Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A FLICKER STREET Dispatch: An Exercise in Metafiction As Rock Journalism by Henry Covert

ONUS Summer 2009 - Celebrating 20 Years of Transgressive Media 
by Sam Pace

It's time to speak yet again of Mercyless Dogg. This band, exalted above all others by natives and transplants alike in the Hallmark- Mosaic-Gossingham scene, has been my favorite since the debut of their most common incarnation in 1990 (Nearly 20 years!? Agh. The grey beard overtakes me). But even before that, back when I hurriedly skipped school to unwrap and aurally digest a new single or LP by their original iteration (as spelled “Merciless Dog” [though they are credited on their 1986  five-track cassette only debut as “Merciless Merc and the Merciless Dogs”]), this band grabbed me by the ears, the throat, the gonads and the soul and has yet to yield even an inch (Take that as you may...).

Part 1. Merciless Merc His Brother The Bands and the Players

The genesis of Mercyless Dogg lies with original leader/ co-founder/ drummer/ vocalist Mercer “Merc” Dowle (who dropped the “Merciless” after that long out of print cassette was issued) and his brother, co-founder/ lead vocalist/ keyboardist/ unorthodox percussionist Parcs Dowle (who soon ceased being “Peerless Parcs” as well). The brothers began actively seeking players in the Hallmark area to form an eclectic “post-rock” band beginning in March 1985. Merc was a 23 year old session player for several cover bands, mostly those into country or metal. Merc himself though aspired to be a jazz drummer and appeared on new age keyboard virtuoso Timothy Sessions' 1983 album Looking Inside. Parcs Dowle was a 15 year old suburban punk and drop-out who lived with his older brother rent free in the Northlands area of Hallmark. Merc was essentially raising Parcs after their dysfunctional life in a Gossingham trailer park (embodied by their perennially enraged father Campbell Dowle) forced both brothers out in 1980. But, as the cliché goes, all they wanted to do was play music...

Frustration with the band's inability to gel, and Merc's insistence on being both drummer and band leader, led the younger Dowle to play out on the side with a hardcore punk band called Alsatian Hound (the name was inspired by Merciless Dog, not vice versa). Hound's inability to obtain gigs was nearly comical, as were the insanely short bursts of human nitroglycerin that they characterized as “tunes” (captured on the abstract and addictive EP Cynicism Pinnacle (a superb hardcore band later named themselves for this album, which was of Hound guitarist Brains' coinage). Tragically, of their steadiest members beyond Parcs, Jim Natchey (bassist/ vocalist) ditched them for junior high prog rock group Tenebruso (Parcs had replaced their drummer, Corey Samson, when Corey joined up with Tenebruso), and Brains met with an untimely demise at age 23.

To continue Alsatian Hound, Parcs recruited Jeremiah Thorne, barely 16 years old and, briefly, former keyboardist for Tenebruso. Thorne replaced Natchey on bass in Hound, but almost immediately Merc invited “JT” into his band and Parcs relented and became a full-time member for the time being. With their sister group scuttled for the nonce, “Merciless Merc and the Merciless Dogs” (Parcs hated the band's name for many reasons) sought a lead guitar player, originally offering 15 year old self-proclaimed whiz kid Dyson Bryles the spot, but Tenebruso was his band. The well was also poisoned by the fact that Dyson, after designing Alsatian Hound's band logo and getting them two gigs, began bad-mouthing the group and boasted that their finest members had all defected to Bryles' outfit.

After auditioning a half dozen guitar players, an idiosyncratic “older woman” (nearly 20 years old!) obliquely calling herself “Polly Dagger” (born Jenna J. Stroupe) stepped up to the plate. At her audition, she “shredded” for a good while, the group ran over a few cover tunes, and then agreed to work on the band's tiny repertoire, This consisted at the time of a drums and percussion piece“Cacophony”, featuring Merc and Parcs; “Do or Die Baby” (a fairly straight ahead metallic tune); and an instrumental with Thorne on keys (he was on bass for the remainder of the audition) that so far lacked lyrics. Polly played tambourine on the first of those; vamped endlessly with her tremulo on the second; and attempted vocals and lyrics on the untitled third tune. Polly was somewhat enthusiastic, and was deemed by Parcs as “sexy enough” to front the group, but Merc told her to walk for a number of reasons. He disliked her voice on the untitled track, and hated her solos on “Do or Die Baby”. He told her she was “too metal”, “too straightforward”,and “not experimental enough”. “Me??”, she allegedly retorted. “Not – Experimental – enough?!? When you make a living playing bad honky-tonk covers in redneck dives???” Parcs then imitated her (he has this, er, interesting proclivity for mimicry) her screaming “not experimental enough?” and she walked out, furious and crying. Jeremiah tried to apologize for Parcs but she moved too fast for JT (and that can be taken many ways given their later history).

Mercer Dowle was not the greatest songwriter or vocalist on the scene (though he was without question a formidable percussionist), but he had an impeccable ear for talent, and the uncanny ability to coax the most far-flung sounds from the hands and minds of that talent. Once armed with Jeremiah Thorne on bass and keyboards, the group evolved quickly. This was the result of the Dowle brothers' pivotal discovery in their last ditch quest for a string-slinger after the Dagger debacle. Merc auditioned a 16 year old drifter who fortuitously was a new hire at the same grocery store that employed Thorne and Merc. He called himself Jareth Lloyd-Langton, and once installed as guitarist, his mastery of his axe was chilling, especially given his age and claims that he was entirely an autodidact.

This band's brilliance was first gleaned by yours truly from the self-titled Merciless Dog EP, released in October 1986. At that time, I knew next to none of the above history. I was introduced to a band a bit different than the group featured on the cassette. In the summer of 1986 Parcs decided to make a go of Alsatian Hound and they began a world tour as openers for two heavy bands of greater stature, the headliners being the mighty White Rabbit. Parcs stuck to drums (and vocals) in Hound. Parcs' replacement as lead vocalist came to the group via an earlier guitar audition. Interestingly, Jareth really loved the voice of one of the applicants and suggested he be allowed to try out as lead vocalist and also play rhythm guitar so that Jareth could stretch out on his lead work. Merc contacted the player, one Dietrich Palmer, a 21 year old native of Hallmark. Palmer sealed for Merc the elusive sound the Merciless One had been groping for. Palmer also played some keys live so that JT could stick to the bass.

