Friday, August 12, 2005

Langhoff Bound: Mercenary's 11 Dreams and Samael's Reign of Light

These aren't available on the web, but they did show up in the April '05 issue of Decibel, this fantastic metal magazine that's about a year old. I actually understand very little of the magazine when I get it, but it's witty and my main outlet for reading Scott Seward, probably the best pure stylist currently criticizing records. So far Decibel hasn't made me buy anything I can't live without, but the Mercenary disc (which I got free) is sure to be on my year end top 10 list. It's a scorcher!

11 Dreams
(Century Media)

The thing Mercenary do most, and they do it well, is to pit impassioned not-quite-Broadway melodies against a scorching rapid-fire kick drum attack, with guitars and bass in between, playing both sides. After an orchestro-synth prelude, the band’s dreams (or “songs,” if you’re dead inside) #2-5 adhere to this successful formula. The Sandager brothers, Mikkel and Morten, provide Rent-worthy caterwauls and keyboards, the guitarists arpeggiate, and founding bassist/growler Kral brings the requisite violence, but the whole thing comes off a little restrained and wearing--too much of the same good thing.

So it’s a relief when the boys start mixing things up during dream #6, “Sharpen the Edges.” They deepen the minor chords from the preceding pleasures and add ominous male-chorus intonations. “Supremacy v2.0” is similarly dark and nightmarishly Neapolitan of chord, but the real shocker is just ahead: in a twist worthy of Million Dollar Baby, but giddier and more danceable, our gothic heroes cover Kent’s pop tune “Music Non Stop,” and it can’t, won’t, and don’t. Drummer Mike Park gets to rest his ankles and provide a syncopated livinonaprayer (Danish for “swinging like fuck”) beat while Mikkel invites the world to dance to the music he hears inside his head. Blogs and message boards are currently lighting up with cries of sellout, but I say if you’ve ever longed to hear Ryan Seacrest utter the phrase “Scandinavian metal gods,” this is the way to do it.

That’s the peak, but the rest doesn‘t let up. Add on an extreme atonal thrasher, a piano/guitar ballad, and a chunky modern-rock-chorded closer and you’ve got one of the more intriguing side twos, capping one of the more impressive stateside debuts, in recent memory.

Reign Of Light
(Nuclear Blast)

Samael’s eighth album differs in many important ways from Rammstein’s Sehnsucht, the watershed for gothy Euro-tech metal. To begin, Vorph is a hipper vocalist than Till--he sounds more relaxed, he barks around the beats and sometimes you can picture him shimmying with his friends the clanking machines. We can probably attribute this looseness to Swiss neutrality. It’s funny, though--Vorph “sings” in English, but I’m sure I could transcribe Till’s Sehnsucht vocals far more accurately, though I can’t understand a lick of German. With Rammstein, everything sounds clean and in its place--one part of the song ends, a title hook repeats four times, the volume drops and a synth plays a little tune, the loud guitars start back in. Samael are messier and the mix isn’t as clean, so you can’t always understand what Vorph is demanding of you. The rhythms are still lockstep and repetitive (we’re not talking Converge here), but there are more dirty guitar lines and fewer shiny song components. We can probably attribute this relative messiness to rebellion against Swiss banker parents. What this means is that individual Samael songs are harder to distinguish than individual Rammsteins. “Telepath” is the one where Vorph pronounces grace “guhlaysse,” and the bonus track is a remix of “Telepath,” but the others are more difficult, which isn’t to say bad because they’re enjoyable while they last. You could attribute indifference towards posterity to Swiss watchmaking or something Jungian, but I chalk it up to another classic archetype. A prancing vocalist you can’t understand because the mix is muddy and all the songs sound alike? Samael are the Stones to Rammstein’s Beatles, and I can’t wait to hear the new Paul Revere and the Raiders!

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