essence2013Four hairy men from Kent took to the stage. Wretched Soul had even brought a little fan club with them to the Underworld tonight. This helped the atmosphere along but the band did their bit with potent riffage and impressive screams delivered with menace. Flailing hair marked the start of “Summon the Hunter”. There were only 50 or so spectators and it was early but the Underworld was alive. The riff was once again sophisticated and there were melodic touches to go with this thrash, death, black, classic or whatever metal it was. Horrendous screams gave way to clean vocals. These guys presented themselves as Heavy Metal Gods. There was just too much going on for my liking. “Get involved” exhorted the hairy, thick-set vocalist. He led by example. “Undying War” had plenty of aggression and brutality. Again the riff was good and it was tight. The singer now spoke of witchcraft as he introduced “Veronica”, the title track of their newly released album. I didn’t really get the continuity of what they were playing but there was plenty of fire and ferocity in this thrashing death combination. The relentless wall of sound was impressive. The singer’s clean vocals weren’t, and in any case they seemed unconnected with this assault. To end, “Dash to Destruction” was introduced in an appropriate manner. Drums rolled and out poured the hard thrash metal that Wretched Soul had been threatening. It was like home territory. They gave it their all, and with the track having a thrash-a-long chorus and the audience on their side, a mini-mosh began. Overall though the band’s style was baffling and actually hid the technical qualities that were evidently there. They seemed to want to do everything. Yet this was a good show thanks in part to the technical abilities of the band and their infectious enthusiasm and interaction. Wretched Soul are a good live band.

I saw Omnium Gatherum (OG) play at the Neckbreaker’s Ball in 2011 and was very impressed. From epic beginnings a slick machine once again emerged. The five fair-haired Finnish gentlemen and the not-so-hirsute drummer set a tone of constant movement and urgent aggression with melodic tinges. OG were crustier and darker than the last time I saw them, but that could be my memory playing tricks. The singer, who along with his predecessor has always sounded like he smokes 40 a day, was more tactile, acknowledging and touching people, and making people happy in spite of all this cloudy darkness going on. An unmistakable keyboard melody then rang out announcing the epic “New World Shadows”. The duo of guitarists added power. The vocalist was everywhere but in spite of the space constraint on stage, no-one got in anyone’s way. Yes, the sound was crusty but OG were overwhelming and engaging us. I was delighted that “PerfumedGarden” off the 2002 album “Spirits and August Light” was announced. This was my first experience of the band. Melody gave way to something more progressive. It was played with great panache and heaviness, twisting and turning and culminating in a sublime solo as the singer and keyboard player headbanged at the back. After a mystical ending, the singer urged us to “let go of (your) shame and headbang like there is no tomorrow”. You need the material for this, and OG provided it with “The Sonic Sign”. Powerful and epic, it was cranked up to become an unstoppable juggernaut. Yet in amongst all this heaviness was a memorable groove line. This is Omnium Gatherum. “In the Rim” was another exercise in tightly controlled melodic and technical death-thrash metal. The singer matched the epic structures and devastating power with his unbridled enthusiasm, pointing everywhere and maintaining contact. Heavenly riffs did not mean we could not be hammered into the ground and this is what was happening. “The Unknowing” provided a different slant, to-ing and fro-ing intensely. The crowd moved in the way of a group of people receiving constant electric shocks. The music was slower but still deathly and good to headbang to. The crowd began to clap. It was not to order. Omnium Gatherum demonstrated that they were winning. To press the point home, “Chameleon Skin” was chosen to give one last chance to headbang. The vocalist’s request was heeded. The drummer set a frantic pace and the guitars provided their quirky progressive magic as they had done throughout. Bundles of energy and technical skill were once more rolled into one coherent dose of heavy metal.

Now Mercenary are in my book are the masters of hooky, melodic and progressively structured metal. The problem I could foresee would be in selecting a set list. There’s so much to choose from in their back catalogue. Tonight’s set was a mix of old and new material. This went down well with the 80 or so spectators who had gathered for the final set of the night. The delivery and presentation were utterly professional. Bassist, growler, clean vocalist and front man Rene has always been good but in spite of the ostensibly dark matter on offer, excelled himself with the projection of his warm personality. The opening number “A New Dawn” was an excellent choice. As a sampler Mercenary track, it has bags of melody, energy, integrated musicianship, movement and audience participation potential. It’s also typically introspective as Mercenary break away from their past roots and display an apparent obsession with “not surrendering”. But let’s not forget this was a live show and the Danes turned “we will never surrender” into positive energy and engagement. So is “we will be strong together” – it’s hardly Nietzschean philosophy as a line but it’s something you can sing along to and acted as an immediate symbol of unity between the band and the crowd. Rene used his wild eyes to communicate with the audience. With his tattoos, shaven head and muscular build, he should be nasty. But he is the nicest nasty-looking person I’ve ever met. I reckon he could even be on children’s tv. They’d love him. “New Dawn” was built on with a high-octane version of “Soul Decision”. It rumbled on like a train in spite of Jakob having a problem in the guitar lead department. “Push someone in the crowd”, suggested Rene, nicely. It didn’t happen. Let’s look at this. First of all, there weren’t really enough people. Then, this is the UK after all so pushing people isn’t terribly polite.  Thirdly Mercenary’s music may be mobile, but with all the developments, changes and step-ups and step-downs, for many it’s more mesmerizing. The band now launched into “Welcome the Sickness’, the perfect example of a multi-faceted track. We progressed from a thunderous rumble to a higher plane. The transition into the chorus was typically smooth. It became quieter as the sound entered another phase, but the rhythm remained characteristically chunky. “Welcome the Sickness” is not Mercenary’s heaviest track but it is completely epic. In the past, it may have switched to a Martin Buus solo guitar master class, but here there was a full-on guitar combination. This is the new Mercenary.