Dietrich brought with him producer/ engineer Cavett Copeland, and mixer Fielding Schmikler, both of whom worked at the same recording studio where Palmer toiled. The band, with Cavett and Schmikler, spent a few months constructing the sound that would introduce the world to Merciless Dog's uniqueness. The final result featured five tracks, as the demo tape had. Four were reworked tunes from the tape. But these were no uninspired retreads. “Untitled” was an extrapolation on Lloyd-Langton's extended jam from the “Merciless Merc” tape. It was breathtaking, as was new track “Soul Child”, written and recorded last by Merc Dowle and Dietrich Palmer. On this track Palmer was allowed to duel with Jareth a bit on the fretboard and he was no slouch. Dietrich had a bluesier, soul-inflected tone that created a certain tension when pitted against Jareth's transcendent wall of sound.

Season of the Bitch” was the instrumental track that had the group at loggerheads with Miss Polly Dagger. To cap off a fantastic riff, Jeremiah had devised some bitingly humorous lyrics lampooning Polly's aura of self-importance. Again, this was bitterly ironic given later developments. The EP closed with “Do or Die Baby”, greatly improved by Dietrich's vocals and something of a minor “power metal” masterwork. Merc refused Cavett's idea to craft a single version and a video for the tune. Much more significantly, the EP opened with a group composition by Merc, Thorne, and Jareth that to this day is hotly requested at nearly every Dogg show – and has been played by every lineup - the abstrusely titled “And Throw My Coffin....Into the Oven” - the first of many Dog/ Dogg classics.

Part 2. In Rabid Days and Frish Years

It was a long 10 months before August 1987 saw the debut of the first Merciless Dog album proper. Called simply Rabid, it had attracted quite a pedigree behind the knobs – “mix-master” Fielding Schmikler was back; apprentice engineer Joplin Jones signed on; and Merc's old collaborator Timothy Sessions joined the band as Keyboardist and also produced the record. Tim was already on board as producer when Jeremiah went on the run with his young lover Juliana Florenza. The events that befell the youths that year have been chronicled beautifully by Leo Rosegrave for this very magazine's Fall 2002 issue in the article “Bleeding Thornes” (we were even sued over the piece by Jeremiah's cousin Nanda Lloyd-Langton [note the surname]).

So Sessions stepped in and played all of the keys on the album, covering Jeremiah's parts on the tunes JT penned, and adding his own atmospheric tangents. Merc asked Tim to join the band full time. Tim declined, but consented to play with the group on their first real club tour. What ensued was an orgasmic experience for this young fan – rabid indeed! I was frothing at the nether regions over the prospects of seeing this band live and up close after becoming obsessed by their first full-length platter.

Regarding Rabid... I noted a marked difference between the garage-punk honky-funk of MD' previous outings. For one thing, there was an almost entirely new band in town. I missed the primitive dirge of Parcs and JT, but Tim Sessions was an amazing player, and steered the material in new and decidedly bizarre directions. Dietrich Palmer was the new (seeming) star of the proverbial show, handling co-lead vocals with an aplomb not naturally bestowed upon the Dowle brothers. Dietrich's guitar was smoother than on his rhythm work backing Jareth on the EP. But the real revelation was the mysterious Convy Lee Sutch, a monster bass player and a vocalist as adept at oldschool soul and Brit-inflected new wave as he was at screaming raw migraine inducers.

The group showed many nods to their humble origins on Rabid – reiterating tracks from their first two statements: “Soul Child”, now attuned to Session's honk-tonk booze-bar stylings and jazzy runs; and “Cacophony”, which had evolved into an amazing piece of drum work, no less so for it featuring Merc solo on percussion, overdubbing parts originally played by Parcs. But Sutch, Thorne, and Lloyd-Langton were marvelously gelling as a fledgling songwriting troop penning stirring original material, such as the spacey instrumental “Topaz”, featuring Jareth on an 8 stringer fueled by a fiery 'Zoom Box' and JT playing an old Custom amp awash in acidic vibrato. These kids were already not to be messed with; they were poor, sure, but their occasional windfalls netted them some top notch equipment. But what they lacked in that area, they more than overcompensated for in raw creativity and sonic exploration. I admit, it was all a bit over my classic rock/ heavy metal-weened noggin at the time. I was just beginning to touch punk and prog, and R & B and jazz remained nearly profanity in my house. But I caught up quickly – and I largely credit Merciless Dog for that.

The first “progressive” track MD really unveiled was also on Rabid - penned by Jareth, Jeremiah, and Convy Lee: “The Blackest Heaven, the Whitest Hell”, a lengthy melange of mood, poignant at times, fiery as Ragnarok at others. Sutch's introspective lyrics dovetailed beautifully with Tim's wafting waves of immersive sound and Jareth's blistering bullets of cosmic metal. Indeed this track got him nominated Best Newcomer with Electrify magazine (an old alma mater of mine). Beyond this, much of Rabid was strictly under the direction of Sessions, i.e. the boogie-folk of “Southside Shaman”, based around a funky groove written by Thorne and Convy Lee (or CL as his friends began to call him). Arranged by Sessions, this track featured somewhat banal lyrics by Merciless Merc himself, who after this album lost interest largely in writing (he only penned one other lyric for the band) in favor of leading, directing and hyping the group. And playing of course - at the time, I thought Merc could do no wrong at the drum kit – though he barely had a chance to truly blossom, as we shall see.

