Sunday, December 4, 2011

Merciless - Realm of the Dark (1988)

Merciless rose from the Swedish underground at a time when the likes of Bathory, Mefisto, Morbid and Obscurity were among the only dark and heavy bands around. This was before the existence of such groups as Nihilist, Carnage or Grotesque. Released in 1988 and limited to 2000 copies, Realm of the Dark was instrumental in getting the band signed to Euronymous's label, Deathlike Silence Productions.

The material here is difficult to categorize, as this was a time when some underground bands possessed elements of several different sounds. The primary influence seems to be Endless Pain-era Kreator, which itself belongs to the First Wave of Black Metal, as well as Thrash (or, maybe, Death / Thrash). This follows along, quite well, but in an even more evil and violent manner. The riffing is like an iron fist, repeatedly punching you in the face. The drumming pummels you, senseless, and the demonic vocals add a sense of darkness to the whole thing. The music is fast-paced, for the most parts, with some less-intense Thrash riffs mixed in. The three songs that appear on The Awakening are all, pretty much the same, as even the guitar solos were fairly set by this point. The only exception would have to be "Dreadful Fate", which seems to have been sped up, later on. The only song on here that did not make it to the album is "Nuclear Attack", and one can see why. It is not as strong as the other songs and, though not bad, would have been a real weak point had they kept it. Overall, the musicianship is tight, with no signs of sloppiness to be heard. Really, one can say this this is what Kreator might have sounded like, if they had not gone soft.

The production almost suits the material even more than that of the band's debut L.P. This possesses a really good sound, given that it is a demo tape. It bears more of a raw and dirty feeling than the full-length, which works well with this kind of music. The mix is flawless, with all instruments where they need to be. The guitars are thick enough, while still having a sharp edge. The vocals come across really well, allowing the full power and vengeful tone of Rogga's voice to be felt. The sound quality is not quite on the level of December Moon or the Mefisto demos, but it is not too far off.

Realm of the Dark is a great demo release and a must-have for anyone into this sort of music. As good as The Awakening sounds, it is very interesting to hear this material in a somewhat rougher form. If you are looking for a lethal dose of '80s Black, Death and Thrash, it is all right here. While so many other bands were wimping out and going for a more polished sound, Merciless maintained a sense of rawness and ferocity that put them at the forefront of the Swedish underground, in terms of quality.