While we are waiting for the Mercyful Fate reunion in 2020 and a new King Diamond album after 12 years, we are diving where history and legacy meet, exploring the story and the aspects that led Mercyful Fate and King Diamond to the status they have today.
by Andreas Andreou
Brats, Brainstorm, Black Rose and Danger Zone are names and bands from Copenhagen, Denmark, that connected local musicians and led to the creation of Mercyful Fate. Mercyful Fate was formed by Hank Shermann (guitar) and King Diamond (vocals) in 1981 and Back To Hell was another name they had in mind before. During the same period, Michael Denner (guitar) wrote songs for Danger Zone, and Shermann with King Diamond were helping him. Eventually, Michael Denner with Timi Hansen (bass) and "Old" Nick Smith (drums) that played with Danger Zone, joined Shermann and King Diamond in Mercyful Fate, but Smith was soon replaced by Kim Ruzz, before any official release. And the story begins...
There were many demo recordings during 1981, and parts of them were kept or re-arranged and used in the official releases from 1982 and on, just as other early parts of previous bands the Mercyful Fate members were in. When Brian Slagel flew to Europe in late 1982 (with John Kornarens) looking for distribution and business plans for his new label, Metal Blade Records, he had with him copies of his Metal Massacre compilation and when he gave a copy of the vinyl to one of the persons he met, he got a demo tape from a new Danish band; Mercyful Fate. Brian was shocked and ten years later, this name will come again in his way… "Death Kiss", "A Corpse Without Soul", "Return of the Vampire", "Curse of the Pharaohs", "Burning the Cross", "On a Night of Full Moon", "You Asked for It", "Walking Back to Hell", are titles of few of those demo tracks and most of them will appear officially in the compilation Return of the Vampire (1992).
Ebony Records from England, was the first label to approach Mercyful Fate and the song "Black Funeral" was recorded and included in the compilation Metallic Storm of 1982, while almost all of the other bands of this compilation never managed to release a full-length album. Later in 1982, the first official release of the band was Mercyful Fate (aka Nuns Have No Fun) that was released as a 12” EP on Rave-On Records, including the songs "A Corpse Without Soul", "Nuns Have No Fun", "Doomed by the Living Dead" and "Devil Eyes", and was recorded within few days. In 1983, Mercyful Fate joined Roadrunner Records and the first full-length album Melissa was recorded in July and was released later that year, with all music credited to Hank Shermann and lyrics to King Diamond. The band had all songs ready before entering studio and took them less than 2 weeks to complete recordings but they weren’t really satisfied with the procedure, something that changed with the second album, Don’t Break the Oath, that was recorded in May 1984. While King Diamond was always the sole lyricist, music on the second album wasn’t solely written by Shermann, as it was on Melissa. Don’t Break the Oath had more variety, since Denner contributed in 3 songs, and there are 2 songs completely written by King Diamond ("The Oath", "Come to the Sabbath").
( LET'S BRING SATAN INTO THE HOUSE )
At that time, during early ‘80s, music genres and how someone would characterize a band (mainly press, journalists and how labels would promote their bands, even bands themselves), is a subject to study. Decades later, many people would disagree since few of the terms used back then have been evolved to sub-genres, or today they mean something different, but at that time, they really weren’t out of place. For example Mercyful Fate was also mentioned as a black metal act and that was mainly because of the Satanic lyrics, the general concept and the appearance of King Diamond. Black Metal was firstly introduced to us as a term, thanks to Black Metal (1982), the second album of Venom, and somehow, bands like Venom, Mercyful Fate and Bathory (the key act) are considered as the first wave of black metal, while in the second one (late ‘80s – mainly early ‘90s) we have the essence of the genre that over the years is evolved and transformed. I always keep saying that it is important for every writer and music journalist to understand that every age needs to be approached differently and according to its facts - aspects and how people were viewing music at that time.
During the early '80s, what Mercyful Fate did, was extreme and disturbing for many people. King Diamond talked openly in interviews about his devotion to the Church of Satan led by Anton La Vey. At the same time, Mercyful Fate sounded (and looked) as something new and unique. Those complex arrangements with memorable melodies, the songwriting, the performance and King's vocals, created an innovative sound that needed many years to be recognized.
While there are around 20 known Mercyful Fate live shows until the end of 1983, from the beginning of 1984 the band was very active and performed around 50 live shows in Denmark, Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Belgium and one show in the United Kingdom, since the support UK tour with Manowar was cancelled for reasons that create those cool stories and myths over history…
More important though, Don’t Break the Oath was also released in the United States by Combat and Mercyful Fate managed to spend the last months from 1984 touring in North America, sharing the stage with bands like Exciter and Motörhead.
