Mercyful Fate hails from Denmark and is arguably Venom’s side kicks in the pioneering of the black metal genre. They played traditional heavy metal but their lyrics were mostly about evil and Satanism. Also, their lead singer, King Diamond, would wear capes and face paint. He looked like a cross between Gene Simmons and a pro wrestler. For an example of their “evilness", their 1982 demo Nuns Have no Fun had a naked woman on a cross that is surrounded by satanic priests. In 1983, they released their first LP entitled Melissa. Their debut was an astoundingly powerful metal album from start to finish. It possessed every element of the NHOBHM sound but with a dark twist in the general sound that made them purely unique. In Metallica’s Garage Inc CD booklet Mercyful Fate are described as “doing this wild Judas Priest meets Deep Purple thing with a more progressive element". Personally, I would depict Melissa as seven tracks of pure metal ownage.
First off, King Diamonds voice and style of singing add so much to the music. He alternates between lower raspy singing that adds aggression to the music and high-pitched clear falsetto screams that add darkness and mysteriousness to it. Those who love lots of high pitch screams randomly inserted in songs (I don’t mean that in a bad way) are in for a treat. Yet, I wouldn’t call him an extremely talented singer. It’s his style that is outstanding more than his skill itself. Moreover, Diamonds lyrics are excellent. Alone they might sound cheesy and exaggerated, but along with the dark, heavy guitar riffs they sound perfect. With or without the music, they are sinister enough to upset parents all around the world. Especially lines like, “Suck the blood from this unholy knife. Say after me: My soul belongs to Satan". As I mentioned before that might sound like they tried too hard to appear as Satanists and what not , but I can assure you that King Diamonds signature voice and the instrumentals make it sound incredibly convincing.
Melissa has, in my opinion, some of the best metal riffs and melodies ever recorded. A good example for riffs is the song Evil. That song is seriously only made up of excellent riffs. When you add that with a strong rhythm section and soaring high vocals, you get an almost flawless metal song. For melodies, a good example would be the intro to Into the Coven. Its very melodic and melancholy but then it explodes into a metal riff. In addition, the title track starts with a nice soft intro as well. Also, there is the 11+ minute epic Satan’s Fall. Throughout those 11 minutes, only the opening riff is repeated twice. Yet, it is filled with strong sections that keep the song from becoming boring. I would consider it to be a very well thought up song with brilliant organization. Furthermore, there is little repetitiveness throughout the album. The tempos change, the keys change, and so do the riffs in general. In fact, more than half the riffs on the album are actually memorable. Each song has its own way of standing out which is quite rare in a metal album.
One thing that is essential for any metal band is to have a strong rhythm section, which Mercyful Fate does. The drums are very present but are well mixed and do not overpower the other instruments. I like a lot of Kim Ruzz’s entrances to songs. He seems to have an uncanny ability to enter with enough power to drag your attention into the song, which is a quality that unfortunately some drummers don’t have. In addition, he displays some pretty nice double pedal work without abusing it. Timi Hansen, the bassist, doesn’t display any remarkable skill but seems to do his job just fine with a few cool parts here and there, like most metal bassists. This band obviously isn’t rhythm oriented though. The main focus is visibly the riffs and the vocals.
All in all, Melissa’s greatness comes from consistency and apparent variety. Every track is strong from start to finish with no exceptions, and no two songs sound too alike. The songs are all well constructed and have nice heavy but melodically dark riffs. In addition, no songs drag on too long and therefore never get boring. Each is fresh and new sounding every time you listen to it. I would recommend this album to anyone who likes heavy metal, especially from the NWOBHM era, and to fans of black metal because to my understanding they are among the godfathers of the genre. Also, I would even go as far to say that I would recommend it to anyone just getting into metal, as this is pretty close to a perfect, classic, metal album. Unfortunately, Mercyful Fate are not too known and their music seems to be overlooked by other bands of their era such as Metallica and the whole thrash movement. Yet, on that note, Metallica paid homage to Mercyful Fate on their 1998 cover compilation Garage Inc by playing an 11+ minute Mercyful Fate medley, which has parts of most of the songs on this album and the whole song Evil.
Recommended tracks: There are only seven, which as I have repeated many times are all outstanding so I might as well recommend all of them.
Final rating: 5/5 One of the best metal albums in my opinion.
* King Diamond - all vocals
* Hank Shermann - guitars
* Michael Denner - guitars
* Timi Hansen - bass
* Kim Ruzz - drums