Mercenary: Unleashing A Soundtrack For The End Times
Mercenary: Unleashing A Soundtrack For The End Times
The mighty Mercenary of Denmark has returned, unleashing a barrage of hard-hitting anthems which are destined to resonate with every melodic metal enthusiast. Soundtrack For The End Times is their eighth studio magnum opus after a decade-long hiatus, now available worldwide via NoiseArt Records! A stunning work of audio artistry, songs such as Burning In Reverse, Heart Of The Numb, and Anthem For The Anxious present a thrilling new chapter for the band. Highwire Daze recently caught up with guitarist Jakob Mølbjerg to find out a whole lot more about their exhilarating new masterwork, working with Matt Heafy from Trivium on one of the songs, why it took a decade to present new music to the world at large, and a whole lot more! Read on…
It’s been 10 years since the last Mercenary album. Why the long wait?
It’s actually been 10 years and one month we, we even missed the 10-year mark which is unbelievable. Well, basically the big reason is just that life happened. We’ve been going, album to album for 10 years prior to the last album, and I guess we just felt that it was a time to change our priorities a bit. Me and my girl we wanted to start a family, so I have 2 kids now, it’s the same for Martin and René, they have a kid each from this period.
But apart from all the distractions of life some people might think we went on a 10-year hiatus or 7-year hiatus, and that wasn’t really the case. We took a small break in 2014 when I became a father for the first time, and then actually we would start to meet in 2015, and we played in Japan in 2015 and did a bunch of stuff.
We began to meet up to work on new material, but the thing is, now that we were young fathers, we didn’t really feel that we… or rather old fathers, because I had kids in a late age. We didn’t really feel that we could up our game or grow the band by touring more and more, because we didn’t really feel like it at that point, so we had this fixation that we needed to make a better album to still be a relevant band, and so you’re starting to see a contradiction here because we would have less time, less creativity, less sleep, because we were fathers, and still we tried to raise the bar.
On top of that, we decided that we wanted to write a lot of songs and only use the best ones. I think I demoed like thirty songs for this album, and that’s the first time we’ve done that. Usually, we wrote twelve songs, and we would record eleven of them, maybe, and this time it’s like we wrote thirty or forty songs, as a way to raise the bar. We also wanted to do all the keyboards ourselves. Martin is quite a skilled keyboard player, but I’m not and I wanted to get in there, and that took quite a while for me to wrap my head around all the aspects of that.
All the different synths and instruments and whatnot, and finally, Martin also wanted to produce the album as a way to start to build his own studio, and I think he wants to take in other bands now as clients. So you see it is a paradox because we set the bar very, very high, possibly higher than ever in our career. While at the same time, we were totally trashed as parents and didn’t have a lot of energy, and when we met up, we would try to write music, but we were totally busted.
We would just sit there, drink coffee, and talk shit about our wives and kids and just had some outlet. We had has that sort of camaraderie and it was nice to hang out always, so that’s been the glue throughout the years, even though I make fun of it, so it just took a very long time. A part of that you might say we put some obstacles in a way, I think that’s a nice way of phrasing it. But another thing is that from 2009 until 2019, we had drummers who lived at the other end of the country, 3 different drummers and they all lived far away.
We didn’t never really felt like the chemistry was there because we needed to be in the rehearsal room, and have a team spirit vibe, and it wasn’t until 2019 that we found a very decent, and skilled local drummer who was also a hell of a nice guy, Martin Nielson, who plays on the new album, so we when he came in 2019, we had tons of material that was demoed, but still a bit unfinished because we need to work on the stuff in the rehearsal room with him, so that’s the basics. And we were getting ready to record the album in 2020, and then we just released a single, we had our first hometown show in 5 years, I think it was.
It was the debut concert with Martin the drummer, and I think 1 week later we entered lockdown here in Denmark, and maybe for some young geniuses or like young bands, the lockdown might have been fantastic, and they would write tons of albums, but we were just struggling to provide for our families and so on, so it wasn’t really a very creative period for us, so all of a sudden you see why it’s starting to take 10 years?
Yes definitely. So, let’s talk about Martin Nielsen, what is his background prior to joining Mercenary?
He played in a local fresh band. I can’t even really remember the name, but I’ve been doing some coaching stuff, or like being a jury if there were competitions. I’m a part of this middle battle thing in Denmark as a jury member since it started, so as a way to keep in touch with the local scene and see the young talent, and I was always scouting for any skilled local drummers. And when I saw his band play at a local venue in a super small basement, and I just thought he was a very good candidate, because he had a very, very solid groove to the point drumming that I felt, could possibly suit us very well.
We decided not to discontinue our work relationship with the then drummer we had, and just try to invite this guy in, and see how the chemistry was. And we just hit it off right away. I think we had one rehearsal and we’re like, yeah, this is probably our new drummer. He’s the guy if he wants to, so yeah, that’s actually how that came to be.
Heart of the Numb, tell me a little about that song, and how did Matt Heafy from Trivium become involved with that song?
So we’ve known Matt for a lot of years. We noticed at some point that I think he gave an interview with a Danish magazine, and he would mention The Hours That Remain as an album that he was really into. And so we were going through a rough patch when we had the big lineup change, where we went transitioned to René being the only singer in the band in 2009, and we did the Metamorphosis album in 2011. We actually we thought, what can we do to try to get some traction out, try to turn things and play the best cards we have, and we thought, “Hey, well, this Matt guy, he seems to be really into our stuff.“
I wrote to him on Twitter, actually of all things, because he was super active on all social media and I said “Well, hey, you seem to like our band. Would you like to hear the new album? And if you like it maybe you could give us a boost or whatever, or mention us.” And he did like an extensive review of the album that was super positive, and it was really big help for us at that point to have somebody in our corner, because there was a lot of negative feedback because we changed the lead singer scenario, and that’s of course the stupidest thing you can do as a band.
