Over the past decade Mercenary has been one of the most active bands in the upcoming Danish metal scene and their albums have been highly-acclaimed by both fans and media. The typical trademark mix of huge, epic melodies and aggression has brought them not only appearances on some of the biggest festival stages but also support slots for bands such as MEGADETH, ARCH ENEMY, NEVERMORE, KING DIAMOND and DEATH ANGEL. The unusual mixture of elements from many genres within metal is in truth the band’s biggest asset: an organic diversity bound together by tight songwriting and the ability to stand up to any sort of audience and make them lifetime MERCENARY followers.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us! Let’s dive right in shall we? Even though you’ve been around since 1991, and already released 7 studio albums, you are not yet a household name. For the ones that don’t know you yet, can you tell us a bit about yourselves and your music?
Well, we’re a veteran melodic metal band from Denmark. We’ve been through a lot of expressions and lineups through the years, so our discography spans a pretty big journey with different constellations and three different vocalists. With our album “11 Dreams” from 2004 we were probably one of the first bands to put a lot of effort into integrating clean and harsher vocals in a coherent expression. So many does that nowadays, but it wasn’t really a thing back then. But I would like to flatter myself and think that all our albums from “Everblack” (2002) to our latest album “Through Our Darkest Days” (2013) carries a lot of relevance to the typical metalhead.
What metal sub-genre labels would you say fit your music best? I’ve seen descriptions ranging from melodic death, to power metal, to thrash!
Perhaps something like ‘modern melodic metal’, but people associate very different and specific expressions with all these terms. We combine a lot of different sounds from melodic death metal to classic chorus-driven melodic metal with a hint of black metal here and there. But for the sake of convenience we often label ourselves melodic death metal just to give people a general idea, even if it’s not that accurate. I guess a more accurate and totally unusable label would be ‘melodic death metal with equal amount of melodic and aggressive vocals, containing elements from all of the greatest metal yet not so much death in the end, really.
Your most recent album, Through Our Darkest Days, was released in 2013. What can you tell us about this release?
It’s the second album after ‘the big implosion of 2009’, where we said goodbye to three band members and went from being a sextet with two singers and a keyboard player to being just four guys in the band with a regular lineup. René Pedersen have been our sole singer on these last two ‘less is more’ albums, and to my mind he does a stellar job. I think “Though Our Darkest Days” might be a bit more coherent in its expression compared to “Metamorphosis”
What do you write about? What are usual themes for Mercenary?
We have a tradition for quite introspective, existentially tinged lyrics with a dark and perhaps dreamy expression drawing on personal experiences, but it varies a lot on the different albums. (And as the bright reader can probably deduct from that vague non-answer, I don’t write the lyrics.)
Who does your writing ? is that a group effort ?or do you have designated creatives in the band for that?
Our stellar lead guitarist Martin Buus and I (Jakob Mølbjerg) usually writes the basic song structures together and arrange them with the rest of the band, which currently consists of René Pedersen (vocals, bass) and Peter Mathiesen (drums).
Is there new material on the horizon for you? What have you been up to in the last 2 years?
Yeah, we are writing new material now, but we won’t put something out until we’re completely happy with it. We’re taking our time. After touring with our latest album in 2013 I took some time off to focus on being a first time dad, so we have taken things at a slower pace since then. But still, since then we had a lot of fun crowdfunding a video and playing some cool small headliner tours in places like Spain and Japan.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of your first official EP, Supremacy from 1996! Looking back at that release, how do you feel it holds up?
The song “Supremacy” stands out on the EP and it’s still a killer tune (and I have to add I didn’t write any of it). It set the bar high for Mercenary in terms of production, guitar harmonics and diverse vocal arrangements, and I think that set the band on the right path for the years to come.
Are you planning anything special for this milestone in your career?
Not really. I’m the only member left from that time and I’m not really sentimental about our past releases. Besides, only a few people of those who follow us now probably have any familiarity with the old stuff.
What has your musical journey been like over the last 20+ years? Do you feel you have changed much?
Yes, of course. A person goes through a lot of living in 20 years, as an individual and as a musician, and so does a band with a lineup that changes every few years. When we were younger I guess we felt that we had a lot to prove to the world. That’s only natural and a strength in young bands. But now, we’re not playing music to be noticed or to stand out, we just want to write quality songs and have fun while doing so. That being said, I think I personally still draw on the same sense of melancholy as when I was younger and have the same urge to combine those elements with heavy, aggressive riffing. It’s just the kind of metal that feels natural and relevant to me and that probably won’t change much.
