Although no stranger to exporting metal in different shapes and forms, Poland remains one of the most interesting European countries that I could think of. Sure, we’ve all heard of popular bands like Vader and Behemoth (not exactly my favorites, if I may add), but with so many unknown bands that never made it big, it’s a country full of obscurities; some of which are undeniably worth hearing.
Whether thrash metal was still going relatively strong in Poland during the early 90’s, I have no idea about, but Merciless Death give me the idea that investigating further may not be a bad idea after all, even Sick Sanctities isn’t exactly your run-of-the-mill thrash metal album. The guitar textures are never set in stone and at its heaviest, this album feels like a throwback to the ravaging mayhem of Altars of Madness, even if it doesn’t function as a non-stop demonic feast of labyrinthine tremolo riffs. Some ordinary thrashing rhythms in the style of Sepultura also dominate the record’s sound and although not shown until you’re a few tunes in, Sick Sanctities reveals a blackened side of itself that’s comes off as a total surprise and shows that Merciless Death are anything but a one dimensional band.
So, really, Merciless Death are a worthy band; it doesn’t take long before that’s determined, but their weakness comes down to the them occasionally thrashing through the motion in the vein of Sepultura. We’re talking about Arise-esque thrash here; which rather makes me think of the aforementioned band thrashing on their last legs than the pinnacle of the genre. From a stylistic perspective, it would have made more sense if only Merciless Death had they partially blended crudeness of Schizophrenia, or even the mosh-friendly affair of Beneath the Remains with the black and death metal elements. Alas, that’s not the case and between the most ripping guitar work that’s as fascinating as it gets, you do end up with several uninteresting chugging moments where the guitarists aren’t playing up to their strengths. ‘Power of Destiny’ sounds extremely underwhelming with its stop-go-riffs and the only sped-up section that reveals promise appears once a flashy guitar solo temporarily takes over.
Nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking never does anything good, though – certainly not in this case, because once Merciless Death get their act together, the results become rather remarkable. ‘The Victim’ resembles a rollercoaster through Dante’s Inferno itself with Grzegorz “Wiechu” Miszuk’s ghoulish rasps leading the narrative and once that intro riff tears through your sleeves (or your underwear, if you prefer), all hell breaks loose. ‘No Mercy’ is another favorite, where the vocals spit around a maelstrom of hypnotic black metal riffs; as if the band were doing their best Darkthrone impression and had a lot fun doing so. Obviously, it’s a complete departure from Merciless Death’s thrash/death metal style, but given the track’s top-notch quality, I’d almost wish that the band had written an entire album in this vein. Saving the best for the last, these Poles demonstrates everything that they’re capable of with their seven minute long album closer. Like a dynamic, yet brute voyage of guitar wizardry, it’s a flexible tune that ranges from arcane acoustic sections, to vigorous hyper-speed mania and classy solos that drip with melodic flavors.
Folks who like their thrash metal pure and distinct from death and black metal may not enjoy Merciless Death for what they are, but if you don’t mind a decent blend of thrash, death and black metal, then I’m sure that they’ll appeal to you in one way or another.
Score: 75/100 – More than meets the eye
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