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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 Meal 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.

The 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. This was before the existence of such groups as Nihilist, Carnage or Grotesque. 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 quality.
 
(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 mix of Black, Death and Thrash Metal. The influences range from early Possessed and Death to Bathory and Mayhem and even German Thrash Metal bands, such as Kreator. In many ways, this album is very reminiscent of 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 Black, 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 this record.

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)

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