Merciless Death hail from Canyon County, California, and when it comes to present-day Thrash metal played like back in the day, they are “the real deal” (blabbermouth.com) and “the cream of today's 'retro thrash' crop (metalinjection.net). But cross out the “retro” and keep the “real”, as Merciless Death are everything but your usual retro-old school-wannabe. Their first two albums scored enthusiastic reviews from both sides of the Atlantic, and now High Roller Records are more than pleased to present fans of real old school Thrash with their third full-length album, “Taken Beyond”.
Guitarist Dan tells us how he got started with Merciless Death back in 2003: “I had been into old school metal for a long time, and by highschool I was more than ready to begin working on my own music. I met Andy and started showing him some of the stuff I was into, like 'Haunting the Chapel', 'To Mega Therion', Venom... he got more into that stuff and we started working on music I had been writing, it progressed greatly from there, now it's been almost 13 years...” A long time well spent: Merciless Death developed their own, very traditional take on early- to- mid-80s Thrash in the vein of Possessed, Death and early Slayer, to name their most important influences. “You are very correct. We are all about the original extreme wave of metal. Those bands are the fucking heaviest of all time... To be honest, we are into all things true metal, Thrash, Speed, Black, Death, Power, Heavy, Doom. All of it is good, but our main influences are always going to be early Thrash/Death bands. We are also greatly into late 80's/early 90's Death Metal like Morbid Angel, Malevolent Creation, Obituary, everything else from Florida, hahaha...” But Merciless Death are not just about looking back and paying tribute to old heroes. Dan is quite clear about what makes Merciless Death stand out from the masses: “Im going to be perfectly honest because that's how I am. You know why we sound different or stand out from a lot of the new bands doing similar metal? Because we didn't start listening to this a couple years ago, and race to create something that rips off ten bands we claim to worship but had no clue of a year or two earlier, it shows in the music... We have been at this for a long time and I was well schooled on all of it long before starting a band. We get older fans that say 'You guys really sound like you are from back then without ripping anybody off!' That's because when I started writing this music it wasn't everywhere and I really spent the time coming up with metal that sounded the way metal was supposed to sound to me, I wasn't listening to what was going on in metal back then, I didn't care... I was busy listening to Dark Angel, Exodus' first album with Baloff, 'Bonded by Blood', and again, Celtic Frost's 'To Mega Therion”.
So it's probably true (and makes perfect sense) that the band was named after a Dark Angel song? “Yes. It was between Dark Angel's 'Merciless Death' and the one no one ever seems to realize, Metal Church's 'Merciless Onslaught'. Again, this is back in 2002, Thrash and old school metal is kinda dormant, but I'm obsessed, I wanted my band to have a name that paid homage to the greats while also letting some of the older heads know what we might be about, and I think it fits better than most. We have been able to expand our sound just a bit to include that late 80's Death extreme vibe and it still falls under Merciless Death.”
Now to get to the album: “Taken Beyond” is your third full-length release, and it is still old school as fuck. What were the goals for this release, and does Dan think they were met? “THANK YOU! That's always nice to hear. Our goal honestly was just to make this happen, we had so many obstacles in our way. and I think it came out fuckin sick! It will be even better on HIGH ROLLER RECORDS this coming year. We played half of this record at Thrasho 5, but it took almost 5 years to make it all come together. Im proud as fuck of our offering of early extreme metal, and it seems people either love it or hate it, too fuckin heavy for some!!!”
'Taken Beyond' was recorded in North Hollywood at a place Dan had looked up and decided on: “That place was right next to a chapel that was having services on the nights we were recording, too fitting. Our old guitarist Mike Griego was with us to help out, and the engineer. I recorded the drums in one 12 hour session. It was insane, there is a picture somewhere, we recorded the whole thing pretty quick, not as quick as 'Realm of Terror', but still fast, we had to keep going back which frustrated us though. I would go home after we had finished and Andy and I would spend a few days listening to it and making notes of things, we went back many times, and at the end of it all, I really honestly feel that the engineer was a bit lazy, he knew his job and had done it well, but you could almost tell a sense of 'I've been doing this too long', and if we weren't so anal about everything the sound would not be very good, oh and anyone who just downloaded it: don't comment on the sound! Everyone who bought the CD says it sounds awesome and they can hear everything very well, except one person who thought it sucked but oh well, he doesn't share my vision! In the end I don't think I would change anything really, it is a prime slab of extreme metal, that stands with the best!”