Merc's more commercial yearnings, along with those of Fielding Schmikler, began to die a profound death with Expect No Mercy, Dog's 2nd full-length LP/CD, released in December 1987. Tim Sessions was busy with prior commitments, Parcs was too busy to rejoin Merc's circus, and, sadly of all, Jareth Lloyd-Langton suddenly decamped, citing personal reasons (just how personal the band would be staggered to learn in coming months). But at least Jeremiah Thorne was able to return to the band after his many skirmishes with near-death. Against what he felt was his better judgment, Schmikler went along with Merc's plans to bring in a new lead guitarist, a new lead vocalist – and a new, somewhat untried producer. Garnet Pace was a DJ from the same small town, Gossingham, that spawned the mysterious Convy Lee Sutch (full disclosure: Garnet is indeed the first cousin of this author, also from Gossingham, though no love is lost in that relationship – nor is this an egregious smear). As a matter of fact the two had had a previous relationship – far from the professional one they now strove to carry on with. CL completely distrusted his ex but kept most of his feelings to himself. Garnet was indeed a pro, and her hiring was orchestrated by forces out to hurt the band – and not just musically.

Garnet immediately hired MD's first femme lead vocalist – Lacey Corbensen, who at that time involved with none other than Jareth! The drama between Lacey & Jareth slowed down the album considerably – and made Jareth more resolute than ever he'd wing it solo. He began sessions with Joplin Jones, and as his relationship with Lacey eroded, he became intensely interested in JT's former girlfriend Juliana Florenza. But Jareth's mysteries were nothing set against those of new MD recruit Perry Frish, a highly idioyncratic, intellectual experimenter with axe and words alike. Merc, for one, grew to dig the more challenging musical structures, as did CL. The two generally followed Frish's lead, which resulted in Merciless Dog's first cult tunes (aside from “And Throw My Coffin... Into the Oven”): “Lifeforce”, “Cyclothymic Reaction”, “By the Narrowest of Margins”, and Frish's and Dowle's grinding paranoiac “Psychickal Invasions”. Frish's main drawback was that he, like Jareth, CL, and the hot new guitarist in Hallmark, Japanese Koro Takamatsu, were all prime suspects in the bizarre “Transient” case (cf Leo Rosegrave's aforementioned ONUS article “Bleeding Thornes”), which was resolved early in Frish's tenure in MD.

Expect No Mercy was rounded out by two Dowle/ Corbensen tracks that hearkened back to the style found on the MD demos, and Convy Lee Sutch swallowed his pride and sang and wrote the music & lyrics (and played most instruments) for his lament “Tressa”, in which he finally publicly declared his love for the woman he felt was his soulmate, Tressa Matalaine (fortunately she came to feel the same). “Tressa” was the first modest hit for MD, and the album moved fairly well. Rather than rest on their proverbial laurels, the same lineup immediately returned to the studio. For the first time the pressure was on for Merc and his imbibing of substances became his coping mechanism. He began to drive himself insanely hard and Parcs offered to pick up some slack, but Merc refused. Merc and Frish had many clashes over the direction of the group, though they were both more popular and more avant-garde than ever – a rare alchemy not to be trifled with. Merc also felt betrayed by Lloyd-Langton. He swore Jareth would never rejoin Merciless Dog as long as Merc lived. Prophetic...

Frish wished to call the 3rd full Merciless Dog album Psychick Wind, but Merc, who stepped up to produce this release himself, prevailed, with Mercy Killing, adorned with a cover of rather dubious taste, winning out as the title. The album was indeed schizo, with opening tracks “Mercy Killing”, by Dowle alone, and “More Lies about Vietnam”, by Thorne, presenting a retrogressive, though tuneful, face to the band. Thorne's track was written when he was a 14 year old hippie with hair down his waist and his mind obsessed by 'Nam, John Lennon, the Kennedys, My Lai, and other moribund '60s American touchstones. Thorne next collaborated with Perry Frish on their original title track, “Psychick Wind”, which steered the LP into a much more serious, even grim, vein. This is often called Merciless Dog's “dark” album, and fittingly so, as it was the last time this band assembled under this name. Perry Frish's classic “Unilateral Occidental”, a complex guitar workout, continued the fun, as did the claustrophobic Dowle/ Thorne/ Corbensen downer “Euthanasia”. Climaxing the record are two tracks that became live staples in years to come: “Born Upon the Sun”,an existentialist fairy tale of sorts composed by most of the band [sans Lacey]; and the soul-wrenching “My Heart Is Raw”, written largely by Sutch but brought to chilling life by Lacey Corbensen.

Sadly, Percy Frish was mysteriously killed upon completion of this record. It was soon decided to call the group quits following the fatal drug overdose of Merc Dowle's (or so went the “official explanation” - again, see the amazing articles by Leo Rosegrave, who delves deep under the skin of the Hallmark scene). But original MD members Jeremiah Thorne and Parcs Dowle (drafted back into the group on drums to fulfill the final obligations of MD's massive tour, their first headlining) believed otherwise. To mark this as a new band of sorts, the group began spelling their name 'Mercyless Dogg' and hit the reset button on their official discography, commencing with their “first” album, 1990's Pariah. Just prior to that record, the many (living) musicians to play with Merciless Dog assembled for a one-off live triple LP/ Double CD offering: All His Glory: The Definitive Live Merciless Dog June 1989. Many live tracks from over the years, all the way to the final world tour, are found here, under the production of the Dowle brothers and Fielding Schmikler. All His Glory was so well-received that several of the pre-Mercyless Dogg tracks, found their way permanently into intervening setlists. Notable examples are, among others, “And Throw My Coffin... Into the Oven”, “Tressa”, “Topaz”, “Unilateral Occidental”, and “My Heart Is Raw”. Thus marked the end of the band that became the band, so to speak. 

Part 3. Mercyless Dogg Proper

Released in October 1990, Pariah marks a paradigm shift, but not the most radical, given that now the group is under the direction (though not always creative control) of Merc's younger brother Parcs Dowle. This is also the first album that MD works with the Reverend Vidal Wynan, a childhood friend of Jeremiah's and, at the ripe age of 23, a fully ordained Unitarian minister. Together, Wynan and the returning Timothy Sessions, produce, mix, and engineer Pariah. Sessions guests on piano, and Vidal is featured on 3 tracks on piano, violin, and cello. He also enhances the nearly-subliminal tape loops and effects throughout the album. In a nod to the past, there is a “honky-tonk/ country-rock” tune found here, “Hard Days Ahead”, with an infectious melody sung by none other than the departing Lacey Corbensen (who was invited to stay but was beset by overwhelming personal issues), with back-up vocals by Elizabeth “Betsy” Hoxworth-Palmer and punk vagabond Jim Natchey. Jareth, now out of the band, and choosing not to join its latest incarnation, nonetheless appears on a heated shred session with new lead guitarist (also mandolin, sitar, toy koto) Koro Takamatsu on “Exodus Exigency”, a sessential head trip for guitar freaks.

