Review Summary: "Don't Break the Oath" combines darkness, beauty, and the occult with expertise, making it one of the greatest albums of all-time in the heavy metal genre.
The year is 1984, one of the best years for heavy metal of all time. It is a dark, cold, and stormy night, and you are all alone in your room. With the exception of the pitter-patter of rain on your roof and the occasional strike of lightning, your room is silent. Deathly silent. All alone in the dark, you flip on a light and walk over to your personal library of heavy metal records. The first record you see is Powerslave by Iron Maiden. You shake your head at the album; despite your love of the album, it's no album for a stormy night. You seek something darker, more atmospheric. As you scan your library, one record catches your eye. The record is by Mercyful Fate. The cover is what struck you about the album, and you want to get a closer look. You grab the album and hold it under the light.
From the cover, you see a lake of lava. Almost mesmerized, you stare at this lake until you notice something beginning to protrude from it. A pair of horns rises up from the lava, followed by a head that resembles a skull. The head rolls towards you and stares at you with its cold, dead eyes. Terrified, you stare back, waiting for it to say something. It doesn't speak; rather, it raises its hand from the lake. The figure is pointing directly at you, you're sure of it. Suddenly, it hits you; you're staring right at Satan himself. Just then, you see the name of the album...Don't Break the Oath. You don't think twice about playing the album. You don't know what possessed you to play the album; was it excitement, curiosity, or perhaps fear? One way or another, the album starts up. You turn off the lights and sit down, all alone in your cold, dark room.
"A Dangerous Meetings" starts off Don't Break the Oath in fine fashion. From the opening riff, you can tell that the song is a real head-banger. While the guitar solos are fast and powerful, the song's chorus is melodic and beautiful. It is the perfect song to play when you are all alone in your room at night. King Diamond's vocal work on the song is truly remarkable, especially during the chorus. Diamond's deep voice never goes comically deep and his falsetto voice never turns into a wail. The song is perfection; it being the year 1984, you've never heard anything quite like it. Sure, you've listened to Venom sing about the glory of Satan, and you've listened to songs by Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden that carry occult themes. However, King Diamond is something different. When Diamond sings about Satan or the occult, you feel something. You feel blasphemous, you feel evil, and yet with "A Dangerous Meeting," you feel almost at ease.
The next song, "Nightmare," is just about the polar opposite of the previous track. The song starts off slightly slower than "A Dangerous Meeting," beginning with a drum and bass intro. Soon, the song picks up. The intensity of the drums on the song makes your walls rattle, while the the lead guitar solos make your ears scream. The first half of the song is another run-of-the-mill Mercyful Fate song. You are enjoying the song until about the four-minute mark. Suddenly, the song becomes a lot faster and the vocals become twisted. Diamond's shrieks of "AH-ah-ah-ah-AH!" makes you no longer at ease. At the song continues, the rain begins to beat down harder on the roof. A bolt of lightning strikes in the background, causing you to jump to your feet. The song doesn't let up; it simply becomes more disturbing. Suddenly, Diamond's evil laugh bursts out of nowhere. You feel like the song is toying with your sanity. Diamond's continues to shriek and laugh, until his voice drops down to a growl and yells, as if he is speaking right to you, "You're only living on borrowed time...from your fate!" The song ends shortly afterwards. You can't take it anymore. The combination of darkness, isolation, rain, lightning, and Diamond's wicked laugh was simply too much. You want to stop playing the album, but you can't. You're intrigued, fascinated beyond belief. You let the album continue, hoping the next song with give you time to catch your breath.
"Desecration of Souls" begins with Diamond doing the lowest growl he can muster up. The main riff kicks in, and you notice the different vocal approach. The majority of the song is sung in Diamond's low voice. You take a sigh of relief; although you love Diamond's falsetto, "Nightmare" was simply too much. The guitar solos are wonderfully atmospheric, and fit extremely well within the song. The relaxed nature of "Desecration of Souls," complemented by the guitar solos and lower vocals, is what attracts you to it the most.
The intro of the fourth track, "Night of the Unborn," is a delight to your ears. A fantastic guitar solo begins the song. The drums and bass kick in, and the song really starts. While you do thoroughly enjoy the song, you are not impressed by King Diamond. Perhaps you were spoiled by the superb vocals in the last song, but the vocals in "Night of the Unborn" are unimpressive. The beginning of the song in which Diamond has what seems like an argument with himself seems rather comical, especially with the part in which he yells "SHUT UP" to himself. The instrumental part of the song makes up for its shortcomings, however.