In early 1984, after supporting Venom live, Metallica went to the Sweet Silence Studios on Copenhagen, Denmark, to rehearse and complete the songs that became Ride the Lightning. In that studio, Mercyful Fate were also rehearsing and Metallica were inspired by them, thus a friendship was created and the Metallica element will appear again in the MF story...
In 1985, Shermann wanted the band to follow a different path with a hard rock, melodic and commercial sound but King Diamond refused, so Mercyful Fate broke up. Shermann formed Fate and King Diamond went on with the King Diamond band along with ex-Mercyful Fate members, Michael Denner and Timi Hansen, joined by Andy La Rocque (guitar) and Mikkey Dee (drums). In December 25th of 1985, No Presents for Christmas 12" single was released and two months later, King Diamond's debut album Fatal Portrait was released by Roadrunner Records, introducing to us a new path of theatrical horror and materialized King's musical vision. From that moment and on, King Diamond (the person) was always the leader, he had a clear vision and followed the direction he desired. Fatal Portrait is the bridge that connects the previous Mercyful Fate albums (since few songs were originally written for MF) with the next King Diamond releases, and the beginning of King’s concept horror stories, even if in this debut album, half of the songs are not part of the concept. All of the tracks were written by King, except "Charon", "Halloween" and "Haunted" that included Denner’s contribution, and also King Diamond started working with sound engineer Roberto Falcao, who was also a key person for the ‘80s KD albums.
Without missing a beat, King Diamond entered Sound Track Studio in Copenhagen and during December 1986 to February 1987, the album that by many is considered as the pinnacle of King's career, was recorded. Abigail was produced by King, assisted by Mikkey Dee and Michael Denner, engineered by Roberto Falcao, mixed by King, Andy La Rocque and Falcao, and nowadays, in terms of production and sound, even with all its reverb, it can be considered as a perfect '80s metal album. If I will try to stand out just three factors that make this album so great, these would be: songwriting, production, Mikkey Dee's performance. Everyone is in top form, but in this specific album, Mikkey nails it, something that was admitted over the years by the rest of the band.
Abigail, the first horror concept album, was a success and so was the tour that followed with nearly 70 live dates in the United States and Europe, until the end of 1987. King Diamond performs the most evil air guitar ever but guitarist Michael Denner didn't follow the band on the road and Michael Moon was brought in for the album's supporting tour. When touring was finished and King started to work on the follow-up album, Michael Denner and bassist Timi Hansen decided to leave the band and were replaced by Pete Blakk (guitar) and Hal Patino (bass). The story behind Hansen's departure, is that his wife threatened to leave him, if he would continue touring away from home. So, Hansen returned to his house and King Diamond recorded the third album, about another house, Amon... King decided that he will be doing only concept horror stories from that point and "Them" was the new album, written by King Diamond (except music on 3 tracks that were written by La Rocque), produced and mixed by King Diamond & Roberto Falcao, and released in July of 1988. The rest of the year, the band toured only in the United States with more than 50 shows but after that tour, Mikkey Dee left King Diamond.
Conspiracy was the first King Diamond album that was recorded in the United States and was produced by Roberto Falcao, King Diamond and Andy La Rocque, while Chris Tsangarides produced the guitar solos and mixed the album along with King Diamond and Roberto Falcao. Falcao also played keyboards (while he was arranging keyboard effects on the previous album) and the funny story is that his real name is Roberto Johansson and he was using "Falcao" in honor of Brazilian football legend Paulo Roberto Falcão, since he was born in Brazil of Danish parents and came to Denmark at the age of 9.
This time, Andy La Rocque wrote music for 5 tracks and Mikkey Dee returned as a session musician to record drums for the album and it is rumoured that he recorded his parts in one take... Snowy Shaw was hired as the drummer and went on tour with the band. During the Conspiracy Tour, King Diamond returned to Europe and performed around 50 shows. In March of 1990 the tour was finished and the band entered Sweet Silence Studio in Copenhagen, during June to August 1990 to record the next album, The Eye, produced by Roberto Falcao, King Diamond and Andy La Rocque. The Eye is an overlooked album of King Diamond and his last album with Roadrunner Records. Touring is one of the most important things for King himself and after the release of the album, Roadrunner didn't offer the same promotion as before, and the worst thing is that they didn't offer tour support, so King Diamond never toured for The Eye...
