Behind the Black Door (1987)
Behind the Black Door is
the first demo release from the legendary Swedish band known as Merciless. Released in the summer of 1987, this recording
possesses a much different sound than what the band would develop on their following works. This is a rather important demo,
as it bears more of a primitive death metal vibe, predating such bands as Entombed, Dismember, Unleashed, etc. Even Grave
(at this point, known as Corpse), had not moved very far from their thrash metal roots. This release is not the highest quality
among the band's output, but it established Merciless as a force to be reckoned with.
As previously stated, this material is much more death metal-oriented
than Realm of the Dark or The Awakening,
though still possessing hints of thrash. The song structures are a bit more straightforward, at times, and the overall tone
is more ominous. One of the major differences between this and the later efforts is the vocal approach. The original vocalist
utilized a deeper sound, though still kind of hoarse and raspy. The riffs do not have as much depth and the songwriting, in
general, is more primitive. The Kreator influence that can be heard on the following releases seems to be absent, as well.
The only song on here to make it onto the band's debut L.P. is "Bestial Death", which sounded much better than this.
production is not terrible, for a demo. The bass is easier to hear than on a lot of other recordings of this nature, though
the actual bass lines do not stray from the main guitar riffs. The vocals are at an acceptable level, and the drums are just
slightly higher than needed. In terms of quality, this is superior to Corpse's Black Dawn
demo, but not as good as Into the Abyss, by Poison.
The first Merciless demo
is rather uneventful. Behind the Black Door was, probably, more impressive at the
time it was released, considering the fact that it would have stood out more back then. Listening to it now, it comes off
as sort of bland and uninspired. There were plenty of other bands, in the underground, that were miles ahead of this. It may
have been one of the earliest death metal releases to come out of Sweden, but Merciless would go on to do much more.
(5 Dec. 2011)
Merciless rose from the Swedish underground at a time when the likes
of Bathory, Mefisto, Morbid and Obscurity were among the only dark and heavy bands around. Even Nihilist had barely gotten
started by this time. Released in 1988 and limited to 2000 copies, Realm of the Dark
was instrumental in getting the band signed to Euronymous's label, Deathlike Silence Productions.
The material here
is difficult to categorize, as this was a time when some underground bands possessed elements of several different sounds.
The primary influence seems to be Endless Pain-era Kreator, which itself belongs
to the first wave of black metal, as well as thrash (or, maybe, death/thrash). This follows along, quite well, but in an even
more evil and violent manner. The riffing is like an iron fist, repeatedly punching you in the face. The drumming pummels
you, senseless, and the demonic vocals add a sense of darkness to the whole thing. The music is fast-paced, for the most parts,
with some less-intense thrash riffs mixed in. The three songs that appear on The Awakening
are all, pretty much the same, as even the guitar solos were fairly set by this point. The only exception would have to be
"Dreadful Fate", which seems to have been sped up, later on. The only song on here that did not make it to the album is "Nuclear
Attack", and one can see why. It is not as strong as the other songs and, though not bad, would have been a real weak point
had they kept it. Overall, the musicianship is tight, with no signs of sloppiness to be heard. Really, one can say this this
is what Kreator might have sounded like, if they had not gone soft.
The production almost suits the material even more
than that of the band's debut L.P. This possesses a really good sound, given that it is a demo tape. It bears more of a raw
and dirty feeling than the full-length, which works well with this kind of music. The mix is flawless, with all instruments
where they need to be. The guitars are thick enough, while still having a sharp edge. The vocals come across really well,
allowing the full power and vengeful tone of Rogga's voice to be felt. The sound quality is not quite on the level of December Moon or the Mefisto demos, but it is not too far off.
Realm of the Dark is a great
demo release and a must-have for anyone into this sort of music. As good as The Awakening
sounds, it is very interesting to hear this material in a somewhat rougher form. If you are looking for a lethal dose of '80s
black, death and thrash, it is all right here. While so many other bands were wimping out and going for a more polished sound,
Merciless maintained a sense of rawness and ferocity that put them at the forefront of the Swedish underground, in terms of
(4 Dec. 2011)
The Awakening (1990)
The Awakening was the first release from Sweden's Merciless. It was also
the first album released on Deathlike Silence Productions, run by Euronymous of Mayhem. The album was recorded in the summer
of 1989, predating most of the classic Swedish death metal albums from bands like Entombed and Carnage, though it was not
available until February 1990. The music found on this L.P. is a very intense mix of death and thrash metal, owing a
lot to the first couple Kreator albums. While there do seem to be some traces of Bathory, Mayhem and early Death, as well,
the most striking similarity has to be with Endless Pain.
