Mercyful Fate

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Melissa

Mercyful Fate - Melissa ©1983 Roadrunner
1. Evil
2. Curse Of The Pharaohs
3. Into The Coven
4. At The Sound Of The Demon Bell
5. Black Funeral
6. Satan's Fall
7. Melissa

While their contemporaries were following the lead of Motorhead and making dirty, punk influenced thrash music with lousy production, Mercyful Fate were inspired by the roots of heavy metal and bands like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Combining heavy, memorable riff-driven songs, King Diamond's unique operatic vocals, a melodic leaning that their peers had abandoned, and the most deadly serious Satanic lyrics of the time, Mercyful Fate went from obscurity to cult heroes in under two years.

Melissa, their full length debut and follow-up to the much bootleged Mercyful Fate EP (1982), is quite simply a classic album of dark metal. As on the EP all of the music is written by gutiarist Hank Shermann. Opener "Evil" is my favorite heavy metal song of all time, opening with a killer slab of Shermann's guitar work and followed by King Diamond's trademark wail. (By the way, for all of those who don't like the King's falsetto vocals, he doesn't use them as much on this album as on future ones, so I would advise all King Diamond haters to at least give it a chance!) This sets the stage for the rest of Side One, with highlights being concert favorite "Curse of the Pharaohs" and "Into the Coven" (which was on the PMRC's Top Ten of most offensive songs!). Side Two opens with "Black Funeral," a short, dirty anthem with "Hail Satan!" as part of the chorus. This is a favorite cover choice for today's black metal bands. "Satan's Fall" is over ten minutes, straying in to progressive rock territory with it's many solos and tempo changes, and closer "Melissa" is an evil ballad with King expressing heart-crushing sorrow at the death of his witch lover.

Obviously, it is my opinion that if you don't have this album you should sell blood if you have to to run out and buy it. However, I must warn the unaware that Mercyful Fate are not considered "extreme" metal next to today's offerings. Don't expect any blastbeats, hyperspeed guitars or overtly sickening lyrics. What you will get is expertly crafted songs that are both heavy and melodic, unbelievable vocals, and darkly poetic lyrics. A finer album you will never find.

Review by Scott Wilcox

Review date: 08/1999


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Don't Break The Oath

Mercyful Fate - Don't Break The Oath ©1984 Roadrunner
1. A Dangerous Meeting
2. Nightmare
3. Desecration Of Souls
4. Night Of The Unborn
5. The Oath
6. Gypsy
7. Welcome Princess Of Hell
8. To One Far Away
9. Come To The Sabbath
10. Death Kiss (demo)

Just one year after the phenomenal Melissa, Mercyful Fate returned with Don't Break The Oath, their second (and last) full length album with the classic lineup of Diamond, Shermann, Denner, Hansen, and Ruzz. This time around, Shermann shared writing duties with both King Diamond and Michael Denner.

Perhaps due to the multiple writers, Don't Break The Oath lacks the cohesion of Melissa, coming off as a collection of great songs as opposed to a great album. Opener "A Dangerous Meeting" is a close second to "Evil" as the definitive Mercyful Fate tune, once again using classic metal riffs and melodic hooks to make it an instant fan favorite. This song had been around since '81, going through many rewrites both musically and lyrically. The earliest known recorded version, "Death Kiss," is included as a bonus track on the remastered album, and it is interesting to hear the contrast from early demo to finished product three years later. Other standouts are the Diamond/Denner penned "Gypsy" which is reminiscent of the '77 Black Sabbath song of the same title, "Welcome Princess of Hell," argueably the most overlooked Shermann classic, and closer "Come To the Sabbath," a lyrical sequel to "Melissa" that features sing-along choruses and an embryonic funk-metal break near the end.

The generally more accessible sound and slicker production were winning Mercyful Fate many new fans, and the album reached #202 on the Billboard charts, not bad for a cult metal band from Denmark. And just like that, it was over. Hank Shermann was having problems with the band's Satanic image and wanted to pursue a pop rock career, so in 1985 Mercyful Fate called it quits. Shermann formed another band called Fate, and King Diamond took Denner and Hansen and formed his own self-titled band. Of course, in 1993 the band would reform (sans Kim Ruzz, who was still pursuing his postal career) but I doubt anyone would argue that it wasn't quite the same.

While I consider Melissa to be the superior album, it is like comparing a score of 100% to 99.5%...statistically insignificant. You may not have to sell your blood for this album, but you should definitely get it before spending the money on nonessentials like food and shelter.

Review by Scott Wilcox

Review date: 08/1999


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The Beginning

Mercyful Fate - The Beginning ©1987 Roadrunner
1. Doomed By The Living Dead
2. A Corpse Without Soul
3. Nuns Have No Fun
4. Devil Eyes
5. Curse Of The Pharaohs
6. Evil
7. Satan's Fall
8. Black Masses
9. Black Funeral

Can you say "contractual obligation?" Two years after Mercyful Fate broke up (and right as King Diamond was reaching the height of his popularity with his solo band), Roadrunner released this compilation. But unlike most post-mortum releases which are usually a glorified "Best Of," this album is essential for every Mercyful Fate fan.