Besides 26 year old newcomer Koro, the debut 'Mercyless Dogg' lineup is familiar: Parcs Dowle, drums, percussion; Jeremiah Thorne, keys, vocals; Convy Lee Sutch, bass, co-lead vocals; and the much-missed Dietrich Palmer on co-lead vocals and rhythm guitar. “Six String Ninja” showcases Koro's solo prowess, and “Pariah” is the 'epic' of the album, with Takamatsu and Thorne co-writing a tale of apocalyptic grandeur with guests Wynan and Sessions. Wynan contributes the biblical-flavored lyrics (worry not, Wynan's personal spiritual beliefs are quite subdued and unfailingly poetic). The LP closes with what would become a live staple in years to come: a downbeat existentialist fable, “Meaningless”, surprisingly sprung from the pens of Dowle and Palmer.

After a lengthy world tour opening for various groups and fraught with behind the scenes intrigues, July 1991 saw the release at last of a new Mercyless Dogg album – Sleight of Hand, Slight of Mind. Rev. Vidal Wynan takes his rightful place not only as the band's producer (assisted by Fielding Schmiker) but also as a full-fledged and pivotal member of Mercyless Dogg. The entire five-piece from the prior album returns to join the Reverend. The writing grows more and more introspective and spiritual (though not of a single ideological bent). We're a long way from “Season of the Bitch” now, folks (ironically, as Rev. Vidal and Polly Dagger were longtime foes until her passing). Takamatsu stretches his virtuosity to levels unheard of beyond those of Lloyd-Langton, and Vidal proves himself as able a musician as a producer/ lyricist, covering violin and indeed all strings that make an appearance here – cello, bass, etc. And once again his knob-twiddling produces some eerily and powerful sounds perfectly timed. Standout tracks are “Mantra” (Wynan/ Takamatsu/ Thorne), “Blessed Be” (same writers), “Nazarene” (same), and “Necromancer” (the three plus Convy Lee). Indeed the Takamatsu/ Thorne/ Wynan axis crafts some of the most compelling soundscapes ever found on an MD release.

Sadly, Jeremiah, a co-founding member, left the band for some time after this epochal record. Koro Takamatsu leaves for Japan after the conclusion of the Slight of Hand... tour. He will return to Hallmark in late 1993 but meet an untimely fate in October of that year. Jeremiah, who had turned himself completely over to the occult, is long gone as an MD member when he is (apparently) slain in early 1994. So what of Mercyless Dogg? In 1993, they immediately find a replacement for Koro – one Dyson Bryles. Dyson was accustomed to being the boss – the cardinal sign in an ever-mutable zodiac of musickal chairs. His aforementioned band Tenebruso offered low-rent talent such as “punk-prep” Jim Natchey and his replacement, “bass god” Regal Demming, as well as the ever loyal Corey Samson on drums. When Corey went off to college, and Dyson had had enough with those he deemed insincere about making it in music, he decided, as he was wont to do, to experiment – this time entailing simply being a member of a band, rather than its driving force. Still, his force certainly reawakened the moribund Dogg. After their losses, the towel was all but thrown in. But Dyson Bryles forged the carelessly tossed rag into an iron gauntlet, and not only lifted it, but did mortal battle donning it (to thoroughly flog a metaphor). Sadly only one document exists of this volatile combination.

Called Requiem, and released at long last in 1994, some time after this most special of outfits had run its course, the next Mercyless Dogg record featured MD vets Parcs, CL, and Rev. Vidal, bu it was difficult finding anyone else. Koro was in Japan, Perry and JT deceased, and Jareth hopelessly missing. Vidal called for new blood, and Parcs wooed the disillusioned Bryles away from his own collapsing band. To Sutch's chagrin, his bandmates gave Dyson carte blanche creatively in the band. Bryles ended up writing a lion's share of Requiem, and his time honing his punk-prog chops with lesser musicians paid off with Dyson essentially refashioning MD into the beast towards which it had been slouching since Parcs donned his late brother's gauntlet. Requiem was an all-out fusion (no preconceptions of that word please) of punk/ hardcore, prog/ spacerock, sublime melodies, more than a dose of out jazz, a smidgeon of goth-industrial and electronica, and anything else that could possibly fit into that proverbial kit(s)chen sink. From dub to morose balladry to paint-pealing bursts of raw metal, Dogg expelled a joyous noise – and, to this scribe at least – the perfect band and the perfect album, plain and simple. Truthfully, Bryles could not have affected such a game changer were it not for the masterful pair of groundbreaking LPs preceding them – and the prodigal work of Wynan and Takamatsu, overlaid atop the most solid rhythm aggregate (Parcs Dowle and Convy Lee Sutch) ever erected.

So what is Requiem? The finest MD LP? Not quite – too many have vied for that title in recent years. But a handy breakdown should prove illuminating. With Vidal still on strings and subbing for the ill-fated JT on keys, and Parcs ensconced on the drum stool, CL covered the lead vocals and bass more passionately and with more virtuosity than previously hinted at. This left Bryles in charge of all the guitars and some nice backing vocals, as well as playing some small parts on keys originally intended for Jeremiah, notably on notorious atheist Bryles' poignant piano-laden album closer “Requiem in Pascat”, a deeply spiritual reading of Vidal's sorrow over fallen friends. The irony of Bryles' performance is indeed wicked.

Opening with the grindingly heavy “You Cut... I Bleed”, another of CL's bitter love songs which completely ups the ante on Dowle's hardcore percussive assault, co-writer Bryles' tingling riff warps and weaves through CL's serpentine bass line. “Mindworm” is another razor-sharp track, a florid yet brain-blasting cautionary tale regarding psychic vampires. Dowle and Sutch have rarely been tighter. The trio of bone-crunching heaviosity that launches this ultimately serene LP is rounded out with the (some might say) inevitable anthem “Mercyless Dogg”, operating from a blazing Bryles riff and the most foul (in a good way) lines to spew forth from the pen of a Dowle.