So, we kept in touch with him throughout the years. We’ve met him sometimes, when they played in Denmark. He’s just a super friendly nice guy, so he’s always interested in the band, and at some point, he offered it, “Well, if you’re doing something new, I could contribute with guitar lead or some vocals.”
Of course, we have that in mind for the new album, and we thought this song was really suited for it. It’s very direct and in your face, and we felt like his voice could be a really good fit for that song. So, we wrote to him last summer when we had the recordings ready, and asked if he would like to do it, and he said he would like to do it, but “we were going on a 3-month support run for Iron Maiden.“
He couldn’t do it but then after he got back home, and it’s been some months, he wrote to us, “Hey, are you still doing that album? Is it too late?” And we were actually just about to mix the album, so that was super lucky, and we were able to squeeze him in the way we had planned to, and I love the result. I think he is just on the icing on the cake on that track, so super happy about that.
Is there any overall story or concept behind the album title Soundtrack For The End Times?
It’s actually when we started to release new songs back in 2020, it was just a phrase that kept coming up whenever I would do press releases or write text for local shows or whatever. I try to describe our new and heavier dark sound as fitting for the dark times unfolding around us, with the lockdown and the rise of populism, and a lot of the bad stuff that’s going on these years. We were actually going for a totally different album title, but we had some doubts, and then we wanted to consider our alternatives.
Just when one day I was writing yet another press text, and I was almost writing this is music that’s perfect as the soundtrack for the end of times unfolding around us, or something like that, and I was like, “Yeah, I think we got it here.” It just felt very organic because there was, how we wanted people to think about our music, so it is not the soundtrack for the end, it’s not like a doomsday thing.
We’re on the cusp of so many big changes right now, and we can’t really predict anything right now, and things don’t really seem to go in the right way in very many places in the world and on any level, so that’s the whole vibe about the album title.
Has Mercenary ever played here in the States or is that something you’d like to do in support of this album maybe.
It’s something we would love to do, but I must also say that it’s difficult to see that happening when there’s a lot of established band cancelling tours, because of the cost of touring – especially when they have to cross the Atlantic, whether it’s European bands going to the States or the other way. And certainly, we’re at a point right now where I don’t see us investing tons of money and tons of time into trying to build a presence, where we don’t really have a strong presence. That being said, we have a lot of support from American fans.
I think maybe half of what we sell in our own personal web shop is to fans in America, so we’d love to go. We played the Prog Power Festival in Atlanta – it was 2003 and 2006. We really had a nice time, and I think we won over a lot of fans at that point, so I don’t know. Maybe we could do something like that return to a festival. I don’t see us investing $40,000 in a scenario where we have to be the opening band and drive around in a van from coast to coast. I think that’s more of a young person’s game.
Let’s go back 20 years, Everblack and 11 Dreams are now pretty much celebrating their 20 year anniversaries. Looking back, what do you think of those 2 albums in retrospect and the fact that it’s been 20 years?
Yeah, it’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years! I think when I look back on those albums, I feel it was a time where we were actually some very, very different people that for some reason had found each other in the local musical scene. We made each other stronger, and we made each other hope and dream, that we could establish or create something that hadn’t been heard before, and I think we were just so lucky that our individual talents and ambitions just fitted each other, in a way where we lifted each other, and it all took off in an unpredictable direction.
In the years following those 2 albums, it seemed like we would still be able to inspire each other and make each other stronger, but not all the time, and sometimes we would start to have very different ideas of where to go musically, and we would not really use the strengths of each other all that well.
How is everything today with the band? It seems like you’ve got a brand-new passion for it.
I never felt like we were done after the last album. I felt we had been proving ourselves for many years. Many times, we had proven ourselves over and over again in a new situation, and I wasn’t that hungry to keep proving myself or for the band to have to prove ourselves to the world after touring with the previous album. But the musical passion never went away, and I guess I wasn’t really all that happy about the direction of the last album, Through Our Darkest Days.
I liked the material, but I think it turned out to be a bit too – maybe like optimistic. It has a very positive sound and outlook, a very warm sound, and that’s great, but I think I found out that what turns me on musically is, just basically something heavier, so I wanted to set out that direction for the new material, and the guys were on board for that luckily.
I think now we are making each other stronger instead of pulling in different directions again, and I think having this idea of a direction and having this coherent idea of what the album should be has helped forge the album into a stronger, musical product.
Do you have any messages for Mercenary fans out here in the States?
Well, Ken I hope we can remain positive that we’ll try to grasp chances to go there someday, and I don’t actually know what our situation is in terms of distribution, because that’s been changing a few times behind the scenes, but I hope if nothing else, if it’s hard to get the album, they can always use our web shop. Every single physical order is being handled by us, so at least they can get the stuff from there if it’s not in decent distribution anymore. And then I’ll also just like to say huge thanks, because the American audience has been at least half of our fan base for the last 20 years or so, so we are very happy and thankful for that.
René Pedersen: Bass & Vocals
Martin Buus: Lead Guitar
Jakob Mølbjerg: Guitars
Martin Nielsen: Drums
(Interview by Ken Morton)
Mercenary Official Home Page