Review Summary: I think Melissa is still with us.
In 1983, Danish heavy metal band Mercyful Fate released the incredibly influential landmark album, Melissa
. Combining the Satanic lyricism of Venom and the traditional heavy metal of Iron Maiden, Mercyful Fate would prove to be one of the pioneering forces of black metal. One of the things that made them so popular was that their vocalist, King Diamond, truly immersed himself into the music they were playing. He wore black and white face paint during concerts, painted inverted crosses on his forehead, and used a human skull as a prop. Also, he would use his voice to flawlessly switch between a high-pitched wail and a low-pitched growl during every song. Mercyful Fate's passion for their music is what makes their debut album, Melissa
, such a masterpiece.
The album hooks the listener in immediately with the opening riff of the first song, Evil
. Without a doubt, Evil
's riff is one of the most memorable riffs in metal history. As the guitars assault the listener's ears, King Diamond joins in with a falsetto scream, and the song explodes into its first verse. If ever there was a perfect metal song, this is it. Everything about it works; from the melodic riffing on the first half on the song to the blistering guitar solos during the instrumental portion. The dark, demonic lyrics are hard-hitting as well, with King Diamond proudly proclaiming that his only pleasure is "to see you die!" Like most Mercyful Fate songs, this song bears many similarities to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement that was popular at the time. The grim sound and occult lyrics, however, give Evil
a dark twist that little NWOBHM songs had.
The next song, Curse of the Pharaohs
, begins with a very thrash metal-esque intro before bursting into the riff. It is the first of several Mercyful Fate songs to contain lyrics inspired by ancient Egypt, and is one of the less occult-driven songs on the album. Similar to most of the album's songs, it has an eerie vibe to it, made effective by the constant shouting and minimalistic drumming and bass. The song also displays a surprising amount of progressivism, with guitarists Shermann and Denner flawlessly playing off each other's riffs and solos. The aggressiveness of Curse of the Pharaohs
makes it a fantastic intro into the next song.
Into the Coven
surprises the listener by having a beautifully melodic intro. The gorgeous intro (extremely reminiscent to the intro of "Fight Fire With Fire" by Metallica) builds up into the song's incredibly memorable riff. The mid-tempo pacing and bass-driven sound, combined with utterly blasphemous lyrics, make Into the Coven
dark and disturbing. In fact, the song was so blasphemous that it was enough to get Melissa
banned in many parts of the world. King Diamond gives one of the best vocal performances of his career during the song. Although the verses are sung in Diamond's lower octave, every verse ends with a falsetto shout of "YEOOOOW...yeow!" The guitar solos highlight the song as well, as they are melodic and add to the song's dark atmosphere. Overall, Into the Coven
is an exercise in atmosphere and dark imagery, and is one of the most memorable songs on the album.
Beginning with a riff very similar to that of Curse of the Pharaohs
, the song At the Sound of the Demon Bell
is one of the less memorable songs on the album. Despite this, it is still great, and is one of the more melodic songs on the album. The guitars, especially during the verses, mix things up a bit by being extremely groove-oriented. The bass really shines here; it constantly chugs along in the background and adds to the groovy structure of the song. The guitar solo near the end is fantastic, one of the very best of the entire album. Although At the Sound of the Demon Bell
is still a great song, it is easily forgotten once the next song kicks in.
makes no attempt to impress the listener with a fancy intro. Rather, the guitar starts right up with the riff as soon as the song begins. Despite it being one of the most straightforward songs on the album, the song should not be overlooked. The guitars and drums are extremely aggressive and King Diamond's twisted vocals during the song are possibly the highest of his entire career. The frightening lyrics deal with the bloody sacrificing of a woman to Satan. Honestly, Black Funeral
is one of the most evil songs ever put on record.
The next song, Satan's Fall
is nothing short of a masterpiece. The eleven-and-a-half minute epic, comprising of about one-third of the album's length, is organized into a collection of amazing guitar solos and fantastic riffs. The song opens up with a lightning-fast riff and incredibly speedy vocals. The riff becomes much darker for the next verse, and the vocals become slow and high-pitched. As the verse continues, the riff becomes darker and more eerie, until an onslaught of high-pitched, frightening laughs burst out of nowhere. The sound changes constantly as the song goes on, with long instrumental portions filled with shredding guitar solos changing into acoustic passages with strong rhythms. Imagery is key Satan's Fall
; every portion of the song takes the listener on a different journey. Honestly, Satan's Fall
is difficult to describe, and needs to be heard to be fully understood.
How do you follow such an ambitious and energetic song such as Satan's Fall
? The answer: by doing the complete opposite. The album's closing song, Melissa
, is one of the most unique Mercyful Fate songs in existence. The lullaby-like intro continues into the song's first verse, which has King Diamond doing the cleanest vocals of the entire album. His singing utilizes great restraint; while he still switches between his high and low register, he doesn't wail, growl, or scream. The lyrics concern the hanging of a witch by the name of Melissa (obviously referencing the human skull King Diamond owned and used as a prop). The singer laments the death of Melissa and asks why she was taken from him. Surprisingly, the song is a real tearjerker, a unexpected quality for a Mercyful Fate song to have. As the song builds, the guitars become heavier and more aggressive. The song always retains its slow pace, however, making the guitar solos melodic and beautiful. King Diamond's vocal delivery changes throughout the song. At first, his voice is calm and restrained. As the song goes on, he loses the restraint and resumes the typical falsetto wailing that he is known for. However, the most effective moments in the song are those where King Diamond sounds like he is about to burst into tears. The gorgeous riff at the beginning is repeated at the end of the song, and with a whisper of "I think Melissa is still with us..." the song ends. Making Melissa
the last song on the album was an interesting decision, given that the album began with such brutality. Melissa
, however, is the perfect way to close this remarkable album.
"Perfect" is a challenging word to use, especially when it comes to music. I can, however, call Melissa
a perfect album without even thinking twice about it. It's no wonder this album is often cited as one of the most influential albums in the history of heavy metal. The album has no faults; every song distinguishes itself from the last and no two songs are the same. Each band member gives a strong performance on every song, especially King Diamond, arguably one of the best vocalists in history. A mere one year later, Mercyful Fate would take this album's success and release yet another masterpiece, Don't Break the Oath
Much has happened since this album was released. Mercyful Fate have split up, reunited, and split up again, and King Diamond has had an illustrious solo career. However, it is thirty years later, and Melissa
is still with us.