In the now-time-honored MD tradition of expecting the unexpected and turning on the proverbial dime, Wynan and Sutch constructed a DeMille-worthy epic “Tower of Babel”. The two men collaborated on the music and lyrics, which can be seen as much as about the futility of communication in a relationship as about Nimrod's snafu back in that legendary temple. Wynan's violin and Sutch's upright bass break the tune in two, and the low notes, though a struggle to hear on occasion, are expertly wrought. This seques into Sutch's “To Dust”, featuring CL on vocals and acoustic guitar, Bryles also on acoustic guitar (playing lead parts) , Parcs on tasteful cymbals, and Wynan bringing out shivering shades of emotion on a cello. Like Wynan's “Requiem...”, the slow, languid “To Dust” explores Sutch's obsession with the fallen, foes and comrades alike, and could be the group's crowning ballad up to that time.

Bryles' major brainchild for the album is “Side 2” (recall those?): a four-part oldschool prog exercise called “Existence”. Bryles wrote the massive suite's at times ponderous lyrics while CL and the Rev polished some of the tuneage. Part 4, “Answers”, is a convoluted finger-picked acoustic piece, with Dyson singing the fragile lyrics (his voice, while not bad, lacks the power and sensitivity of others in the group). Sutch contributes backing vocals, lending strength to the tune. After the aforementioned album closer, the “new Mercyless Dogg”'s fans had plenty of time to digest the new material, with a massive national tour in the offing. Sadly, the cracks around the edges of the Dyson Bryles persona began to gape asunder on the tour, and Convy Lee and Dyson especially became lifelong rivals and eventually all-out enemies.

Requiem was a hit of sorts, gaining more international distribution than had ever been possible for the group. This was largely due to the cryptic and wealthy tour promoter Vance Paminter, whose family had traditionally been dirt-poor Gossingham mainstays – but there was far more to Parminter than met the eyes. Meantime, Dyson took full credit for the band's success, though in the US they were still a modest cult band – though in Hallmark proper they were rather well received, even though many were turned off by their occult “aura”. Odd for a group comprised of a buddhist (Parcs), a Christian (Vidal), a pagan (CL), and a “fundamentalist atheist” (Bryles).

Dyson left near the end of the tour, consumed by his success and his various female obsessions. He immediately formed Bleed with Regal Demming and Etienne Rojiczek (and, occasionally, Betsy Hoxworth-Palmer). Sutch had already written the opening song for the next album (to be titled Fourth (after the 4th LP/ CD by Dogg proper). This track, “Retribution”, was Sutch's scorching nod to his rage towards Bryles. Even Vidal was affected by the dark energy that coursed through the band's most ironically successful stint, and Sutch recommended journeyman lead guitarist “Prester John Grey” (who they eventually learned really was benefactor Vance Parminter). Grey had played with some fairly successful bands since his teens in the 60s (notably with shock rocker Desi Decadence) and yet seemingly had no ego re: his accomplishments (the exact opposite of Dyson). Grey wanted to join a band of equals and nurture them to fame. Vidal was overjoyed, so much so that he was not the least bit turned off by John's overtly occult/ left hand path leanings and symbology. Grey had studied with onetime lover Juniper Thoth (“Queen of the Left Hand”) in the early 1960s when both were mere kids. Vidal was very accepting and the whole group dug Prester John (also known as “Presbyter Johannes”). They immediately proceeded to work on Fourth, with their lead guitarist once again penning the bulk of the music. But PJG was a calm, measured creator; the tension from the 'Dyson days' was not to be found.

Sutch and Wynan had worked up two tracks together and Grey played on them: both were Christ-oriented lyrically. “Unborn Souls” was a libertarian view of abortion; while “Repent” would close the album, with forgiveness the ultimate virtue (a far cry from Sutch's recent darker material.) The remainder of the album virtually belonged to Grey. Five mighty cosmic tracks in a row (“Celestial Magician”, “Cross of Many Colours”, “In the Pulsing Heart of A Far-Off Nebula”, “Into the Eyes of Abraxas” and “Moonstone” - all covertly autobiographical vignettes concerning Grey's dabblings in Piscean demonology), abetted by the MD vets but largely sculpted by Grey, made the album the most sonically expansive work Dogg had yet produce.

The group immediately began a sell-out tour which reached spots in the world they'd never been before. Unfortunately, Hallmark was locked in the grip of the riotous 'Nihil War' (named for Jens Sebastian aka Nihil, a formidable racist organizer). As an ugly race war went horribly beyond control, the god-like being Vaikuntha, whom most saw as a mere mythical figure, lurked in the Mt. Mosaic area and sent agents to foment chaos across the land. In mid 1995, these horrid events climaxed,and it was stunningly revealed that Grey was an agent of both Nihil and Vaikuntha. He met his end, however, but the band was never really the same, as they had lost far more than Grey.

The greatest tragedy to befall Mercyless Dogg as a result of the Nihil War was the passing in July 1995 of Rev. Vidal Wynan, practically the leader of the group by this time. Vidal was instrumental in exposing his once partner Grey's true nature, but Vidal, it was deemed by Grey and Nihil, simply “knew too much”. A youthful protege of Vidal's, Michelito Mourning, risked his life to save Wynan, but to no avail. Mourning lived; the Reverend was forever gone but had met a heroic end. Prester John Grey paid for his sins in a spectacular death, leaving Mercyless Dogg halved. Until....

Part 4. Undying

Karma was smiling on MD that summer despite its losses. Jareth Lloyd-Langton, AKA Transient, returned at long last to the fold and expressed interest in playing the new, more advanced musicks he'd learned in somewhere he called “Omegan space”. He handpicked Parcs and Convy Lee as his rhythm section. Was Mercyless Dogg to be salvaged after all? In any case, the “reborn” Jareth had much to sort out in his new/old life, and much fall-out awaited the citizens of Hallmark. Around March 1996, however, fate convened with the three early Doggs playing together again. And more: the witch and spiritual advisor to the legendary “Compound”, Urania Frabricand, who'd been singing since childhood but lately merely chanted her mystical workings, expressed interest in joining the reformed Dogg. Convy Lee immediately warmed to the idea as did they all. To fill out their sound to "Rev. Vidal levels", she asked if her best friend, Seth McNally, could join alongside her. Parcs mused, “The newest blood... and the eldest. So mote it be!” he chuckled to Urania, whom he took an immediate creative and personal interest in (though it would be some yeras before a short-lived romance bloomed between the two).