Meanwhile, a year before, in 1989, Hank Shermann and Michael Denner joined forces and formed Zoser Mez. In 1991 the band released their only album, Vizier of Wasteland, with few guitar parts bringing in mind Mercyful Fate but something was missing... However, that was the spark for the Mercyful Fate reunion with King Diamond. In 1992, when King Diamond’s deal with Roadrunner ended, King took the business decision to move his operation from Denmark to Dallas, USA. While he was searching for a new record deal, Brian Slagel and Metal Blade came into the picture, ten years after Slagel was first introduced to the music of MF. While discussing the possibility to sign King Diamond they eventually ended with the comeback album of Mercyful Fate, In the Shadows. Shermann and Denner already were together in Zoser Mez, King Diamond had few songs that suited better to Mercyful Fate, Slagel wanted to sign Mercyful Fate and the circle is meeting again.
In the Shadows was recorded during February-April 1993 with the line-up of King Diamond (vocals), Hank Shermann (guitars), Michael Denner (guitars) and Timi Hansen (bass), while drums were performed by Morten Nielsen, who also played in Zoser Mez. However, Nielsen just performed on the album and the reunion was introduced with Snowy Shaw on drums. King Diamond, besides all of the lyrics as usual (that remain in the horror field but not so satanic like the early years) wrote music for 4 songs, while Shermann wrote music for 3 songs and Denner for 2 of them. There was also a re-recorded version of "Return of the Vampire" with Lars Ulrich of Metallica on drums and in the future, Metallica will appear again in the story of Mercyful Fate.
While after the release of Mercyful Fate’s In the Shadows King Diamond had announced that he will start recording his new album The Spider’s Lullabye with Andy La Rocque, Mike Wead, Snowy Shaw and Sharlee D’Angelo, eventually another Mercyful Fate album was recorded in the summer of 1994 (Time) and Sharlee D’Angelo was already the bass player of MF because Hansen didn’t really liked touring, and touring was important for Mercyful Fate (especially King) since during 1993 they performed more than 40 shows in North America. However, the European shows of Mercyful Fate were very few compared with the ones in North America and took them until 1997 to have an extended European tour, mainly supporting King Diamond's band.
After the recording of Mercyful Fate's Time, King Diamond's band entered The Dallas Sound Lab and recorded The Spider's Lullabye during September-October 1994 with the line-up: King Diamond (vocals), Andy La Rocque (guitars), Herb Simonsen (guitar), Chris Estes (bass), Darrin Anthony (drums). However, it took months for the album to be released - since Mercyful Fate already had an album out in 1994 - and finally it was released in June 1995 by Metal Blade Records in the United States and Massacre Records in Europe. The Spider's Lullabye is the first King Diamond studio full-release since his debut, that is not a concept album.
In the beginning of 1996, Mercyful Fate enter The Dallas Sound Lab to record Into the Unknown, that was produced by King Diamond and Tim Kimsey, as they also did for the previous Mercyful Fate album, but also King Diamond's The Spider's Lullabye. King wrote music for 5 songs of Into the Unknown, Shermann for 3 and Denner wrote music for 2 of them. The album was released in August of 1996 by Metal Blade Records and during August, both King Diamond and Mercyful Fate bands, performed 5 shows in South America where Mercyful Fate was the opening act for King Diamond, and one of them was for Monsters of Rock in Brazil.
During that time, Micheal Denner left Mercyful Fate and was replaced by Mike Wead. With the line-up of King Diamond, Hank Shermann, Mike Wead, Sharlee D’Angelo and Bjarne T. Holm on drums (who had already replaced Snowy Shaw after the recordings of Time), Mercyful Fate recorded two more albums, Dead Again (1998) and 9 (1999) but the band didn't seem to go anywhere at that period and went inactive after the 1999 European & North America tour of nearly 60 dates. King Diamond always sold more and always got better contracts than Mercyful Fate. There wasn't any official statement of broke-up so they were on hiatus, and it seems that King Diamond wanted to put all of his energy in his personal band, while he already had released two more albums until the end of '90s, The Graveyard (1996) and Voodoo (1998), plus touring.
