Mercyless – The Mother of All Plagues (Album Review)

Entering their 33rd year, French riot masters Mercyless are back on Friday, August 21st with The Mother of All Plagues on XenoKorp.

Looking back, the band was formed under the more familiar Merciless spelling in 1987, although adopted their current moniker in 1991 due to copyright issues. After a series of lineup changes, the majority of the band shifted to sister project Day Off Sin in 2001, before reforming Mercyless a decade later. To this day, Max Otero still handles vocals and guitars, and remains the sole original member, backed by Day Off Sin veteran Laurent Michalak on drums, Yann Tligui on bass, and Gautier Merklen on guitar. 

For their seventh studio effort, midway through 2020, the title of the record is frighteningly apt; although the band states the album and its moniker were wrapped as far back as 2018, when the progression of world collapse was perhaps at a normal velocity. Consisting of eleven tracks, the familiar vocals of Otero may keep old fans pleased, but the real magic comes as he duels guitars with Merklen. This is the case with the middle section of “Banished from Heaven,” when the two alternate leads, peppered by Megadeth-esque rhythm guitar work in between turns. Then “Descending to Conquer” speeds this technique into a brisker underlying effort, but the duality of the guitar work keeps listeners engaged and calling for more.

Halfway through the album comes “Laqueum Diaboli,” a track strong enough to warrant a proper music video from the band. Irascibly mixing religious iconography, the video blends the positive (prayer, obedience) and the negative (rot, death, destruction) aspects of eternal piety before closing with (spoiler alert) an especially haunting image. The musical track itself is an all-out aural assault march, where crisp rhythm progressions and demonic vocals hold their own against the strong lead guitar work. 

Furthermore, some songs, like “Inherit the Kingdom of Horus” and the title-track, have a dense, sludgy feel, though blast-beat drums and whirling guitar work manage to up the ante midway through. This is while brash immediacy of “All Souls Are Mine” leaves little room to doubt why XenoKorp offered this as a free single to drum up support for the album; its grinding guitars and punchy bass work are a dangerous tandem in support of Otero on vocals. 

All this said, as creepy as the opening “Infection” was, with its whirl of lost souls forced to listen to monotonous prayers applied by a grim, disembodied voice, closer “Litany of Supplication” paints a much more grave portrait in almost as short of a time. In fact you are left to wonder the coming fate of the souls for “Infection” and “Litany of Supplication” makes music of their anguished cries. 

After over three decades, Mercyless prove their ideas are still as fresh as they were at birth. The Mother of All Plagues is a strong collection that keeps the band rooted in its Death and Thrash Metal roots without sounded dated or, frankly, too old and tired to keep up with new blood. With strong tracks such as “Inherit the Kingdom of Horus,” “Laqueum Diaboli,” and the title-track, this album is sure to please old and new fans alike. As such, Cryptic Rock gives The Mother of All Plagues 4 out of 5 stars. 

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