Urania (eager to immerse herself in the act of creation after being witness to so much destruction by Nihil, who had coerced her into marrying him) was to be Convy Lee's co-lead singer, covering all the songs CL himself didn't sing over the years, with some exceptions. Urania played violin, cello, and synthesizer and could sub for the Reverend's parts with some training. Seth, meanwhile, could sing a few odd tunes left without cover singers. He could play keys and synth and perform JT's parts. Finally, he could play bass as well, but didn't ever do so in MD due to CL's ubiquity. Importantly (to some), Urania and Seth brought a new, youthful look and dark edge to the group, something to distinguish it from the gonzo guitar and heavily-produced sounds of yesteryear...

The recording of Love... Undying began quickly but numerous delays pushed it on into the months and years. The quasi-mythical Compound and its many adventures interfered time and again. But in January 1997, Love... Undying hit the shelves. In a first, Parcs Dowle was the producer, while Jareth handled those infernal engineer's knobs. The sound startled all who heard it: dense, ultra-modern, mostly dark and high-tech, yet thick with the power and experimentation that always set MD apart. The fifth MD studio affair hits just as hard and out of left field as its first. Its highlights are many: Urania's ritualistic howling on “Priestess”; the deep black industrial pool of “Spinal”; the retro-surrealism of “The Bleeding Tooth”; the unfettered fret bashing of “End of An Age”; the churning maelstrom of “Blood and Iron”; the morose balladry of “Love Undying” and “God's Right Hand (For Vidal)” - truly this was a terminal document for this most expansive of musical aggregates.

One could continue, and delineate who wrote what to forge such sounds but what matter it anyway? This band had taken its last few years of hardship and hammered itself into a most well-oiled doomsday machine... doomsday with a shred of hope amidst the gloom. The next step to the Mercyless Ones' methodology for world domination amounted to a sequel to the classic All His Glory – at last, a live album under the Mercyless Dogg moniker. And so came Live... Undying (1998), a definitive live document of the band (at least until 2005's Renewal) produced by Parcs Dowle and featuring an impeccably chosen slate of material from every phase of MD's career, reaching all the way back to “And Throw My Coffin... Into the Oven” and guilty pleasure “Season of the Bitch” (in a particularly grinding rendition), and alighting on work from each studio offering from the Merciless Dog EP to their latest disc – a glorious snapshot of 13 years of songwriting brilliance. It was gratifying to hear such a re-energized unit revisit choice selections from the band's days with Merc Dowle, as well as restore more recent but no less classic cuts to their repertoire such as “Exodus Exigency”, “Necromancer”, “To Dust”, and “In the Pulsing Heart of A Far-Off Nebula”. The enduring work of Dogg's former members (several of them now passed on), even ones that have fallen from favor such as Grey and Bryles, is well-served by this lineup, and the modernized arrangements of all of the classic MD material is first-rate.

With the renewed and refreshed lineup in place, the band continued down their current corridors for a time, culminating in a second studio offering, Penance (2000), this time around produced for the first time by Convy Lee, and Jareth back on the mixing/ engineering duties. The band was rarely ever more in total control of their own sound and presentation. The material again is top-notch, with all of the group contributing strong arrangements, from Fabricand's “The Hanged Woman” to the title track/ closer by Sutch. McNally contributes much more to the writing this time around, enjoying incendiary collaborations with Parcs and Lloyd-Langton on tracks such as Cortex”. “Hack”, “Penetrate”, and “Godhead” - all churning goth-industrial-tinged pieces but distinguished by ye olde Dogg eclectic flavoring. “This Ocean of Night” fills the now-requisite 'epic' slot on the record, and melds Urania's soul-stirring vocals and dark as the void lyricism with a moody and elegiac tune by Sutch and Lloyd-Langton, who by now border on the telepathic in their sonic interplay.

The most interesting and controversial (yet most musically conventional) track on Penance is “Miss Eunice Dress”, also the single from the album and the first MD track in some time to be penned by someone not in the band. Though Convy Lee produced and arranged the tune, the music and lyrics were devised by band associate (and longtime “familiar” of Urania in her ritual magick) Simon Boom. “Miss Eunice Drees” became Dogg's first modest hit single in some time. And, sadly, here began a schism within the group that dragged on nearly half a decade and divided longtime fans as well (though this scribe remained loyal and attempted to sift method from madness).

Miss Eunice..” was a demo recorded by Boom on an old stolen 4-track. Simon plays guitar and autoharp and sings and adds a bit of percussion. Simon sought out mysterious tunesmith Leo Rosegrave to produce it under his “Graves” moniker (the name Leo used for his own musical projects). Seems as though ONUS' own radical journalist was a longtime musician with his own demo, simply called Graves, recorded in the late 90s in Seattle WA, floating about. Graves featured a stirring track, “Debris”, that made its way into Simon's hands in 1999 (and Convy Lee's soon after, seemingly coincidentally). “Debris” inspired Simon, at a crossroads in his life after his heart was broken by the aforementioned Miss Drees (indeed,a real personage), to ply his trade at his own low key stark punk balladry – a long time avocation of his. Convy Lee was knocked out by Graves as well, and when Simon played “Miss Eunice Drees” for CL, Sutch offered to record and produce (and play back-up on) a Graves-esque demo for Simon as well.

CL's side project with Simon was slowing down completion of Penance, and so CL offered Parcs the choice for Dogg to essentially be Simon's backing band on “Miss Eunice...” and include the track, with Simon on lead vocals, on Penance. Parcs reluctantly agreed, though was admittedly a fan of the tune. Dogg's take on “Drees” featured Parcs on spare percussion, CL on bass and backing vocals, Urania on violin and backing vocals, Seth on piano, and Jareth on acoustic guitar and electric autoharp. Parcs, ever the skeptic at first, enjoyed the change of pace (and good reception for the song), and saw another new vein the group might mine on the already planned follow-up CD.

