MERCYLESS – The Mother of All Plagues (2020)REVIEW

The corpse of the supposed Pantocrator hangs quartered and headless by virtue of the faithless hordes that have picked and eaten his flesh, drying its magickal carrion into Hǔ biān tāng-esque stew that has fueled mankind’s downfall for a millennium. Imbued with deranged spiritual lineage unable to adapt to a world of rationale and scientific deduction, cannibalism is all that is left to empower those who spread false Christ’s fleshborne infection. Limbless, immortal, ridden with glowing maggots and petrified around a long-crumbled cross their savior speaks in tongues and coughs flies in between hate-filled sermon. A bloodless crown of thorns rattles at the shaking furor of the decapitated Godhead, they see nothing less than a miracle and only light where the tendrils of ultimate darkness erupt — Eradicate them. Burn the holy books old and new, kill the thought on Christ. Tear down all untaxed shelters with fire and hammer, yank loose the most heinous leeches upon society. Deny the symbol of the crucifixion, turn the cross upside down by way of wanton violence and ready a storm of mayhemic slaughter to wipe out the lamb’s curse of enfeeblement upon Earth. But hey who has the time or the resources these days? If you’d still like to contribute to the cause support fine blasphemic anti-Christian death metal such as that of legendary French act Mercyless who mark the approach of a decade-long reformation with their seventh full-length ‘The Mother of All Plagues‘.

And I’d say “legendary” to illustrate the mythic sect of old school death metal fandom that pays proper tribute to their positioning in the early (but not earliest) days of French extreme metal starting in Mulhouse (eastern France) circa 1987. The demos were never enough to truly win me over and they’d arrived just as the biggest moments from No Return, Massacra, Agressor and Loudblast took real shape as true extreme thrashers pressing the threshold into death metal. If you really didn’t know or care that Mercyless arrived a few years later you’d likely have been in a position similar to mine, discovering their first album (‘Abject Offerings‘, 1992) and falling in love with everything it coalesced. This’d be my first experience with a band that truly transcended a secular sound when I was exploring sub-surface level ‘old school’ death metal and ‘Abject Offerings’ has remained one of my all time favorites since. Produced by Colin Richardson and plastered with one of Dali’s most intense perspective paintings, the riffs and sound within inherited the forceful snarl of early Martin Van Drunen, the technical flair of ‘Cross the Styx’ from Sinister, and their own twisted style of riffing that would become slightly more brutal and melodic for its classic follow-up (‘Coloured Funeral‘, 1993). These are very important obscure death metal records that never got their due and there is no great reason why. Sure, the band went groove/death metal in 1996 with ‘C.O.L.D.’ (but so did everyone else in the French scene) and became a goth wave band under a new name between 2001-2010 but none of that should mar the early legacy of the group.

Since reforming in 2011 Mercyless had no trouble returning to their classic death metal sound almost leaning into even more straight forward, unhindered death/thrash metal ideals on their fifth (‘Unholy Black Splendor‘, 2013) and sixth (‘Pathetic Divinity‘, 2016) records, both of which made it onto my ‘Best of the Year’ lists not for nostalgia but for recalling that ’91-’93 era of French death metal and how it’d communed bits of prowess from British, North American, and Netherlands scenes without ever tapping into Scandinavian notions. ‘Unholy Black Splendor’ is particularly underrated for its careful study of what made Mercyless signature back in ’92-’93, edging in some melodic ideas explored on ‘Coloured Funeral’. Though I wouldn’t say folks have ignored the bands strong string of comeback records there certainly hasn’t been enough praise for the absolute blasphemic class and secure identity they’ve shown upon return. ‘The Mother of All Plagues’ comes no less volatile and ornate as the previous two, pulling back the ultra brutal drum sound a bit and letting the bass guitar peek through the mix a bit more, resolving to blend the death/thrashing spirit of ‘Unholy Black Splendor’ with the brutal rapacity of ‘Pathetic Divinity’. Opener “Rival of the Nazarene” makes clear and immediate nods to the bands early 90’s records with some Loudblast-esque melodic touches applied gently within otherwise ripping death metal riffs that’ll impress fans of everything from Sinister to Krabathor and Pestilence as they rip out. The first single from the album, “Banished From Heaven” is the perfect introduction to this longtime status of “grower” that the band yet sustains, where you may pick it up and immediately understand what it is but you’ll have to dig into the full listen a bit before realizing its brilliant guitar attack and how that phrasing ties into Otero‘s songwriting since the early 90’s.

The Immolation-esque transition of “Contagion” feels as though we’ve passed on to some darker realm, a fall from a high place. The third single from the album, “Laqueum Diaboli”, maintains that steadfast crunching pure death metal construction while offering a mere extension of what “Banished From Heaven” already’d implicated on Side A, this reads as consistency but it isn’t the most impressive song on the album. The second pre-release single “All Souls Are Mine” riles up the devout base with one of the fastest and most brutal tracks, whipping out heavier blasts and some Bolt Thrower inspired moments that reek of sophistication and barbaric aggression at once. The true hero of Side B for my own taste is “Inherit the Kingdom of Horus”, one of the more mid-paced pieces that catches some of ‘Abject Offerings’ invaginating riff style, a patient set of ideas from frontman and sole original member Max Otero who has kept the ship afloat since original guitarist Stéphane Viard had to quit ~2014 due to persistent tinnitus. The main melody itself is otherwise something new within an auld template and that crossing of the familiar motions and freshly alien reap kept me engaged with ‘The Mother of All Plagues’ for countless listens.

The plague suggested by the title and throughout the lyrics of this album have no intended relation to the current worldwide pandemic, instead this is a completely obviate suggestion that Christianity is the true plague and has long provided the spark of ignorance that will be the death of mankind. Few ‘old school’ death metal bands stick with their irreligious ways three decades beyond their start and I could not admire this stance more, it is entirely appropriate to mock and defenestrate the cursed Christian religion in 2020. If anything this is their most defiant, angriest record yet in terms of lyrics. I’m not in agreement with folks who’ve dubbed this record their ‘best since 1992’, as I do not believe ‘Coloured Funeral’ is an album to so flippantly overlook but its energetic riffing and death/thrash vibe does continue the thread since 2011 with more vigor and technical skill than ever. The whole package is appreciably straight forward, blasphemic, a black and red majesty thanks to artist Néstor Ávalos whose dark, detailed work you’ll recognize from Bloodbath‘s 2014 album and recent ones from Hecated Enthroned and the Varathron/Rotting Christ split EP.

I’m not sure if you’ll have to be a big fan of Mercyless‘ history to rightfully engage with their present reality, the ‘old school’ touch from an always sophisticated project goes a long way here on ‘The Mother of All Plagues’ that it may just stand tall on its own. The added context of ‘Abject Offerings’ and especially ‘Unholy Black Splendor’ will nonetheless create the right mindset to readily absorb this heaviest, most aggressive whip of early 90’s styled death metal from the long-standing project. A high recommendation, this one has held up for its straight forward death metal nature hearkening back to their heyday without anything too sentimental or self-referential.

High recommendation.

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:The Mother of All Plagues
RELEASE DATE:August 21st, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Death Metal

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