Interview with guitarist and vocalist Max Otero
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: December 4, 2020
Mercyless, which formed in 1987 (Merciless from 1987 to 1991), is one of the longest running French death/thrash metal bands that marched out in the first wave of the country's underground scene along with such names as Loudblast, Agressor, No Return, Massacra and others. The band's first two albums, Abject Offerings (1992) and Colored Funeral (1993), are still considered some of the best death/thrash metal albums that the French metal scene produced back in the day. The third album, C.O.L.D., released in 1996, did not continue the band's success story and the same could be said about the band's fourth album, Sure to Be Pure, due to the band's style changes, which took them further and further away from their original and much-loved old-school death/thrash metal path. The band was put on hold in 2001, to gather their energies and inspiration again, which seemed to be a wise move.
Ten years later, Mercyless returned and were back in form regarding their musical style. Old school death metal is what they love doing and that's exactly what they offered on their next two albums, Unholy Black Splendor (2013) and Pathetic Divinity (2016). These two albums proved this was the Mercyless we loved to hear.
August 21, 2020, brought us these fine French death metal veterans' seventh studio album, The Mother of All Plagues, which piqued The Metal Crypt's curiosity. It was the right time to ask Max Otero, a founding member left from the original band lineup, where he found the fuel to get himself back to the death metal mold again, what he was doing after taking a long break from the band in 2001 and what in general he thinks of being a part of today's metal scene...
LIVING LIFE IN THE WORLD OF NEGATIVE THINGS
How's life in France, especially now when all of us have been hit by this worldwide pandemic, which is pretty much ruining all of our lives?
Max: Hello! Here in France we are in our second confinement. Frankly, we cannot see the end of it. It's sad but I think we are starting to realize that the world is out of control. Laxity, lies, hypocrisy and governance through fear show how much human beings no longer matter!
As for more uplifting news, Mercyless released its seventh studio album this August, Mother of All Plagues, which is a great slab of old-school death metal in my sincere opinion. How did the making this new album compare to when you were gathering songs together for your previous album, Pathetic Divinity?
Max: We worked as we always did. We worked on ideas for riffs at home and then we put everything together in our rehearsal room, despite this pandemic! We have been working in this way since 1987. It may seem strange for a new generation, which works remotely a lot thanks to technological tools, but we favor the human relationship above all. We continued to compose as for Pathetic Divinity with all the anger, the hatred and the violence that we want to show since our return.
How pleased are you with this new album? Did you feel like you exceeded your expectations with how the songs turned out?
Max: We are very proud of this album because we wanted to express our darkest face that characterizes us at this moment. Each riff and composition is an outlet for all that we have deep in our souls and our hearts! We had to make this album, which is a logical continuation of our previous album but with this dark side more emphasized. Obviously, you need a little more listening to soak up this harmful atmosphere, but this is intentional.
Many fans seem to like the record and even consider it one of the band's best works to date. I suppose you are very much along the same lines with some of those comments, right?
Max: To be honest with you, I'd rather let people judge our work! It's the public that decides and as you say a lot of people find this album as one of the most successful albums from us. I will need a little more perspective to really make a judgment on this album because we put our tortured souls into it.
But you're right, people who know us find that this album is the most representative of the group.
CHANGE IN THE 4-STRING DEPARTMENT
How did you find Yann Tligui for bass, who replaced Matthieu Merklen? Why did Matthieu decide to step aside from the band?
Max: Yann is a longtime friend. He has been following Mercyless since the beginning. When Matthieu decided to quit, I immediately thought of Yann to replace him. He knows and loves our music and has a different technique from Matthieu, but it fits well with our songs because he listens to the same music as us. Matthieu stopped because he has two children and with the concerts, fest, and recordings it became impossible for him. It happened as simply as possible, knowing that we pride the human relationship above all else.
You also released a music video for the song "Laqueum Diaboli" off this new record in August of this year. Is the video conceptually about the fall of mankind; how we let something cause us to destroy each other due to religious or political mantra and exploit this once beautiful planet for our greed?