Part 5. Terminal Reality....

Urania Fabricand left the band for good in 2001 to concentrate on her magick and leadership at the Compound. But the most jaw-dropping surprise for the band came in 2002, when Jeremiah Thorne officially returned from the dead – a tale beyond the purview of this article; see Flicker Street Dispatch hack Barry Keller's 2007 unauthorized bio of JT and the Thornes, Every Rose... [get it??]. JT astonishingly  asked to return after a decade to the band of his youth. Though there was still some ill will between JT and Jareth and CL, things were beginning to work themselves out, and the reborn Thorne was indeed in a better place than when he met his maker last (ten years in something called a “Soul Jar” might do that to a person). Seth was amicably let go in favor of JT on keys and synth, and soon popped up in Hallmark cult band Soul Obscured, a truly original outfit struggling for larger success and hoping to gig with Dogg and build a more concrete following after years of plying the boards. Dogg, however, was met with one personal or professional crisis after another in 2002, and soon put the band on indefinite hiatus.

Simon, meanwhile, was still writing and playing, and Convy Lee enjoyed working with him in his small amount of downtime between Compound drama and intense difficulties on the romantic front, largely spawned by the return to his life of his former lovers -  sisters (and, yes, first cousins of yours truly), Ruby and Garnet Pace. Unfortunately he was already been involved with the formidable femme vigilante Cotton Suede, so things were a bit convoluted. CL simply, as always, vented through his music, penning new lyrics and skeletal tunes such as “Asunder” and “Black in Tooth and Claw” and shepherding Boom compositions “Amenity” and “The Need”, both cathartic tunes for the troubled Boom, who claimed he was finally over his disastrous pursual of his twisted muse, Eunice Drees (who sued to no avail to censor the song named for her).

In 2003, Parcs began negotiating plans for a definitive MD boxed set to celebrate 15 years of Mercyless Dogg. This brought him and Jareth back together to work on track selection and marketing plans (such as a “comeback” album and world tour). Awkwardly, though, this came as Parcs and Jeremiah had begun playing together again and jamming with the 20 year old Jiri Takamatsu, prodigal daughter of original Dogg member, the late guitar wunderkind Koro Takamatsu. Jiri was no less precociously formidable as her ill-fated father, and the threesome's jams had already yielded an astonishing demo track, “Bathed in Absinthe”. Jiri also was possessed of a powerful singing voice of intimidating range. Jareth asked Parcs if this heralded a new band a-forming or simply yet another incarnation of Dogg. Parcs swiftly decided the new material being worked up with Kiri and JT would belong to an aforementioned comeback recording for MD. Jareth and JT began playing together again, in preparation for a proper reunion tour supporting the projected boxed set and new album. They soon wrote a magnum opus together entitled “Distant Spheres”, and the bad feelings and decade apart seemed to just melt away.

Meanwhile, Jiri brought in her girlfriend, Eden Verity, who was a singer, string player, and techno whiz in her own right. Eden was soon assigned Urania's vocal parts and Vidal's string parts for the tour and quickly became acclimated to the band. CL came to the group with Simon and asked if there was a place for them both in all the new activity. Jeremiah loved Boom's morose balladry and Sutch felt the band might be a salvation of sorts for the mentally erratic Boom. Parcs was skeptical about Simon, but relented on one condition – Parcs be allowed to bring in yet another new member as well and tour as a “big band” - an 8-piece (something never even considered by MD in the past). The group trusted their ostensible leader's instincts and Parc's good friend Moxon Flay aka 'DJ Flay' or simply 'MOX', a hip-hop, techno, and dub specialist, became the latest Dogg and the band's new producer and engineer.

Finally, in January 2004, the multi-disc (with DVDs) boxed set, called simply Mercyless Dogg went on sale and became the band's strongest seller to date. MOX and Parcs began planning a “mega-megaton tour” and put the finishing touches on the new record, released three months later and dubbed Distant Spheres – the seventh Mercyless Dogg studio offering since 1990. “Euphony” with lyrics by Thorne, music by Thorne and Verity, and vocals by both, became a huge alternative hit, and MOX and Eden worked out a supple dance remix. The group combined all of their newly-minted forces on “Loop Gurus I”, a lengthy experimental noize collage that found MD remaining poised on the cutting edge they'd ridden for so many years. Only Simon Boom was anxious about the band's new prospects. He was a bit nervous playing in front of such huge crowds, preferring intimate settings and material (indeed, he seemed lost at times amid the more complex material). Parcs issued CL a harsh rebuke that Sutch could not “carry” Boom; Boom had to give 100% to the band or he was out.

It was under these both inspiring and dispiriting circumstances that an ensuing live album/ video, Renewal, was recorded, and released in 2005. While a most worthy document, it shows a band lacking cohesion with petty clashes festerring beneath the music, even as the title (MOX's idea) was an attempt at a statement of creative rebirth and a bright new era. Jareth disagreed strongly and left the group immediately after the tour. Though adequately challenged musically, he felt the preponderance of personalities wasn't quite gelling. He felt MOX was a bit overbearing, and though he loved him as a friend, had his own doubts about Simon, who Parcs finally fired in late 2005. Eden also decides to decamp, but Jiri persuaded her to stay for the time being. They begin recording an album of just the two of them as time allowed.

By early 2006, as the band was beset by personal issues even as they enjoyed their greatest commercial success, Parcs's power struggle with Flay came to a head and Moxon is shown the door. At this juncture, Parcs, CL, JT, Eden, and Jiri convene and decide to resume writing and touring. Later in the year, Jareth Lloyd-Langton comes to terms with the smaller, more focused unit and agrees to remain for the foreseeable future. This spurs a flurry of activity on the writing and recording fronts. Parcs asks each of the 6 members (including himself) to bring in one whole finished tune apiece and the band would perform on it, then jam together until they arrive at a lengthy group composition. All are amenable to this, as the band still feels cohesive yet all are able to stretch out in various directions and have time to deal with the plethora of personal crises being hurled at them.