The vocals are very much in the vein of 80s black metal, possessing a similar feel
to Mille (from Kreator) or Dead (from Morbid). The vocals are not static; rather, there is a decent amount of variation, including
higher-pitched shrieks and certain vocal lines being filled with a sense of desperation and others being consumed with utter
hatred. The sound is very raw, far more so than the Swedish death metal albums being recorded at Sunlight Studio. The only
one of their contemporaries that they might be adequately compared to would be Grotesque. Perhaps there are also similarities
with some of the faster moments from Samael's debut album. While the sound is raw and aggressive, this is not used as an excuse
for all of the songs to sound the same. There is a lot of variation in tempo and several riff changes. Each song is different
from the next, maintaining an identity of its own, displaying excellent musicianship.
"Pure Hate" and "Souls of the Dead" truly bludgeon the listener with fury and malice.
The title track has a slight epic feeling to it, due to the arrangement. The memorable riffs found in such songs as "Dreadful
Fate" remain in your mind long after the album has concluded. These songs are very powerful and crushing, laying waste to
the weak and inferior souls that dare to listen. The average song length is around three or four minutes, resulting in the
album clocking in at just under half an hour. This is probably the one point worth complaining about. Songs like "Realm of
the Dark" mix speed and thrash metal well, creating a dark and occult feeling, yet still dripping with a traditional metal
sensibility. The lead solo in this song is perfectly placed and leaves the listener wishing that there were a few more like
it, throughout the record. While this album is filled with a lot of aggression and energy, there are slower moments such as
the doom riffs found in "Dying World". As the album nears its conclusion, "Bestial Death" features intense speed and nice
guitar harmonies, along with hellish screams. This builds up to the climax of the entire L.P.
"Painfully awaiting the night
Never to see the light
Is this the price I must pay
A stench of dirt and decay"
These lines are found in the beginning of "Denied Birth", which was the song that
made me completely obsessed with Merciless, upon discovering this cult Swedish band. This song really does well to blend together
the sounds of 80s back, death and thrash metal. There is an epic feeling to this song, in particular, and it is fitting that
it was chosen to end this classic album.
(9 Mar. 2009)
The Treasures Within is the
sophomore effort from Sweden's Merciless. Though recorded in 1991, its release was delayed until late 1992. At a time when
many bands were following up with a new album each year, things like this may have contributed to the fact that Merciless
ended up being much less known than many of their inferior peers. However, punctuality was not the only problem that plagued
The production does not suit Merciless, at all. Despite the material possessing a more pronounced death
metal vibe, it was a mistake to opt for such a sound. The guitars lack the raw and overpowering feeling that was present on
The Awakening. This is not for a lack of intense riffs, but simply due to the poor
mix. Rather than the guitars dominating and possessing the power to reach out and tear you limb from limb, it comes off as
rather restrained. The drums are a little too loud and sound less powerful, for some reason. The overall sound is kind of
similar to Tiamat's Sumerian Cry, but they did not go for the total Swedish death
metal production with buzzsaw guitars and so on.
The arrangements are much more complex than on The Awakening. While there are a great number of similarities, The Treasures
Within is really a completely different entity. While the album is still built on top of a foundation of Kreator-inspired
thrash riffs, the songwriting is less straightforward and includes a lot of mid-paced death metal riffs. There are a lot of
tempo changes, something that was less prevalent on the first record. The atmosphere is less aggressive, which is quite clear
on the re-recorded version of "Dying World". Rogga's vocals are still as venomous as ever, which is one of the best things
about this L.P. Between the throat-shredded vocals and the leftover thrash parts, this record is still easily enjoyable, albeit
to a lesser degree.
The Treasures Within is a solid record, though it fails
to reach the same level as its predecessor, due to the combination of less consistent songwriting (or a shift in style) and
the odd production. Had Merciless maintained their thrash-heavy style and avoided the growing death metal trend, they may
have made more of an impact with this album. Either way, it is worth picking up.
(18 Dec. 2011)
Return to index