Before recording 'Taken Beyond', Merciless Death went through some line-up changes, leaving only Dan and Andy in the band - so what was it like to record a whole album with only two people, and what has changed since then? “Gio is back with us and has done a hell of a job learning the 'Taken Beyond' material, he will be the drummer on our next album that we are working on. Recording with two people is interesting, I do a lot of recording at home before we go into the studio, so we were used to it, but basically, I would play the song on drums, the parts that were just guitar; I would time with the high hat and later remove if we felt necessary, this was mandatory in order to go back with a guitar and have everything sinc up properly. I did well and playing my guitar tracks over the drums I had recorded was smooth...Andy would sing and play bass along to my drums which would help me to be able to think of where I'm at in the song since there is no guitar playing while I'm doing that...”
With now three full albums up their sleeves, is there anything Merciless Death have changed about their approach to writing and playing Thrash Metal? “I have tried with 'Taken Beyond' and now the new stuff I'm writing to expand the ideas of 'Realm of Terror', to keep the same style underlying, but go back and forth with early Death Metal and a hint of Black Metal. My main thing I always remember is to think of my favorite bands and how I felt when they changed too much, I don't want to be that to one of our fans.” They'll probably love you him for that.
Merciless Death's sophomore album 'Realm of Terror' was a lot more evil, darker and grittier than the debut 'Evil in the Night' which sometimes even had a slight tongue-in-cheek-feel about it. If one compares 'Taken Beyond' to the two previous albums, what has changed, what has remained the same? Dan: “We keep getting darker, heavier, more our own style I'd say. It's Thrash, but you know it's us... and I know what you mean, I really enjoy "Evil in the Night," shit, we were 19 years old when we did that, Cesar was still in highschool. My vision wasn't fully realized until 'Realm of Terror', that was the album I really wanted to do. I think 'Taken Beyond' has a lot of similarity to 'Realm...', same subject matter and similar pace, but the pace is more frantic and evil, and the lyrics are even further down in hell, also there isn't much reverb, it could have been either way but I think it makes the music push straight forward and murky in its own way...plus a few blast beats, just a couple...”
Asked for his own favourite tracks, Dan can come up with some mouth-watering answers: “Hmmm, I think the whole intro to "Christians of Gomorrah" is sick as fuck, so heavy! "Baptism at the Skull" I think has a really badass chorus part too, any of them really...”
“Taken Beyond” is not only full of great music, it also has a coherent lyrical concept that deals with Christianity and the band's feelings towards it. Dan gives the details (and talks himself into a rage): “Yes, the overall theme is sin and the sacrifice of the Son of God for it. The cover is Jesus after returning from hell on the third day and upon retaking his body and rising. Satan manifests as a serpent and takes him back to hell for eternity- It is fitting with the bible verse on the sleeve, basically it's Satan again telling Christ to worship him and all the world is his. The title track is about this, the first track is about the Garden of Eden and the serpent obviously, and 'Baptism' is about the crucifixion. Worldly religions are a disease on this planet! So your god is all powerful but always needs money? 'Feed the poor' they say, but the church looks so nice with all its gold!!!”
“Taken Beyond” was initially self-released, limited to a thousand copies. Dan remembers that it wasn't all too easy to manage: “It was a little tough to handle all the aspects of it smoothly, when we actually finished and had the album ready, I don't think many people even knew we were together, so we tried to get word out, and it ended up, people started saying the release date was February 15th, rather than not release it and have people think it was b.s., I went with it and released it based on the word of mouth. It sold fairly well, for just being sold through the facebook. We still have some copies but I was surprised how it moved originally. I mailed them all out from where I work on my breaks...that was our whole distribution. I mailed copies to Metal Forces and anyone else who would take one; I almost sent Metal Forces another one and said "This time give it 1 out of 10 and actually listen to it!" They gave it a bad review (which is fine) but don't turn around and still give it 5 out of 10, haha... I think having it backed by High Roller Records is going to get the word out to a much bigger audience and hopefully it sells really well, we shall see! I am so happy to have
made a deal with HRR, and I am eagerly awaiting a vinyl copy of 'Taken Beyond' as that is the ultimate sense of satisfaction with our albums! They made us a really great offer and we are extremely happy to be working with them, they have done releases of so many records we love - it's great to be a part of it!”
