Mercyless is a crushing old school death metal band that has been around since the late ’80s and yes they released a couple not good releases in the mid-90s’, but they are back with a fantastic new release called “ The Mother of All Plagues” and what better way to celebrate that than with an interview about the band’s whole history then founding member Max Otero who said to me this is the longest interview he has ever done…
Now just tell me a little bit about you growing up and how you stumbled onto the world of underground metal. Was this a musical style that you liked right away or did it take a few listens to get into it?
MO: Max/I grew up listening to punk music in my early days and then heavy metal with a little penchant for music that was rather aggressive and out of standard settings. I have always enjoyed underground music because it has always represented my rebellious state of mind.
Now what made you pick up a guitar and did you ever take lessons and who are some of your favorite guitar players?
MO: I never learned to play the guitar but it is an instrument that has always fascinated me and that I still discover every day. It is my own way of claiming things. I started by listening to Jimi Hendrix, Richie Blackmore, Eddie Van Halen and Fast Eddie Clark and Mantas!
Now when did you decide you wanted to join a form a band? How long did it take to find the line-up that recorded your 1988 demo called “Immortal Harmonies”?
MO: Very quickly after buying a guitar I formed a Punk band (Acidead) because for me, making music is first and foremost shared a passion with friends. So the level was shitty but I learned a lot from other people. Then I met another enthusiast like me in high school and we started to write songs. It took 2 years to find a bassist and a drummer by ad in a local newspaper and so Merciless was born in 1987.
Now back then tape trading and fanzines were the rages, I know I was around back then doing my fanzine Metal Core. Now, did any of the band members do any tape trading and did you send the demo out to many fanzines to get reviews and interviews for the band? What are your thoughts on the demo these days ha ha?
MO: I and Stephane were both involved in tape trading in the ’80s and what a wonderful time. We were discovering new groups, fanzines, new contacts every day, etc. We are built like that, by exchanging cassettes, videotapes, fanzines…. Tape trading and the underground have allowed us to make ourselves known and have great opportunities and have sold and traded tons of tapes. The demo these days? Ah! Ah…. But guys don’t even know what a tape is! (I wouldn’t trade those times for anything-Chris)
How did you come up with the name and the band logo and has the logo changed much over the years?
MO: We called the band Merciless in homage to the band Dark Angel and their track “Merciless Death” …. We thought that name corresponded well to our music. The logo has evolved over the years with a “Y” instead of the “i” (at the expense of a Swedish group) … In 1990, we opted for the final logo.
In 1989, your 2nd demo was released called “Visions from the Past”. Do you feel looking back that it was a step up for the band seeing this was the 2nd time you were going into the studio and what was the feedback to this demo at the time?
MO: Indeed “Visions from the Past” allowed us to take a step forward and gain self-confidence. We became more technical, more violent and we had very good feedback for this demo … We sold a lot. We prepared this demo with a lot more professionalism.
Now the following year (1989) you were right back at it again releasing a 3rd demo called “Vomiting Nausea”. Now with this demo, did you try and send it out to some record companies as at that time thrash metal was sort of dying out and death metal was really starting to come into its own. How was the response to this demo by the fans and what are your personal thoughts on this demo these days?
MO: “Vomiting Nausea” was a trigger for us ….. As you say thrash metal had become less interesting and death metal had become a safe bet. We managed to have a lot of contact with labels and following the release of this demo in version 7 “ep …. We got the first contract. The feedback from the public was very positive and clearly defined our style for years to come …. Death Metal had become our trademark.
Now when your 3 demos came out you were called “Merciless” and then you had to change it because another band had that name. How easy was it to come up with your current name, which is “Mercyless”?
MO: We had to change our name because a guy (Oystein …. Probably you know him!) from Deathlike Silence Production sent us a fax for us threatened with prosecution if we did not change the band name ….. We have just change the “i” to “y” and that was already a lot.
Now in 1992, you released your first full length called “Abject Offerings” on Restless Records (which is now closed). Now I know your based in France, did the album come out on Restless Records in the US and on another label over where you are based out of? What made you decide on that title for the release? Any idea on how many records you sold? What was it like working with them?
MO: Our label was “Vinyl Solution” (England) and at the time it was very different from today because for distribution the label signed licenses and partnerships for each country ….. So Restless Records was a license but not our label …. We really had huge returns for a first album and strangely more abroad than in France. This album is direct, violent, irreligious and without concessions …. Like its title which represents our state of mind at the time ….. We sold 12,000 copies at the time!
How was it going into the studio to record a full-length release during the great days on underground metal? Were you playing many live shows at the time and who were some of the bands that you shared the stage with?