Those last two King Diamond albums, had an insane concept and music was similar; Madness! Both of them were different than The Spider's Lullabye that sounded more "normal", even if few songs seemed that could also fit in Mercyful Fate. However, his next effort, House of God (2000) is one of his best horror stories and the line-up at that time was: King Diamond (vocals), Andy La Rocque (guitar), Glen Drover (guitar), David Harbour (bass), John Hebert (drums). After the appearence at Sweden Rock Festival, a tour of more than 60 dates in the United States and Europe followed and in the summer of 2001 King Diamond recorded the next album, Abigail II: The Return, with another line-up change and besides his partner-in-crime La Rocque, he finally brings Mike Wead (guitar) in his band, Hal Patino returns on bass duties and Matt Thompson is the drummer, but the band didn't manage to tour and support the album. It is said, that Metal Blade didn't have the funds to support the tour because of the illegal downloading, so at this point King Diamond re-negotiated his contract in order to get a guaranteed tour fund, even if he will get less of a recording budget but until an acceptable point so he will keep a high quality.
With the same line-up, the band recorded The Puppet Master that was released in 2003 and also features additional female vocals by Livia Zita, who is also King Diamond's wife, whose real name by the way, is Kim Bendix Petersen. After the tour and a live album (Deadly Lullabyes Live, 2004) that was recorded on the US tour supporting The Puppet Master, King Diamond returned in 2007 with his last - until now - studio album, Give Me Your Soul... Please. However, the scheduled tour was cancelled due to a herniated disc. On Monday the 29th of November 2010, King was rushed to the hospital and after different tests it was recommended by the doctors to get a cardiac catheterization. After this was done, it was determined that King had several heart attacks and three of his heart's arteries were the cause: one was completely blocked, the second was 90% blocked, and the third was 65% blocked. The only solution to this was an open-heart triple-bypass surgery. The surgery took approximately 7 hours and was successful. After that, King Diamond took a break from music and music business.
During the early ‘80s, Mercyful Fate was a unique band with a controversial presence in the metal scene. However, you can easily spot the influence of ‘70s Judas Priest in the early years, plus the dark vibe and diversity of Black Sabbath, or a touch of Michael Schenker and UFO, while King Diamond loves Uriah Heep and he has mentioned many times that David Byron is his all-time favourite singer. As far as the make-up, King has said, that Alice Cooper was an inspiration but it all started when he saw Peter Gabriel live with Genesis. The combination of King’s over-the-top vocals with the complex songwriting, the performance, the melody, the satanic lyrics and imagery, was something new and unique; innovative heavy metal. Mercyful Fate and King Diamond, are among those "special" bands, that their influence took many, many years to have an impact upon the metal world. Despite the fact that until the ‘90s there were many bands that cite them as inspiration, they never had the impact and direct influence like many other bands, upon newer musicians. However, they had an impact in more extreme sub-genres like black metal and there are even tribute albums for Mercyful Fate and King Diamond, and the most notable cover is the one Emperor did for "Gypsy".
Mercyful Fate and Kind Diamond didn't inspire generations of young people to grab an instrument and play music, just like some major acts of hard rock and heavy metal music. Mercyful Fate and King Diamond inspired thoughtful people and young musicians to play better heavy metal music.
Now, in 2019, there is a massive response regarding Mercyful Fate and King Diamond and there are reasons for this. Mercyful Fate released the last studio album in 1999 and went on hiatus, while King Diamond released his last studio album in 2007 and didn't perform live for the next years. Up to that point, they used to perform headline live shows in smaller venues than can you imagine; club shows. From the end of ‘00s and on (during King's absent), many new bands started releasing albums highly influenced by Mercyful Fate and King Diamond. In Solitude, Portrait, Trial, Attic, are just a few of them, and the Mercyful Fate name started appearing more often in the music industry for various reasons. It might look funny to some people, but even when Ghost released the debut album Ghost Eponymous in 2010, and later became a mainstream act, Mercyful Fate was mentioned as an inspiration – influence, even if many people can hardly locate music similarities. But the name "Mercyful Fate" was there, even if it was just in promo sheets, reviews and media. The name was there and kept appearing, something that didn’t happened in the past, except direct mentions to the artists themselves. But once fans won't have the artists active anymore in their lives, then they will realize that nothing is certain. You don't know if you will hear more new music from them or you might never see them live again. That loss will grow the demand and the value will be further recognized.
