MercilessDeathIf you didn’t know any better, it would be tempting to think that there is some kind of mini “new wave of first wave death metal” thing going on, what with the re-release of this album (originally self-released by the band, now put out by High Roller Records), and the likes of Gruesome putting out new music. According to the ever useful Metal Archives, Merciless Death hail from Canyon County, California (big fans of alliteration out there, clearly), and comprise of Andy Torres ( vocals, bass) and Dan Holder (guitars, drums – though one suspects not at the same time, unless they’d make for an explosive live spectacle).

Though Merciless Death describe themselves as a thrash band, in terms of their sound, they have that kind of feel that straddled the thrash scene back in the mid eighties, when bands weren’t so obsessed with labels, and were starting to explore what kind of sonic extremity they could reach. Their sound then has more to do with the proto-death metal of bands like early Death, Possessed, Celtic Frost and make-up wearing era Slayer. That really is no bad thing, considering how all of those classic bands managed to make music that lived as much through the atmosphere that they conjured as they did with any kind of over the top technical wizardry or boring “poly rhythm” nonsense that so blights modern extreme metal.

“Taken Beyond” is a dark, dense slab of roughly hewn, thrash inspired nastiness that has been very carefully written. So yes, there might be a wry smile when reading the song titles such as “Baptism at the Skull” (though the intensity of that smile increases with the level of irony-loving hispter scene-parasite wearing it), but the feeling behind each of the tracks is undeniable. The production, I have to say, is excellent. I don’t quite know how they have done it, but the essential rawness and scything nature of the guitar tone is intact (some of the guitar solos here could have come from 1985), yet with the modern punch and power. Often, modern production, while having that heft and weight, will rob heavy music of the attack and viciousness – but here they have managed something akin to the holy grail and managed to keep both elements coexisting, in what I can say is probably the most impressive way that I have heard in a very long while.

There are but nine songs here, and the album is all the better for it. Whether on the slow, sinister build up of “Oath of Revenge”, with more than a hint of classic Celtic Frost and Obituary, or the “Hell Awaits”-esque fury of “Christians of Gomorrah”, each track is an absolute belter. If it wasn’t for the fact that these days I could probably bankrupt the British arms industry for the amount of ammo they would have to produce, it would make me take up my trusty bullet belt again!  This is an exciting album, and one which has put an almighty smile on my face. Really, what better endorsement can there be? So no, it may not be the most original music you’re going to hear this year, but I guarantee it will be some of the most enjoyable.

(8/10 Chris Davison)