Max: If you take a good look at this clip, the images are dirty and are a set of concepts that intertwine. It looks like a bad edit on VHS, but this is intended. You might think that this is for lack of means but we just wanted images that define this world in perdition so well with this religious/political mixture and with this very dark side without the slightest relief. This is our representation of a falling world that has become individualistic, hypocritical, greedy, etc. As the title indicates, this world is a "devil's trap" so to speak. In the end it will be up to me, I wouldn't want to make a music video. Actually, I generally hate metal music videos!
How much did this video help you promote your new record? Promotional videos are, more or less, "musts" to get the word out that something is bubbling under the murky surface again so to speak.
Max: As I have just told you, if it was up to me, I wouldn't make a video clip! But here in this world and in this business in general it is necessary today to show a lot of things and for the promotion of the album it becomes necessary because we live in a world of entertainment regulated by the dictates of the profession! So we must make efforts to promote our music and the video clip has become essential for the promotion.
Do you have plans for another video?
Max: Probably in a few months. I don't know for the moment due to the lockdown. We will do something mixing live shots with hard images of this beautiful world on YouTube for sure!
CHANGE OF MUSICAL STYLE
Mercyless chose a radically different musical path on the band's fourth album in 2000, Sure to Be Pure, adopting more groovy-laden and hardcore-ish elements into the sound. What happened during the band's songwriting period back in those days when you took a different road musically?
Max: You're right, we had a very strange period and with very different achievements from what Mercyless has represented since 1987. We have to put ourselves in the context. In 1994 death metal no longer interested a lot of people and grunge had invaded the world. We were in doubt, and we wanted to discover new musical horizons, and to try new methods of recording and production. To be honest, I think we really made mistakes with C.O.L.D. and Sure to Be Pure (and these albums are really shit!) because this music does not correspond at all to the world of Mercyless. We should have changed our name but that's it and we learned a lot from these mistakes that we will never do again. Personally, at that time I left the management of the band to other people. This is where the error comes from, in my opinion!
You put Mercyless on ice for a decade to concentrate on Day of Sin, which was a totally different entity, playing a weird combination of experimental electro and trip rock. What were those years like and what made you drag your ass back to playing death metal again in 2011?
Max: In 2000 we were put on hiatus because we were tired of all this business in general. Our last two accomplishments didn't help us much. It was better for us to step aside and take the opportunity to really discover new styles. Then we took advantage of this period to learn about production, modern recording techniques and use new modern digital machines. We just took advantage of being free to do what we wanted. We did things very far from the world of Mercyless. We did not promote or broadcast our music, we did it just for fun. And even if our music is found on the internet, we kept it to ourselves. And after 10 years of recreation, it was really time to come back with Mercyless. We needed it too much! We missed death metal too much! So, we went back to work in 2010 with aggressiveness and a will as in 1987.
BACK TO THE BASICS AGAIN
The band's fifth studio album, Unholy Black Splendor, saw the darkened light in October 2013, receiving rave comments and reviews from all around the globe. Did those pretty flattering comments made you feel like this is the kind of stuff that you want to churn out through the band for at least next few years, not compromising your sound from one album to the next?
Max: After our comeback in 2010, we really wanted to prove to people that we weren't there just for fun (as we see too often in recent years with some reformations!) We worked a lot to show people that Mercyless was back in the original style. Old school death metal! Unholy Black Splendor was proof of that and the reactions were really unanimous on the part of the media and the fans, which confirmed to us that we were heading in the right direction. It was not obvious, but we are given the means.
KAOTOXIN RECORDS = XENOKORP
Then a label change happened, and you released your sixth studio album, Pathetic Divinity, on France's Kaotoxin Records in 2016. How was your experience with the label? Did you get all the necessary support from them that you hoped for or did some negative and unpleasant things occur between the band and the label guy that caused you some extra headaches and lost night's sleep?
Max: We have been working with Xenokorp for four years now (Kaotoxin was the old name) and frankly we are really happy with this collaboration because the boss is very professional and supports Mercyless enormously. I think it's been a long time since we've been so satisfied with a label. We can discuss with him easily and always find solutions with him, it's a real pleasure! When I think about our history, I have an impression that we spent our time fighting with labels during all those years. We really wasted a lot of time with all that. We should have recorded two more albums! But hey, it's the hazards of the music industry!
As you have a lot of experience as a musician, you have undoubtedly seen both the good and bad sides of the music business. What would you like to change in today's music business if you had the power to do so?
