus is in terms of musicality and vocal phrasing such a great microcosm for the album more generally: uncomplicated, catchy and possessing of sufficient urgency to be almost inarguably great. The arrangement and song writing really are first class with a great sense of flow that the title track “The Mother of All Plagues” also shares. Such familiarity of form and structure with sufficient urgency and inspired delivery keep the listener coming back.
“All Souls are Mine” contains that beautiful bottom end swell (if you’ll excuse the obvious double entendre) where the guitar and bass meld in the slow and open chorus riff. The detail of the mix is extremely polished and it’s in passages like these that it’s most apparent. This song contains a vibrant web of stylistic flourishes and is another standout with more and more to find dark pleasure in each time through.
If there is any valid criticism here it’s that the album isn’t particularly revolutionary. This would be fair but could be levelled at so many in a long established genre. Your Grouchy Friend prefers reference to authenticity, immediacy and delivery as the key indicators. Subjective as such things may be (isn’t it all?), Mercyless have clearly had inspiration hit them hard and have executed an album of top quality that’s worthy your immersion at the very least once.
Come for the in your face anti-Christian beginnings, stay for the feast of groove, intensity and great riffs.
Rating – 4.5/5