You could easily say that Mercenary are on a roll. Their last album, 11 Dreams, was a favorite of many metal fans and critics alike, and with their latest The Hours That Remain garnering similar positive feedback from around the world, the time seems right for this band that combines progressive & power metal along with black and death metal to really make their mark. Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo caught up with lead guitarist Martin Buus recently to talk about their brand new album and future plans of the mighty Mercenary.
Read on for the full interview!
Sea of Tranquility: The last two years have been a good time for the band-11 Dreams was very well received by the critics and fans, you played at ProgPower, etc. How does it feel to finally have the new album finished and released?
Martin Buus: It feels very good! We all look forward to seeing and hearing the response from the critics and the fans. At the time of the 11 Dreams album, people didn't really expect anything from us - most people didn't even know that we existed - and I guess we really took a lot of people by surprise. I didn't expect to see so many good reviews so I was surprised as well. As for the new album, it's kind of a different situation for us. This time around we really have to prove to everybody that we're not just the "one trick pony" and I think this has made us work even harder. Now we're just very psyched about the new album and how it'll be received. We all think it's the best we've produced so far so we feel pretty confident.
SoT: Can you talk a little bit about the new CD and how the writing and recording went?
Martin: Right after the Nevermore tour in September/October 2005 we set up a small recording studio in our rehearsal room in order to make the album's pre-production. We basically started from scratch. We didn't have any finished songs, just some riffs and ideas that we started working on. Mike, Jakob and I would jam different ideas until something solid came up, while Morten and Mikkel would be sitting in the control room listening to what was going on. Then we'd do some arranging and record some of it to get an idea of which directions we could take it in. Then Morten and Mikkel would pitch in their ideas. Whenever we finished a "skeleton" for a song, Morten and Mikkel would start arranging keys and vocals for it in the control room, while we continued jamming new ideas.
In the beginning of the process, we actually felt a lack of ideas... because we had just ended a month long tour one week prior to entering the rehearsals. We were all pretty much drained. It's difficult to sort of kick-start creativity so nothing really happened the first couple of weeks but as soon as we got a good jamming routine going, the ideas started to flow. As soon as some of the songs started to take shape, we became a lot more confident in ourselves and in the album.
The new album kind of picks up where 11 Dreams leaves off, it has a lot of similarities but it's still a very different album. We wanted to cut down on all the layers and try to get a more "in your face" sound. We have gathered a lot of live experience throughout the last couple of years and that has helped us become aware of what works for us live and what doesn't - and the music reflects that.
We still have the layers but only layers that we find necessary for the songs to work. This time around we spent a lot of time cleaning up the arrangements in order to cut to the bone and it was quite a challenge. It's always easier to put extra layers on than to remove the unnecessary ones
SoT: The band recently had a line-up change- can you talk about that?
Martin: As mentioned we were all pretty drained of energy right after we toured with Nevermore, but we had decided to go directly into the rehearsals to write the new album nonetheless. The first couple of weeks Kral didn't show up at the rehearsals because of some unforeseen events so we just started writing the songs. Even more weeks went by and we only saw and heard from him once or twice until a week before entering the actual studio. He told us, then, that he had grown tired of touring and always being away from home. He wanted to spend a lot more time with his family and in order to do that, he wanted to quit the band. This came as a shock for us, but at the same time we had been worried about this for a couple of weeks, so we were kind of prepared.
We all respect his decision and wish him the best of luck.
Some months ago we got ourselves a new bass player/shouter named René. Unfortunately he didn't join the band until right after the recordings (Jacob Hansen, our producer, did a mighty fine job playing the bass on the album and Mikkel did all the vocals by himself), but you'll hear René playing and shouting live. We have already been playing some gigs with him now and he's doing a very good job!
SoT: The music on the new CD seems a little more complex in the instrumentation, although it just as heavy and melodic as 11 Dreams. Seeing as the music of Mercenary combines all forms of metal, like death, black, power, and progressive, what type of music does the individual band members enjoy in their spare time?
Martin: Jakob is currently into Gojira, Mike listens to Nine Pound Hammer, René and Morten are into Soilwork, Mikkel is currently listening to O.S.I. and I'm having a Pantera revival. We all listen to a lot of different music not only metal. Basically anything from jazz to black metal...
SoT: The balance between clean and death/black vocals on Mercenary albums are usually one of the highlights-how hard does the band work on the vocal layerings and melodies/harmonies?
Martin: We work very hard on arranging the vocals. Usually this is Morten and Mikkel's department and until recently Kral's as well, but we all pitch in. Morten and Mikkel will start arranging keys and vocals as soon as we have a song's skeleton. Usually Mikkel has an idea for some melodies - sometimes inspired by the keys - and they start to build upon that with different voices. Then, as soon as the arranging is done, we all chime in with ideas, changes and whatnot - we have a great democracy going.
As for the mix of harsh and clean vocals, it all comes down to a gut feeling. If you have a riff or an idea, you can sort of hear how the full arrangement would sound in the end and that's how it usually works - but sometimes someone has a different approach to the arrangement and then we simply try out all the ideas people might have until the specific part works.
SoT: Are there any plans for the band to tour here in the USA any time soon?
Martin: The only thing we have planned at the moment is Atlanta's ProgPower USA but unfortunately nothing else. We'd love to tour the states and hopefully it's only a matter of time before we'll be onstage somewhere in the States. A U.S. tour is very high up on our wish list! But get your asses to Atlanta if you can't wait for a full tour to happen!
SoT: Of the current crop of young metal bands, who does the band admire or listen to?
Martin: I don't know if they still count as a young metal band, but we all listen to Soilwork. I guess that's the only band that we can all agree on.
SoT: If you could choose any producer to work with in the future, who would it be?
Martin: Hmm...tough question...I admire Kevin Shirley's and Devin Townsend's work so I guess one of them but it's pretty hard to imagine a Mercenary album without Jacob Hansen behind the console as he plays a tremendous part in our sound.
SoT: Don't want to mess with a good formula! Best of luck with the new album!
(Click here to read our reviews of The Hours That Remain)