Just few months before Mercyful Fate release their last studio album 9, Metallica released Garage Days including the older The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited EP, various past covers, and of course new covers, recorded during September of 1998. Among those new covers from bands that inspired them, there was the 11-minute "Mercyful Fate (medley)" including parts of the MF songs "Satan's Fall", "Curse of the Pharaohs", "A Corpse Without Soul", "Into the Coven" and "Evil". That album, has been 5 x Platinum in the United States alone, meaning that it has sold more than 5.000.000 copies, only in the USA, until today. That means, few millions of houses have this album in their collection and listened to that "Mercyful Fate (medley)". And be sure that there are many of them that weren't familiar with the music of MF and learned them from that "medley". In December of 2011, Metallica performed few special celebration gigs including many guests and among them, they performed on December 7th, the "Mercyful Fate (medley)" with King Diamond, Hank Shermann, Michael Denner and Timi Hansen joining them on stage for first time since 1993. That Metallica element is an undeniable huge exposure for Mercyful Fate. That was also the first time King returned on stage since 2006 and one year after the open-heart triple-bypass surgery.
In the summer of 2012, King Diamond performed live at Sweden Rock festival and Hellfest, and from 2013 he keeps performing live with more success than ever. The Mercyful Fate and King Diamond catalogue have been reissued, a new fan-base is formed, even more new bands appear with direct influence from MF and KD, fame is growing and legacy is widely recognized. It is also noted from many people, that nowadays, King Diamond's live shows are even better than the '80s.
1. Don't Break the Oath (1984)
2. Melissa (1983)
3. Mercyful Fate EP (aka Nuns Have No Fun) (1982)
4. Time (1994)
5. In the Shadows (1993)
6. Into the Unknown (1996)
7. Dead Again (1998)
8. 9 (1999)
1. Abigail (1987)
2. Conspiracy (1989)
3. Them (1988)
4. Fatal Portrait (1986)
5. The Eye (1990)
6. House of God (2000)
7. The Puppet Master (2003)
8. The Graveyard (1996)
9. Voodoo (1998)
10. The Spider's Lullabye (1995)
11. Give Me Your Soul... Please (2007)
12. Abigail II: The Revenge (2002)
A TRIBUTE TO GUITAR INSANITY (and related madness)
Mike Wead is the guitarist of both King Diamond and Mercyful Fate, and he is one of those great Swedish guitarists and part of what I call "the Scandinavian metal style" that includes the likes of Hank Shermann, Michael Denner, Andy La Rocque, Simon Johansson and similar guitarists. Their style is European but not like the type of German power metal bands or the classic British heavy metal acts. You can find strong influences from the classic Judas Priest guitar duo of Glenn Tipton & K.K. Downing but it is different. That specific Scandinavian guitar metal style is very heavy, suitable for power metal bands (but not the US power metal bands or the Helloween-style bands), doom bands with power metal elements, it is technical and there are always many solo parts.
Mike Wead played guitar in the Memento Mori and Hexenhaus albums that are highly recommended, and he also shared the guitar parts with Simon Johansson at the same-titled album of Abstrakt Algebra. These bands alone, have strong personality and stray from similar styles of other countries. Memento Mori is a doom/power metal band, Abstrakt Algebra is also at the same style with stronger technical (or progressive, if you prefer) elements, while Hexenhaus kept the technical and power metal elements of the Memento Mori albums and evolved them to European tech thrash. The Swedish power metal scene is also something that should be looked differently from the US power metal and the rest power metal acts of Europe but that might be a different chapter to explore in the future.
In 1993, during King Diamond's involvement with Mercyful Fate, Andy La Rocque was invited by Chuck Schuldiner to perform guitar parts in the Death album Individual Thought Patterns. Hank Shermann and Michael Denner kept releasing music and even if sometimes each of them was involved with music that had no similarities with Mercyful Fate, there were also projects and bands they joined together, that were very close to Mercyful Fate, like Force of Evil (featuring also MF drummer Bjarne T. Holm and KD bassist Hal Patino) and most recently, Denner / Shermann.
( SATAN HAS LEFT THE BUILDING )
The reunited Mercyful Fate line-up for the upcoming 2020 shows will be: King Diamond (vocals), Hank Shermann (guitar), Mike Wead (guitar), Bjarne T. Holm (drums) and Joey Vera (bass). While many fans were wondering why Michael Denner is not part of the reunion, few days after the annoucement, Denner said to Metalized magazine, "I was not asked to join, and was told only two days before it was public news. I think it's a pity for the fans of the original Mercyful Fate. Especially since I'm in the shape of my life right now". At the moment, Michael Denner is about to release music with his new band, Denner's Inferno.
The final question is: Where are we going to see Mercyful Fate in 2020?