MO: It was a blessed time, we had access to great studios with real producers (Colin Richardson) and we learned a lot from him. It was incredible to spend 5 weeks in the studio fine-tuning our songs in real live conditions and …. Analogue! At that time we had the chance to play with bands that were starting to be famous like Cannibal Corpse, Asphyx, Massacra ….. Incredible shows with crazy atmospheres! (I can only imagine-Chris)
How cool was it to walk into an underground record store or a record store and see an album from you guys on the selves to buy? How was the response to this release at the time and what are your thoughts on it at the time? If I’m not mistaken, since Restless Records is closed, the release is out of print, any chance it might be re-released?
MO: This album is a real pride for us especially after a very long wait. When I saw our album in the bins of the store where I bought records all my life, I was almost shocked. The feedback on this album was incredible all over the world … We had a hard time understanding what was happening to us, because we were very young and not much hindsight …. Still today we are talking about this album because it has become cult …. We brought out a collector’s version in vinyl some time ago, but we worked on a Digipack version.
Now in 1993, you jumped from Restless Records to Century Media Records, who were starting to become a big indie label, at least here in the US, and they release your next full length called “Coloured Funeral”. Now, do you feel at this time you were gaining fans in popularity after releasing several demos and now a 2nd full length and you were on a decent-sized indie label at the time?
MO: We went from the underground to truly international recognition, thanks to Century Media. For us it was another world, with more budget for the recording, more promotion, better distribution, etc. We really had great conditions and a real partnership with a very serious label.
What are your thoughts on your 1993 release these days? I know it was the last release of your at the time bass player Rade Radojcic, who sadly passed away in 2015. What are some great times you had with him and how sad were you to hear about his passing away?
MO: We made a very brutal and uncompromising album. We had very good feedback but the only problem was that death metal didn’t interest a lot of people anymore. (Maybe over where your from, but not in the US, where I am from-Chris). In 1993 we lived a very strange period. We built Mercyless with Rade and we had incredible moments with him. His disappearance was a terrible shock, and even today I think about him every day. R. I. P. my friend.
Now you got a few new members and in 2000 you released, what I feel is your weakest effort called “Sure to Be Pure”. Comments on this release please as to me it’s groove metal. I was also sorry to read your keyboard player, Tom Schmitt, passed away in 2015.
MO: Sure to be pure” is quite simply a rotten album and I have sad memories of it. Despite this, we were really friends and Tom was like a brother, he died tragically and that affected us a lot because he was a guy who brought a lot of fun to the band …. Really a time to forget!
(What a pleasure it is to have a band member realize that he has put 2 shitty albums out and instead of defending it, he owns up to it-Chris)
Now I read that most of the band members had lost interest in death metal at this time and the band Day Off Sin was born and that band was experimental electro/trip rock. You wanted to explore new musical territories. How true is this?
MO: In 2000, we were tired of tours, albums, etc. We put Mercyless on stand-by because we wanted to open up new things and especially studio work and production. Day Off Sin was just a personal project which allowed us to learn a lot of recording and production techniques. We bought a lot of digital material and learned a lot, but the band was just an excuse to continue doing music. It was not serious!
Now in 2011, a double cd came out on “Armée de la Mort Records”, which is apparently a double CD bootleg of some shows you did in 1994 and focuses on material from your 2 cult releases. Now did you have a hand in this or did you even know they were coming out? Was the band back together at this point or did this release have a hand in the band getting back together? You guys sound fantastic on these recordings by the way. What did you think when you saw a copy and heard it?
MO: In 2010 we were contacted by Shaxul (Army of Death Records) to make an album of demos and rarities from the period 1987-1993. This album was a trigger because it allowed us to come back to the front of the stage and to ‘formalize the return of Mercyless. We owe a lot to Shaxul because he did a remarkable job and because this double album is a true testimony of the history of the band.
One of the bootleg CD’s is also a bonus CD on your Century Media re-issue put out by your current label as well (Xenokorp).
MO: Yeah because we wanted to pay tribute to the work of this era that we had done with Century Media!
In 2012, The Ritual Productions released “Visions from the Past Live 1989 – Official Bootleg”. Did you have a hand in putting this out and whether you did or didn’t, have you heard it and your thoughts on it?
MO: Jasper from “The Ritual Productions” is a friend of the band and wanted to do something for his little label. So we got this idea for a bootleg, it’s just a testimony of an era, it’s not a great achievement but just a collector for the fans.
In 2013, the band is back with a new line-up and a new release that goes back to the old sounds of the band. The new release is called “Unholy Black Splendor”. What are your thoughts on this comeback album of sorts and how did it feel to be back in the studio after so many years of not being in the studio recording with the band? How did you find the new band members?
MO: When we came back in 2010, we wanted to make the music that was Mercyless’s at the beginning, old school Death Metal. We worked very hard with 2 new members that were into this style of music and very motivate, to end up with Unholy Black Spkendor. This album is a real achievement because we have reconnected with this music that runs in our veins. The feedback was very positive and the audience was very happy to be back and to see us on stage again.