Jareth contributes a poignant instrumental “Valentina”, dedicated to his young daughter, on which he duets on guitar and various stringed instruments with Jiri.. “The Soul Jar: A Rumination on -----”, by Thorne, is a sonic attempt to capture the sensations experienced by Jeremiah in his years between life and death. It is utterly abstract and frighteningly evocative. “Roads” by Sutch is the inevitable but ever-welcome CL contemplative heavy soul ballad. Its R & B existentialism keeps pace with his finest work, and Jareth contributes an atmospheric solo . “A Distant Pulse” by Dowle finds Parcs experimenting with various percussion instruments with a reliance on mood. Eden and Jeremiah play off of Park's somber bells and metallic beats to great effect. “Loop Gurus III” is continuing the loop and tape effect experiments initiated by Eden when she first signed up with Dogg. Simultaneously euphonious and cacophonous, Eden shows off her electronic dexterity and makes one wonder just how germane MOX was to MD with Eden around. “Into the Pale Guts of Hell” is a shrieking dervish of a death metal number written by Jiri. She, Jareth, and Convy Lee take turns abusing their axes while devilish moogs and theremins bubble and wail up to the surface and Parcs pounds with breathtaking clockwork double bass. For the record, Jiri is the shrieker here, and she is chilling in her riff on the chaos of the infernal. Finally, the band's joint composition, which is to be the title track of the album, “In Terminal Reality”, is another lengthy prog meditation on inner and outer space. Jareth taps into many of his more interesting effects here, replicating that most oblique of modern scientific buzzwords: “Omegan space”.

Skip ahead several months: the Hallmark area is in the fearsome grip of the out of control 'Austerity Killings', which have been ongoing since 2005. Two years on, they have only escalated. Police Commissioner Nathan Cloud (whose successor Keats Murray [a lifelong friend of Jeremiah Thorne's] and Captain of Detectives, Jann Kesh, were both early casualties) is going in too many directions at once according to most and not narrowing the investigation. Jeremiah's own wife, Dorian Roeg Thorne, mother of his young child, Alec, is also a recent victim. Work on the latest Mercyless Dogg album is complete and released in the summer of 2007. The band tours sparingly on a double headlining tour with Soul Obscured (who've begun to break on the national level after far too long). JT is obsessed with the killings and is occasionally replaced live with ex-member Seth McNally on keyboards.

And so, In Terminal Reality is the latest MD platter and slouches toward the classic. It in some ways reflects the pall over the band, a snapshot of the zeitgeist. Amazingly, it fares poorly save among the faithful. Which is just as well, as the emotional fatigue experienced by the band and the utter burn out suffered after the “mega-mega” touring is catching up a bit with the group, who have stated time and again that they are only in it for the creativity, not the profits, and that, as the saying goes, when it's no longer fun, it will finally be over.

Two summers on, much misery and despair have enveloped the band as loved ones continue to be targeted in the Austerity Killings. The positive news is that it looks as though the true killer(s) have been found and are close to being routed. The horrifying fallout has affected Mercyless Dogg more directly than ever. After recording on and off with an eye towards a new album, Threshold, to be released in 2010 (this is subject to change), Jeremiah finally departed Dogg seemingly for good to devote himself entirely to his occult activities and to seek justice for the deaths of his wife and loved ones. He has currently paired off with his former mother-in-law, sorceress Juniper Thoth, in both a mistress-disciple and interpersonal relationship. They feel close to locating the man now believed responsible for the killings: one Colonel Absalom Thirteen, a high ranking agent with perenially paranoid paramilitary watchdogs REACT. The inscrutable Thirteen visited tragedy directly unto the house of Dogg this past year when he raped and brutalized Jiri Takamatsu, which left her impregnated with a madman's child. In November 2008, she gave birth to a son Noah Verity Takamatsu, whom she and Eden (now wed) will raise together. Their 'solo' album is in post-production as of this writing, and they have both performed much of the next MD album. Both state this is for their continued sanity as much as it feeds their joint muse.

Seth McNally has replaced Jeremiah in Mercyless Dogg, and the band continues to fiddle with the nearly-finished product. With Jareth and Convy Lee both holding great stakes in solving the Austerity killings, again, much of their musical output has been sidelined indefinitely. This writer, for what little it's worth, will certainly celebrate this spawn of pain and loss, Threshold, and eagerly await its birthing wails and cries – especially as it may still forever the voice of a musical aggregate as necessary to me as oxygen – the immortal, inimitable, seminal rock band of our times – Mercyless Dogg.

Sam Pace would like to thank Mercyless Dogg for their cooperation in preparing this article, especially under such intense duress. He would also like to naturally thank all MD members of all incarnations – past, present, living, and dead, for forging a most joyous noise that will echo unto infinity.

(Below) Impressionistic sketches of various members by ONUS illustrator Inez van den Camp! Go Inez!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Copyright 2009 Samuel Pace.
Art Copyright 2009 Inez van den Camp.

Published by Samuel Pace, Head Writer
Edited by Aimee Ackler, Asst. Head Writer
Production Design: Pace, Ackler, and Connie Canova
Typography: Connie Canova
Leo Rosegrave, Feature writer, interviews (Clive Dharma), Film editor, editorial assist
Sam Pace, head writer, music writer, editorial pain in the rear
Aimee Ackler, Music editor, book reviews
Carina Canova, Comix reviews, lifestyles and geekdom diva
Milton Childers, Zine. E-zine, movie, and book reviews (Gutted, Fecal Prank, Burning Pages)
Bryan Sykorsky Snypes, Video and book reviews, interviews (Vaulka Eldritch)
John Bandicott, commentary, “Where the Hippies Kill the Law”
Inez van den Camp, Art reviews, illustrations, cover illo “20 Years On...Brainpan Off”
June Kim Liao, Writer, True Dragon, occasional martial arts column
Ruby Pace – additional commentary, “Pox on Thee”
Self-Published bi-annually by Onus Communications Copyright 2009

FLICKER STREET, ONUS Magazine, Mercyless Dogg, entire contents of article, and all characters Copyright 2015 George Henry Smathers Jr.