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Made in Sweden

Merciless - The Awakening
A stunning debut and an extremely important building block for the Swedish death metal movement

By: Eric Compton
Published: Thursday, August 24, 2017
Sweden's love for extreme metal was at a pivotal point by 1991. In retrospect, that year was the culmination of a lot of young kids fulfilling their late 80's dreams of becoming active musicians. By 1991 bands like Dismember, Entombed, Unleashed, Therion, and Tiamat had finally succeeded beyond the demo stages and had full-length debuts on labels at this point. Miraculously these kids had picked up enough influence and captivation from US death and thrash metal to really create a scene out of just a handful of dedicated peers. But, when we look back at the early history of Sweden's extreme scene, we obviously cite Quorthon and his Bathory albums 'Bathory' (1984), 'The Return' (1985) and 'Under the Sign of the Black Mark' (1987) as purveyors of blackened ideals. But aside from early acts like Bathory, what other homemade Swedish products helped spawn the creation of early acts like Nihilist, Therion, Dismember, and Unleashed? I think the answer might lie in the tiny town of Strangnas.

In the summer of 1986, guitarist Erik Wallin, drummer Stefan Carlsson, and bassist Fredrik Karlen formed the band Merciless in Strangnas, a northern city that was founded in 1120. The hilly seaside town is located about 65 miles west of Stockholm, the fertile breeding ground for Swedish death metal. The trio was intrigued by thrash metal, notably the raw and aggressive acts like Sodom and Kreator. At the time only a handful of like-minded Swedish bands existed--the aforementioned Bathory as well as primitive blackish metal bands like Mefisto, Obscurity and doomsters Candlemass. Unlike a majority of the early Swedish acts, Merciless actually took their creative visions one step further than most. They actually performed live, a rare trait for Swedish baby bands in the late 80s.

The band soon recruited vocalist Kale and the now four-piece entered Studio Svangrummet in July 1987 to record their first demo. 'Behind the Black Door' is a powerhouse effort with four songs that summon up freakishly good thrash metal. The band's penchant for Kreator and Sodom riffs is obvious, however Kale's vocals are blackened and gravely, sort of like Bathory's Quorthon. Even with the early praise of the demo the band found some lineup trouble and Kale departed.

Karlen called on an older colleague, Roger "Rogga" Petterson, to join the band. Karlen and Rogga had played together in the group Hellfire and had a demo out in 1986 called 'Death Revenge'. Along with active live gigs the act had been practicing some new songs. In 1989, those new songs came to fruition with a demo recording called 'Realm of the Dark'. Rogga proved to be quite capable of replacing Kale and his vocals were absolutely Hellish. The combined thrash riffs suited Rogga's blackened screams perfectly, a lethal blend that outlines primitive black metal neatly confined in a rabid thrash setting. 'Realm of the Dark' is one of the best demos in Swedish metal history. It's tempo changes, frantic speed metal riffs, two-beat attack combined with the occult lyrics and aggressive vocals is a monumental triumph for the early scene. Its dark grandeur captured the attention of Oystein "Euronymous" Aarseth (Mayhem) who signed the band to his new label Deathlike Silence Productions.

The band's magnus opus, 'The Awakening', was recorded at Tuna Studio from February through June of 1989 and was the first album to be released on Deathlike Silence Productions (March 1990). The record is a monumental achievement for extreme metal in Sweden. While it doesn't contain the traditional down-tuned sound that would define the country's death metal scene, its aggression and dark nature is certainly a catalyst for more extreme bands. It pushed the envelope from vocals to speed. Rogga's vocals are blackened screams that are made abundantly more ominous and evil with loads of reverb. The mix features the vocals so high that the bass guitar and kick drums are nearly erased. The production is so unique that it comes across utterly brilliant.

The album's eight tracks collectively weighs in at less than 27 total minutes, a statistic that surely demonstrates just how fast Merciless really were. The triplet picking, two-beat battery, tempo changes and quick vocal delivery catapult the record into a manic and aggressive speed metal mold. Often Rogga says the entire lyrics so fast that he will repeat the whole song again for the second half of the track. While it would seem repetitive and monotonous, somehow the energy level and complete reckless abandonment pushes it to incredible heights of long term playability and overall enjoyment. 'The Awakening' is a stunning debut and an extremely important building block for the Swedish death metal movement.

Unfortunately, the poorly ran label failed to capitalize on the record's stunning achievement and Merciless really fell by the wayside quickly. After the band's departure from Deathlike Silence Productions they signed with UK label Active Records for their sophomore album 'The Treasures Within'. Like other bands at the time, the group recorded at Studio Sunlight in 1991 and released the album in July of 1992. It failed to garner the same intensity and unique flavor of the debut. In my opinion the production is brittle with a drum sound that just sounds lousy. The band's sound is still intact but the record just never had the same feel as it's brilliant predecessor. The band broke up in 1994 but reformed again in 1999. Two more albums followed in 1994's 'Unbound' and 2002's 'Merciless".

Merciless are still active today and have festival appearances planned for summer of 2017.

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