Last year you re-released the 11 dreams album on vinyl, one of your classics, containing an awesome cover of the song “Music Non Stop” by the Swedish pop band Kent. A very original cover choice! What made you decide to record this song?
There’s actually a small story behind that. I had loved the band since their album “Isola”, (which contains one of the greatest pop song ever, ‘Om du var her’), and actually found their guitar work and specially sense of Nordic melancholy quite inspiring. When I first heard “Music Non Stop”, I thought there were actually quite a lot of metal in the riffing, especially in the intro and the chorus. And so I played the guitar parts for my brother and asked him to guess which bands it was. His guess was not unreasonably In Flames, and when I told this story to the rest of the guys in Mercenary, we got the idea to try to jam the song and make it heavier. I think it worked pretty well. I would have liked to make it a lot heavier, but if we had changed the arrangement we would have needed permission from Kent’s publishing company, so we ended up keeping our version pretty close to the original.
The original song is available in both Swedish and English. What made you decide on the English version for your album? I guess it was just the idea of singing in Swedish that horrified our old singers.
If you had to choose a metal band for a cover, which bands would be candidates? What artists do you listen to yourselves?
We actually did a cool cover of Arch Enemy once, and added some melodies to the vocals in the chorus just for fun. It worked pretty well and our old singer even performed it live with Arch Enemy a couple of times. I guess if we had to do a new cover of a metal band, we would perhaps try the same thing as René is a singer with amazing melodic vocals as well as aggressive vocals. Perhaps a song off Death’s classic “Symbolic” album or something like that where our sound could add a new dimension – otherwise there’s not really much point, I think. As for my own taste in music, I don’t listen to as much metal as I used to, but some stuff I have been into during the last few years would be Devin Townsend’s “Epicloud”, recent albums by Black Dahlia Murder and the debut from Conquering Dystopia. But as I have a job working in front of a computer and having to focus, I mostly listen to more mellow stuff like Massive Attack, Ulver, Tricky, Nine Inch Nails, Lana Del Ray and Radiohead, just to name a few artists at the top of my head. And Kent, of course.
What is your band accomplishment so far that you’re most proud of?
Well, as some of my biggest guitar influences ever has been Dave Mustaine and Jeff Loomis, it was an incredibly moment when we were touring with Nevermore in 2005 and were joined on stage during our cover of “Inside Four Walls” by Jeff Loomis and Nevermore’s other guitarist back then, Steve Smythe, for a four guitar live attack at the Z7 venue in Switzerland. That was a nerve wrecking experience, haha! And a few years later we were direct support for Megadeth for some shows in Denmark and Germany, and during the last show we were invited onstage to sing backing vocals at the end of “Peace Sells”, standing just a few feet away from Dave Mustaine. That was just incredibly, regardless of what people might think of him in a political context. A more recent thing would probably be our headlining tour in Japan last year, that was an amazing experience and a long time dream come true, both in a musical and a personal perspective. A smaller but nonetheless important thing that I am proud of is to be able to keep the band alive and to my mind relevant after all these years and transformations. Many bands would probably have quit if they’d been through the same ordeals, but we still soldier on, oblivious to it all, haha!
What would you still like to accomplish with Mercenary that you haven’t yet achieved?
Well, I would still like to believe that we have our best album up our proverbial sleeve. So we just need to work our asses off and get it out and we would also love to return to Japan and perhaps combine a tour there with more shows in the rest of Asia, that would be a great experience. Another thing would be a proper US tour. We have only played the Progressive Power Festival in Atlanta twice, but I hope we can manage to pull off a full US tour some day.
Will there be live shows this year? Where can we go see and hear you play?
We are working on some shows in Spain at the end of the year. But the important thing right now is working on new material and writing the best possible new album, so live shows are secondary right now.
Any last words for our fans?
Yeah, for those are not familiar with our music yet, we have a few videos out from the last two albums, go check them out. The albums are unfortunately not on Spotify and iTunes right now, but they should return shortly once an issue on digital distribution have been solved. Thanks a lot for the interview, and remember to be on the lookout for our next album, probably out some time next year!
Thanks once again for taking the time to talk with us here at Metalheads Forever. It was a pleasure to speak with you and a pleasure to have you guys grace our publication. My respect and many,many cheers!! From us to you.
by David Maloney