There’s a lot of things that pass me by – all sorts of viral things (in the internet sense) only come to my attention well after the fact. I mean, did you guys know there’s a vegan black metal chef? So, a certain Disney-themed death metal video that was supposedly popular earlier in the year totally passed me by until recently. Just the mere existence of it made my skin crawl. I could have quite happily gone on without knowing anything about it, thank you very much.
So, why is this relevant to Mercy Brown? Because the vocalist of that video is a member of this band. And whereas her participation in said video had me preparing for the worst, the fact is that Mercy Brown’s self-titled album could not be more different, in that it is serious, full of talent, and with real staying power. The contrast between what is on offer here and the Mary Poppins death metal video could not be more stark, and thank fuck for that.
What Mercy Brown attempt here is all over the death metal map, almost to the point where it stops becoming “death” and simply becomes “extreme”, and yet is still remarkably cohesive. Musically, large sections recall the likes of Immolation – deep, cavernous, bewilderingly heavy and technical – whilst others are progressive and spacious in a manner that makes me mourn for the days of early Opeth. All of this is achieved not just over the course of the album, but sometimes within the same song, such as “Where The Fire Is”, or highlight “In The Dark”. Other points even bring to mind the more gothic gloominess that Madder Mortem were so skilled at producing around the time of their Deadlands album. As this should imply, there’s some serious musical talent on display, but it’s not often showy or excessive. And as someone who normally hates his progressive music when it’s in-your-face and obvious about just how technical and forward-thinking it thinks it is, that’s a real plus point. You can sink in to the grooves, or headbang along as appropriate, but a careful ear will allow the listener to pick out some nice flourishes, and make clear just how much work has gone in to this album.
All of which is to say nothing of Sera Hatchett’s vocals. When she wants them to be, her clean vocals are, by turns, gorgeous and commanding, full of emotion and boasting impressive range, all with an underlying strength and control that makes it clear that she is fully in control. Her death metal roars are no less impressive (and not in some stupidly sexist, “pretty good for a girl” bullshit way). There’s a section during “Birds” where she reaches the kind of frenzy and depravity that is the equal of almost anyone you care to name. They are used sparingly compared to her clean vocals, making their impact all the more effective, especially when you consider that the “heavy music must mean heavy vocals” trap is avoided – some of the best parts of the album are when the band are in full death metal mode, whilst Sera’s clean vocals soar above the musical chaos and devastation.
There’s a few curve-balls on the album. “News Complaint” has several straight-forward, almost hardcore sections that give the album a shot in the arm, though it does feel slightly out of place. That feeling is amplified by the following track, “One (The Edge Of)”, the opening of which is full of Middle Eastern atmosphere and mystery. The two tracks are note-worthy as is, and placing them next to one another feels slightly odd, but it still more or less works.
By the time closer “Stigma” comes around – a largely subdued 8 and a half minutes, not too far removed from the likes of Ides Of Gemini – it should be clear that Mercy Brown is an album possessed of a serious nature that could never be guessed at from Sera’s involvement in that video. It’s also an album with real depth, with the kind of details and compositions that practically demand repeat listens. It’s not an album for all moods, but when the right feeling takes you, it’s quite a remarkable album to spend some time with.
Mercy Brown is available via Bandcamp on digital and CD formats.