Pausing the album, you decide to take a quick break from listening. You turn on a light and walk over to your window. You open the shutters on your windows to see what the weather is like. Although the lightning has calmed down, it is still raining as hard as ever, and thunder has started to roll in. You take a deep breath, turn off your lights, and continue the album. "The Oath" creeps in slowly, choosing to take its time. The intro is making you feel uneasy, as if someone is at the corner of your room. Out of fear, you turn on your lights. The lights provide comfort for a little while. All of a sudden, right out of the blue, a pipe organ starts to play. As if on cue, every light in your room turns off. The thunder becomes louder, drawing closer by the second. People begin to chant. The chanting is beyond eerie, so eerie that you're not even sure if the chanting is coming from the song or from somewhere in your house. Over the chanting, a voice bursts out in laughter. A deep, distorted belly laugh. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning lights up your room. You think you see a man in the corner of your room. A man dressed entirely in black robes, holding an ancient book in his hand. His eyes are pointed towards the ground as he chants from his book. The room becomes pitch black again, and just like that, the man is gone. You are shivering now, but not from the cold. You try to calm yourself down, but never in your life have you felt closer to the dark lord himself than at this very moment. Suddenly, the guitar picks up, and you snap out of it. The rest of the song is quite the trip. Filled with beautiful instrumental sections and melodic guitar solos, the song is musically impeccable. Diamond masterfully switches between his upper and lower registers with ease, as he growls or shouts some of the most blasphemous lyrics you've ever heard. "I deny Jesus Christ!" Diamond yells. As the song progresses, you come to a startling realization. By listening to the song, you realize that you are, in fact, the one who is taking the oath to "open wide the gates of hell" to bring forth Satan.
The darkest song on the album is followed by the lightest song on the album. The opening and main riff of "Gypsy" are very catchy, and the guitar solos are fast and insane. You're not sure why Diamond is singing about some gypsy on an album that had previously been occupied with the occult, but you still enjoy his vocal performance. The shortest non-instrumental song on the album, "Gypsy" ends without leaving much of an impression on you.
"Welcome Princes of Hell" begins with a chugging opening riff, which continues into the song. The song gives you that uneasy feeling once more, as you almost feel like, at any second now, these so called "princes of Hell" are going to burst through your door. Harmonizing well and delivering some truly impressive instrumental sections, the guitarists Shermann and Denner play extremely well off each other. The main guitar riff is one of the greatest and catchiest riffs in the entire album; you will be humming it for days.
As the eighth track, "To One Far Away," plays in the background, you feel compelled to open your window and check the weather. You poke your head out of your window and smile. To your amazement, the storm clouds are gone. The sky has cleared up and the rain has stopped as well. It is sunrise now, and you just see the sun rising up behind the mountains. "To One Far Away" is the perfect song to be playing right now. Everything about the song is gorgeous. Diamond's whisper-like delivery of "ooh, ooh, ooh," combined with melodic, acoustic guitar solos, make this song a real treat. As "To One Far Away" fades away, you close your window and sit back down in your room. Your room is still mostly dark, as your lights are still shut off from earlier. You relax and wait for the final song on the album to come on.
Suddenly, the door to your room bursts open. You stay still, too frightened to move. A dark figure stands in the threshold. The figure is making some kind of signal, but the darkness is preventing you making it out. Then, out of nowhere, your lights turn back on. You can now see what is standing at your door. The figure is none other than Satan from the cover of the album. He is pointing at you with his long, bony finger, just like on the cover of the album. The figure's hand starts to turn, and he bends his finger your direction, as if to tell you to come with him. Instead, you remain where you are. You stare at him and he stares back, until suddenly your lights turn back off and your door slams shut. Just then, the next song begins.
"Come come to the Sabbath, down by the ruined bridge. Witches and Demons are coming. Just follow the magic Call!"
Those lines open up the album closer, "Come to the Sabbath." It is a masterpiece, pure and simple. The song utilizes the harpsichord, which adds to its medieval atmosphere. The lyrics paint a picture, making you feel like you've been magically transported away from your room and into a dark, evil sabbath. You can feel the presence of the witches and demons, you can practically see the ruined bridge where the sabbath is taking place. King Diamond gives one of the best vocal performances you've ever heard. His voice, be it low or high, always blends perfectly with the music. The guitarists harmonize with each other and deliver an incredibly memorable riff. The harpsichord solo about three-and-a-half minutes into the song is nothing short of perfection. It is both atmospheric and poetic, you can't help but smile at the beauty of what you're listening to. You can practically see the sabbath's proceedings going on right in front of your eyes; it is truly a sight to behold. After the harpsichord solo ends, you fear the song may be over. However, a guitar solo starts up and the outro begins. As the solo goes on, you see yourself wave "goodbye" to all the creatures of hell who joined you at the sabbath. King Diamond's voice kicks in, ending "Come to the Sabbath" and, likewise, the album, by famously screaming: "My sweet Satan...YOU ARE THE ONE!" The line repeats until it fades away.
You sit there, all alone in your room, completely speechless. You reflect on the journey that Don't Break the Oath took you on. The album began with a grave warning to those who dabble with the occult. The next track informed you that what you are experiencing is real; you're not asleep in some nightmare. The third song gave you some rules that you must follow before you start summoning the powers of hell. The next song prepares you for what can happen when dabbling with the occult. "The Oath" forces you to renounce Christ and to swear allegiance to Satan. The next song introduces you to a gypsy who informs you that you are none other than the devil's child himself. The following track has you inviting princes of hell to your place, making you realize that you are a lot like them. The second-to-last track is a realization of how wonderful life is now that you've sworn off Christ. Finally, "Come to the Sabbath" is your personal invitation to a sabbath, which ends with you announcing your true love for Satan.
Your lights are back on now, but it doesn't matter. The sun is shining bright; a brand new day has begun. You stand up and return Don't Break the Oath back to your library as you whistle the chorus from "A Dangerous Meeting." As you leave your room, you wonder what adventures await you next time you listen to an album by Mercyful Fate.