How weird was it for you at all, as the underground scene had done a total of 180% and gone were fanzines and tape trading and the internet was the rage where you can download and share music files in 1 minute? A brand new album can be uploaded on YouTube and that vinyl has made a comeback as well. Facebook and Bandcamp were also big things.
MO: Like everyone else we learned to use the internet, Facebook, Bandcamp, etc for the dissemination and promotion of the band. Today you have no choice and you have to deal with technology. (yes I agree-Chris) But to be honest with you, I miss fanzines and tape trading a lot because I am nostalgic for these blessed times! (me too-Chris) It was so much more human and so innovative for the time!
In 2015, you did a split release with the band “Crusher” on Deadlight Productions. How did this come about and what are your thoughts on this release these days?
MO: Crusher has always been friends and have reformed the band at this time and wanted to record something. So they offered us to do this split with them. As we have never done a split album we took advantage of it and it allowed us also to record a new title for the next album.
I’m gonna skip a couple of the smaller releases you did (single, ep, etc) and move on to your 2016 full length on Kaotoxin Records called “Pathetic Divinity”, which just totally crushes. What are your thoughts on this release these days and by now were you guys in full swing in doing live shows and writing songs and stuff? Were you playing any of the big fests you guys have over there?
MO: “Pathetic Divinity” is a very important album because it allowed us to show the public that we weren’t here to just have a good time and make music for fun. We put all our anger and our hate in this album and it marks the beginning of our collaboration with Kaotoxin (then Xenokorp). We wanted to show through this album that Mercyless was there for real reasons! And yes this album allowed us to enjoy everywhere to tour in Europe and big festivals. Something that we had not done for a very long time.
Now after a few more small releases (a single, a 7” split, ep) your released all your demos on CD with the label your on now (XenoKorp). How did this come about? Did you have all the master tapes? I’m sure many fans from back in the days were happy to see your 3 demos back in circulation all in one format to check out. How was it for you going back and listening to stuff from 20 or more years ago?
MO: For now these demos are only available in digital format. The CD version of Xenokorp should be released this year, the cover, design, and audio are ready, it’s always strange to hear songs from the 80’s, but these are the songs that built Mercyless. Real Die-hards are always happy to see these demos come out in CD format, especially since these songs are part of the history of tape trading.
Now it took 4 years before you released a new full length. Is it because your older now and you have other responsibilities besides the band? How did the coming of the music come together for this new release? How much time were you in the studio and is going into the studio pretty easy for you guys these days?
MO: We never give ourselves a date or forecast for the recording of an album. It can take time because with gigs, tours, festivals, promotion, etc. We are often busy and we don’t like to compose in a hurry. So we take our time to compose and then go to the studio. For the last album we took 1 year to prepare everything, pre-production, cover, lyrics, design. We try to do that as best as possible. We avoid doing like many groups currently who spend entire months on the road and then make an album in 3 weeks to go directly on tour again. An album is something very important that requires a lot of time and patience.
So now in August of 2020 your label (XenoKorp) releases your fantastic album “The Mother of All Plagues”. Why this title? I am going to assume the feedback has been great on it, as I love the release myself. Does it not suck that you can’t play live to support this release?
OM: Thank you. I took this title because I am talking about the great plague pandemic, which raged in Europe between 1347-1351 and especially the weight of beliefs and the Church on a phenomenon inexplicable for the time. And as you may have noticed, it fits strangely with the times we are living in, but let me tell you that this album, the recording and these texts were designed in early 2020. Indeed we have had really good feedback for this album and we did no concerts to promote this album. What a frustration! Fuck.
Now also released with the last release was 4 bonus tracks you recorded that are also available via digital and 12” and are cover tunes by Possessed, Hellhammer, Motorhead and Venom. Great choices obviously, but explain a bit just exactly why you did each song you did.
We took these songs because they represent the essence of this music and this style that we like to practice. These bands are the ones who motivated us to make this dark, irreligious music, without concessions. And simply wanted to pay homage to them. Obviously, we could have added other groups, but keep this for other release.
How would you describe the band’s musical style?
OM: Old school death metal
What are the plan’s for the band for the rest of 2021 and onward?
OM: We are trying to plan concerts for the end of 2021 but we have no certainties and no visions for the future. It’s really complicated and very frustrating. And the worst is that we do not know how it will all come back. In any case for us the streaming concerts and the seated concerts. Not for us!
Max a double horns up and a million thanks for doing this chat and letting me go through the long history of your fantastic band. Any last words to wrap this up?
OM: Thank you to you for the support and glad you enjoyed our music since all these years. Continue to help the underground scene, go to gigs (when there will be some again!) Buy the albums of the bands you like, read fanzines, don’t give in to all this uninteresting mainstream metal scene, to all these bands that claim to be metal and which are bands that make pop music rather than metal. Stay away from trends, bandwagon jumpers, posers and Stay evil!