“Ah, the sound of a broken guitar. Luckily my bass still works”, announced Rene as Jakob attended to his guitar issue. Every cloud has a silver lining. Rene filled in and entertained us. Jakob fixed his problem and received a round of applause. “Through the Eyes of the Devil” followed. Here was another fine display of metal catchiness and sophistication. Rene roared. He makes such an amiable devil and deserved his swig of beer at the end of it. What was needed was something more melodious and epic. It came in the form of “Embrace the Nothing”. It has a strong commercial flow but it is of course done in a very Mercenary way with growls, monstrous rhythms and majesty. Mercenary even make an art form of the stops and breaks … we wait …“listen”, they whisper. Rene continued to impress with his versatile vocals. His introduction to the next song told us of the “growing ignorance of mankind”. “Generation Hate” is on the latest album release “Through Our Darkest Days”. The interpretation of the song was supreme and what live performance is about. It may have a catchy chorus but it’s as dark as it gets. An extended instrumental introductory section created the necessary environment of heaviness. This was deep, dark and even apocalyptic. From the punishing and persistent drums at the back to the guitars and Rene’s venomous delivery at the front, a clear message was conveyed. After a quick breather and a little rhythm, Mercenary crept up on us and built up to an interpretation of “Simplicity Demand”. To the customary thundering backdrop, Rene delivered his lines with passion. Spurred on by imperious drum work, the song turned into a feast of uniform metal excellence. This was the most intense version I’ve heard of this song.

From this the band moved chunkily into “Through Our Darkest Days”. “Never surrender” is the sing-a-long chorus, reflecting again that favoured theme and perhaps providing a useful maxim for Jakob who was still having technical problems. The audience lapped up this accessible, perfectly-paced and edgy melodic metal anthem. Mercenary then made what I thought was their only mistake in the set list. “The Endless Fall” is a great song and has all the pumping a melodic qualities of the others. It’s another riot of metal with more “surrendering” but I felt it was a repetition of what had gone before. It needed something new, something to bring a lump to my throat. Instead it was business-like. Technical problems apart, Mercenary’s performance arose above mere efficiency which can be a danger with such precision needed in timing and delivery. To raise the game still further, my personal choice at this moment would have been the anthemic “A Moment of Clarity” or even “Dreamstate Machine” off the latest album. But that’s my opinion. I certainly have no complaints about what came next. “The Black Brigade”, like “A New Dawn”, has all the right ingredients. It starts funkily, oozes defiance and aided by its well-worked breaks contains a panoply of styles. “Listen to the voices”, sung Rene cleanly and mystically, with the ever present instrumental force supporting him. The crowd clapped appreciatively. Martin’s guitar work, which had been present throughout but fitted into the frame discreetly, was soulful and sublime. Peter on drums cranked things up, and the song ended ferociously. It couldn’t end there and the band re-appeared for its encore “11 Dreams”. Again the backbone is steady and chunky, serving to support the rest of the instrumental and lyrical fireworks. I never have entirely got the lyrics of “11 Dreams” but like most people I remember them. In the spirit of a true Mercenary track, a simple song never is. It just seems that way. The progression and power built up subtly and with it a buzz could be felt in the room. Then after one last “so far away”, it was over.

Mercenary put on a fine display, showcasing some of their best material and delivering it in an uncompromising and unified way. There was discipline in the movement, which could bring along the accusation of being stiff, but there was levity, largely thanks to Rene, and this projected itself well to the audience. Within the music, movements were plentiful and subtle and although the sound quality wasn’t always100%, Mercenary hit the heights with their performance. They don’t really set a bar for mosh pits and there wasn’t one here. Instead their music needs to be absorbed and digested, and it was absorbing. In spite of the defiance and even despair in their lyrics, the mood was friendly and happy as it had been with all three bands tonight.

Andrew Doherty