The High Roller-edition of “Taken Beyond” won't come with many changes, it is, as Dan puts it, “a faithful release of the way we originally did it, just on a much broader scale”.
Merciless Death's second album 'Realm of Terror' was released on Heavy Artillery Records, the third one was then again a self-release, after a hiatus of seven years. In 2012 the band even made a statement that they would disband – Dan tells more about that turbulent part of the band history: “That label was horrible, they wanted us to do so much with so little, High Roller has already done more for us than they did. I'm not kidding. There was a time after 'Realm of Terror' where I was a bit down about what had happened and for a while it affected everything for me. They basically stole what I had worked so hard to create, and said, “Too bad...”! Around 2011 I made a decision that no one else can do it for me and no one else is going to, so if I want to play this music and make albums, I had to get back to doing it and don't worry about all that b.s.” After having worked with legendary artists Ed Repka and Andreas Marschall for the previous releases, who's this time responsible for the cover artwork? “Well, this is the real reason the album took so long to come out. We would have probably released it in 2014, but no one would paint that awesome cover. My first choice was a very well known first wave Death Metal artist from back in the day who has done so many covers for classic extreme bands, its ridiculous, he told me he couldn't get into it, I was crushed, but kept looking. After a few more failed attempts, I stumbled upon the website of this nice lady who does professional oil painting and canvas and things like that. At first I wasn't going to do it, then my girlfriend said 'If you don't ask, you will never know'. I said you're right, and emailed her and sure enough she was totally down to make it happen, I sent here sketches of what I wanted, just like with Repka on 'Evil...' and Marschall on 'Realm...', but this time I got to talk back and forth with her and work with her on what I wanted, it was great. Her name is Polly Podolski, and she is quite talented.”
There is some live footage from a show in 2006 (the song is “Death Warriors”), and it looks like it was originally recorded back in the 80s! Now what does 'old school' really mean to Merciless Death? How important is it to be old school through and through? “That was one of the early shows somewhere in L.A. making a name for ourselves, good times... you know here is the thing, a lot of people think we were and still are trying to attain this 1980's look and feel and that we are all about it, the thing is, I couldn't care less what anyone thinks, I've been completely obsessed with all things early extreme metal, so I guess 80's extreme metal since I was a young boy, I don't know why, it has just always given me my fix, and I've always wanted to have a band that sounded like what I think metal should sound like. It probably helped that mainstream and more known metal at that time was all complete cookie monster; Death Metal lacking any creativity that Cannibal Corpse had, or 3rd wave Black Metal clones... I was not into that shit, I was into Celtic Frost and Venom, and that's all I cared about. So yeah, when people saw me and my friends out of nowhere and we looked like that it was like 'oh man these guys play dress up for their music'. NO, METAL IS A WAY OF LIFE FOR US AND YOU HAVE BEEN MISSING OUT, WELCOME TO THE PARTY. WE LIVE IT, BREATHE IT, AND WILL DIE WITH IT, I LOOK THE WAY I DO BECAUSE THIS DIDN'T START YESTERDAY, IT STARTED YEARS AGO AND NOW YOU HAVE THE END RESULT OF A MASSIVE OBESSION.” That could have been some nice last words, but Dan still has something left to say about “Taken Beyond”: “This album is our slab of true extreme metal in the purest form. No nonsense, if you don't like it fuck off. Our main influences on this album are just like the past albums, with a more extreme push in the direction of bands like Vulcano on "Bloody Vengeance" and even more Protector on "Misanthropy." We truly hope that those that have followed us to this point from the first two albums can see, and especially hear what we are doing and connect it to what we have already done, it is a progression from 'Realm of Terror', on extremity... thank you to all our loyal diehard fans worldwide, come and join the sinners in hell!”