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 Dead" 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.