Max: The music business is politics and when you get into it, it's sometimes a real hell! We had so many inconveniences with labels that today I look at it from afar! And today it's even more complicated! There are too many bands, too many labels (big or small), free music has stifled album sales and streaming is a scam on a large scale. It's become nonsense! Music which, at the base wants to be rebellious and nonconformist, has become a real profession with the money which circulates more and more but, unfortunately, in the wrong direction! We should start by valuing the music of good bands in the right way and give back value to the achievements and the quality of the bands (albums, live and so on). But, unfortunately, what we see today is a metal scene which is becoming more and more commercial and pop. I think we are really not in the right direction.
AH, THOSE TAPE-TRADING TIMES...
How much were you involved with tape trading in the eighties and early nineties?
Max: At that time there was no Internet and therefore fanzines and tape trading were the only way of promoting the beginning of extreme music. We must not forget that the music press did not dare talk about it. I did a lot of tape trading and discovered so many great bands and great guys and especially a growing death metal scene. Like many, I looked forward to my postman every week. Mercyless might not be here if it hadn't been for the tape trading. I still have a large box at home with dozens of cassettes with some rarities (Morbid Angel, Cynic, Mantas, Treblinka, Nihilist and so forth). What a beautiful period of time!
Do you feel that Mercyless have been left, more or less, a little in the vast shadows of other French death/thrash bands Massacra, Loudblast, Agressor and No Return, and can you explain why is that so?
Max: I just think that we arrived after Agressor, Loudblast, Massacra and therefore obviously we had to fight a bit more. Our early style was a bit more melodic and more thrashy and our orientation became more death metal around in 1989. During this time the other bands had already signed contracts with labels and were starting to play a lot. We missed the bandwagon, but it never worried us and we made our way.
THE FRENCH UNDERGROUND SCENE – AND ITS DIFFERENCES
France has always had a pretty good underground metal scene. What are some of the special characteristics of the French underground metal scene from your point of view? What makes Mercyless a "French" metal band?
Max: Probably the fact that each band had a very different style. Even if our influences were often very close, there was a very pronounced thrash/death side with a melodic side very different from what was done abroad. I don't know if that was a quality, but it is true that we quickly recognized the sound of French bands. And the fact that the underground scene was less developed with a lot of groups and structures, we had to work and fight more than others to get there. I believe that today we have kept this very hard way of working because we know from where we came.
KEEPING THE FLAG HIGH FOR THE FUTURE
Times are what they are right now and we have to accept the harsh reality. Despite this unfortunate and sad virus pandemic, how optimistic are you that Mercyless will get to play some gigs at some point in 2021, either single club shows or festival appearances?
Max: If you have listened to our album you must have noticed that we are not very optimistic for the future. But that does not date from today alas! I am just aware of what this society and this world gives us day after day. We let this world collapse and we watched this chaos because we believed that the human being is too intelligent to let it happen.
So today we must take control and continue to move forward. We continued to work and prepare for the future of the band by preparing gigs and festivals for 2021. There is hope but everything will depend on the situation and what all the infrastructure that run the world of music will hold. But we'll see...
I am curious to know when did you play your last show with the band and where it took place?
Max: It was a fest in Rodez (south of France) with a few local bands (on March 3, 2020), just before the lockdown of the country! Very strange because our town (Mulhouse) was the first cluster in France.
OK, I think that was it from me. I want to thank you, Max, for taking some time to talk to me and naturally wish you all the best in the future with the band. If there's still something that you'd like talk about, then by all means let us know. The final comments are left exclusively for you...
Max: Thank you very much to you for your support and for your work. We need guys like you and your website! I hope that we will have the opportunity to come and play in your country because we never had the opportunity. Continue to support groups, fanzines, radios, concert halls, etc. Hoping that the situation will improve soon. Make your own opinion of this world, don't listen to anything and everything and keep a cool head in front of these hypocrites and stupid people who take us as idiots. Don't hesitate to contact me if you want to discover Mercyless and above all take care of yourself. STAY STRONG... AND STAY EVIL!!!
|Other information about Mercyless on this site|
|Review: Coloured Funeral|
|Review: Sovereign Evil|
|Review: The Mother of All Plagues|
|Review: The Mother of All Plagues|
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