Review Summary: Mercyful Fate's reunion album, In the Shadows, is an extremely underrated classic that ultimately lives up to the quality of its predecessors.
After taking the underground metal scene by storm in the mid 1980s, Mercyful Fate decided to part ways, leaving behind them a legacy shrouded in darkness and evil. From the ashes of what was once Mercyful Fate rose a second band, King Diamond. Although they never quite abandoned their previous sound, King Diamond was a completely different ordeal. Each King Diamond release was a concept album that contained a full-blown narrative revolving around some kind of ghost story. Although King Diamond certainly had a dedicated following and had its fair share of critical acclaim, it never came close to being as impactful or popular in the metal community as Mercyful Fate once was. With this being the case, a Mercyful Fate reunion was only logical.
On June 6, 1993, metalheads flocked to the record store to buy Mercyful Fate's reunion album, In the Shadows
, with justifiably high hopes as to what the album would sound like. However, what they were about to listen to was something none of them could have possibly predicted. In the Shadows
refuses to be a throwback to Mercyful Fate's classic career. Musically speaking, the album stays loyal to their 80s releases. However, the evil, Satanic themes that popularized the band in the first place are nonexistent on the album. Because of this, In the Shadows
plays like a fusion between Mercyful Fate and King Diamond, taking important parts of both bands and combining them into one release. This could have been a disaster, as both bands are two entirely different entities that take tremendously different approaches in regards to their songwriting. Instead, this results in one of the best metal albums of the early 90s.
Even after an eight-year hiatus, Mercyful Fate's musicianship is still top-notch. Once again, Hank Shermann and Michael Denner display their ability to write some of the best solos and catchiest riffs in metal history. The guitarists highlight the instrumental sections of each song with their melodic, often rhythmic guitar solos. The instrumental portion of the song "Legend of the Headless Rider" reminds the listener of how wonderfully Shermann and Denner play off each other during guitar solos. The drumming, rather surprisingly, takes a step up from previous Mercyful Fate releases. Drum beats rarely stand idly by in the background, doing nothing but echoing the song's beat. Instead, drummer Snowy Shaw takes action and assaults the listener's ears with aggressive drumming played with military-like precision. As to be expected, the bass rarely stands out at all. On the other hand, it is still audible, and serves to give certain songs a solid backbone during intense instrumental sections. However, like usual, the real highlight of the album is Mercyful Fate's legendary front man: King Diamond. It is preposterous to think that, after years of nonstop touring with his eponymous band, King Diamond's vocals would be equally as remarkable on In the Shadows
as they were on the classic Mercyful Fate releases. This is
the case, however; he amazingly continues to utilize his high-pitched, falsetto wailing on every song, and they sound as fantastic as ever. Just like every other member of the band, King Diamond sounds incredible on the album, and his undeniable skill as a vocalist is displayed on each track.
Mercyful Fate's departure from their previously occult-themed lyrics does not detract from the album in any way. Like a King Diamond album, the songs are story-oriented. However, unlike King Diamond albums, In the Shadows
is not a concept album; rather, each song tells their own horror story, respectively. This method of songwriting is largely successful, as shown by songs like "The Bell Witch." "The Bell Witch" tells the terrifying story of a family in Tennessee that is being haunted by a ghost who kills and tortures the family members. In only four-and-a-half minutes, "The Bell Witch" successfully achieves its goal of telling a scary story better than any King Diamond album. The same goes for "The Old Oak" and "Legend of the Headless Rider," which are the two longest songs on the album. Both songs, as well being great horror stories, each contain wonderful instrumental sections, complex song structures, and bloodcurdling atmospheres. In fact, the frightening atmosphere Mercyful Fate build which each song is the album's main highlight. In the Shadows
is, without a doubt, one of Mercyful Fate's most atmospheric releases, second only to Don't Break the Oath
. Generally, each song displays an atmosphere that is extremely dark; however, some songs contain genuinely beautiful moments.
The intro to the album's opener, "Egypt," is one of the best moments on the entire album. It catches the listener off guard by beginning with an acoustic guitar solo. Although it only lasts ten seconds, the intro of "Egypt" sounds absolutely gorgeous. The acoustic intro leads in to the explosive riff, which is followed by a high-pitched scream of "Aaaaah, Egypt!" Because the intro was calm and melodic, the rest of the song seems more energetic and powerful than any other track on the album. The album's closer, "Is That You, Melissa?", begins with one of King Diamond's famous harpsichord solos. Just like the song it is based off of (it is a sequel to the title track of Mercyful Fate's debut album, Melissa
), "Is That You, Melissa?" is melancholy and heartbreaking during the verses, while the mid-tempo chorus is powerful and energetic. The song is highlighted with both gloomy harpsichord solos and shredding guitar solos to change the mood of the song. Throughout the song, King Diamond switches from singing melodically and screaming ferociously. Overall, though, "Is That You, Melissa?" is rather depressing, which juxtaposes the dark, horror movie-like atmosphere most tracks on the album adopted. In the Shadows
is proof that Mercyful Fate songs don't need occult-driven lyrics to have a dark atmosphere.
In the Shadows
was not the reunion album people were expecting. In actuality, it was the first release by Mercyful Fate 2.0, a band that built upon the Mercyful Fate sound and added King Diamond influences to it. Although Mercyful Fate 2.0 stayed true to Mercyful Fate's original sound on In the Shadows
, they also implemented King Diamond's style of lyrics and song structure, which turned out extremely in their favor. Despite this, they would do a complete overhaul on their sound for their next album, Time
. Although Time
was well-received at the time of its release, its successor, Into the Unknown
, returned to the band's previous style of songwriting, albeit much less successfully. However, no matter how many times they changed their sound, one thing remains unchanged: In the Shadows
is Mercyful Fate 2.0's best offering.