Despite losing half their lineup a year-and-a-half ago, the remaining members of Mercenary are able to retain the band's sound in surprising fashion on their sixth album.
In late 2009, Mercenary's lineup was sliced in half with the departure of vocalist Mikkel Sandager, keyboardist Morten Sandager, and drummer Mike Park. With the exodus of so many members, most bands would have just called it quits. But Mercenary soldiered on, reducing their lineup to a four-piece group and expanding their roles to cover all instruments. Many fans remained skeptical, though, doubting that the band could reach even a shadow of its former excellence without the Sandager brothers or Park in the band anymore. In particular, the impending absence of Mikkel's soaring power metal vocals caused a great deal of apprehension among longtime fans, as his vocal style helped to shape the band's best material. Surprisingly, though, Mercenary's first outing with its new roster, the aptly-titled Metamorphosis, is a good album with a lot of positive aspects to compensate for the missing pieces.
Casual fans of Mercenary may not even notice some of the changes in their sound caused by the personnel shift, due to one key factor: Bassist René Pedersen, who has been elevated from backup vocalist to full-time lead singer, has a very similar singing voice to Mikkel Sandager and can hit most of the same notes. Coupled with Pedersen's introduction on the group's last album, Architect of Lies, the difference in the vocal style from that album to Metamorphosis is nearly imperceptible. The only vocal element Pedersen is unable to replicate is Sandager's high-pitched primal scream, a vocal talent that requires a great deal of training to pull off. Even lacking this, Pedersen has a very wide-ranging skill set as a vocalist, and giving him the opportunity to utilize all his skills has proven to be a positive revelation. He is comparable in many ways to Kasper Thomsen, lead vocalist of fellow Danish group Raunchy. And since Mercenary and Raunchy have drawn closer to each other in sound in recent years, this may cause a sudden increase in the fan bases of both bands.
As Pedersen compares to Mikkel Sandager in vocal abilities, the music does the same on Metamorphosis when compared to the band's older work. The lengthy, sweeping compositions still mix melodic death metal and power metal into a very unique sound with excellent, hook-filled choruses and gorgeous leads. Martin Buus still pulls off excellent guitar solos, and new drummer Morten Løwe makes an excellent first impression with his tasteful cymbal work and well-timed fills. The one thing that feels off, though, is the keyboard work. Buus does an admirable job filling in on keys, but at times, the usage of the keys feels like it was forced into the composition. Morten Sandager always maintained a very ambient presence on keys, only bringing them to the forefront when it was absolutely called for. That is not always the case here, but it is only a minor detriment to a few songs on the album.
All in all, Metamorphosis is a pleasant surprise for Mercenary fans that have been expecting the worst for some time now. Instead of a muddled album with lots of sound changes and an incomplete-sounding lineup, fans are getting a solid album of good songs that still sound like the band they've known and loved. While not on the same level as The Hours That Remain or Architect of Lies, Metamorphosis is still impressive just because of what the band overcame to reach this point. Such resilience is often overlooked in this age of music, and hopefully younger bands will be inspired by it to soldier on from lineup changes and creative differences.