The first four tracks are the self-titled Mercyful Fate EP released in 1982 by Rave On Records, which was hard to come by in the U.S. and was heavily bootlegged. The magnificence of Melissa is close to the surface on this recording, and it could easily be argued that the EP is even better than Melissa. The raw production intensifies the "old school" metal feel; the riffs are dirtier and King's vocals are more gruff. All four songs are near perfection, but "Nuns Have No Fun" received the most attention for it's sexual blasphemy and the "C-U-N-T" chorus. I don't care if you like Mercyful Fate are not, you should have this just for the historical value.

The next three songs are from the "Friday Rock Show" BBC Radio Program, recorded semi-live early in 1983 before Melissa had been recorded. All three would eventually end up on Melissa after some tinkering. These versions seem hurried (especially "Evil," which is a full one minute shorter than the final version), and while they are interesting to hear for diehard fans most won't be blown away by them. Still, they are a nice bonus, and imagine the uproar if they had never been officially released!

Tacked on the end is "Black Masses," recorded during the Melissa sessions and used as a B-side. While a good song, it is not up to the quality of the rest of Melissa and I am glad it was released in this way. On the album it would have been a weak link next to the other masterpieces; here it is a nice surprise from the vault. The remastered version also contains an early version of "Black Funeral" which was one of two tracks recorded for Metallic Storm, an early European metal compilation album. Again, completists will salivate, while no one else will care much.

While an odds-n-sods album is usually hard to recommend except to the people who probably bought it the day it came out, The Beginning is worth the buy just to have a pristine recording of the influential EP. Get it, and to quote King Diamond, "Say goodbye to all your holy angels..."

Review by Scott Wilcox

Review date: 09/1999

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Return Of The Vampire

Mercyful Fate - Return Of The Vampire ©1992 Roadrunner
1. Burning The Cross
2. Curse Of The Pharaos
3. Return Of The Vampire
4. On A Night Of Full Moon
5. A Corpse Without Soul
6. Death Kiss
7. Leave My Soul Alone
8. M.D.A.
9. You Asked For It

One year before the Mercyful Fate reunion, Roadrunner Records scraped the bottom of the barrel to release this collection of early demo recordings, dating 1981-1982. This obvious cash-in maneuver is given a bit of credibility by the fact that King Diamond himself did the liner notes, explaining each track and the circumstances surrounding it.

First, the "unreleased" songs. "Burning the Cross" was written by guitarist B. Petersen (Michael Denner's predecessor). Petersen left before any official recordings were made, thus this song was dropped (though you can hear a small portion that was later lifted for "Devil Eyes" on the Mercyful Fate EP.) The song isn't as awe-inspiring as the stuff that made it on to the albums, but it definitely has the early Mercyful Fate vibe, and with so few songs in their catalog it is a welcome addition.

"Return of the Vampire" is a Hank Shermann penned song that would eventually be redone for the reunion album in '93. I prefer this version because of its more raw style. The juxtaposition of the heavy riffs and King's ultra-melodic singing in the chorus rank it up there with any of the "official" classic songs.

"Leave My Soul Alone" and "M.D.A." technically are not Mercyful Fate songs. These were written by Michael Denner for his band, and Hank Shermann and King Diamond were considered session members on these recordings. The style of these songs is less gothic and more straight ahead hard rock, with King using less of his trademark wails. These songs are historically interesting, but little else.

That leaves five songs that are earlier versions of what we eventually heard on the studio albums: "Curse of the Pharoas" ("Curse of the Pharoahs"), "On a Night of Full Moon" ("Desecration of Souls"), "A Corpse Without Soul" (same), "Death Kiss" ("A Dangerous Meeting"), and "You Asked For It" ("Black Masses.") The first four are basically slower tempo, and usually longer, versions of the originals. These songs show less focus than the final versions, but give one an idea of how the band's songwriting and arranging matured over the few years they were together. "You Asked For It" is the exception; I prefer it to the final version. It has more energy and the lyrics fit better; the rewritten lyrics fit with the band's Satanic image, but sound forced in the actual song. The sound quality of these recordings is that of a good demo (with the exception of "You Asked For It", which had some water damage on the master).

Return of the Vampire, for the diehard fan, provides a look at the formation of one of the most important metal bands of all time. For anyone else, it is a bunch of old demos, mostly of songs that appear elsewhere with better sound quality. Mercyful Fate devotees are urged to seek this out, but the uninitiated should start out with Melissa or Don't Break the Oath.

Review by Scott Wilcox

Review date: 11/2002

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