Review Summary: Do not be mislead by the title of the album; for Into the Unknown finds Mercyful Fate treading familiar territory.
In the mid-90s, despite having released the albums In the Shadows
to both critical acclaim and a reasonable amount of commercial success, it became abundantly clear that the Danish heavy metal band, Mercyful Fate, were past their prime. If one were to scrutinize certain songs on Time
, particularly those which borrow riffs and lyrical themes from songs found on previous Mercyful Fate releases, one might have foreseen the drop in quality present on Mercyful Fate's fifth LP, Into the Unknown
. Although, musically speaking, the album differs little from the band's past releases, Into the Unknown
's fatal flaw lies in its familiarity. Every one of Mercyful Fate's previous albums possessed certain characteristics from which its uniquity within the band's discography derived, such as the progressive tendencies of Don't Break the Oath
, or Return of the Vampire
's abysmal production. Into the Unknown
plays like a deliberate rehashing of In the Shadows
, taking the former's narrative-style lyricism and fusing it with the latter's musical simplicity. Due to this, the album loses its sense of individuality and unpredictability, resulting in some of the insipid songs in the band's entire discography.
A multitude of the flaws found on Into the Unknown
can be attributed to a lack of creativity. Take, for example, the album's short, blandly-titled opener, "Lucifer." Basically a throwaway track, the song serves only to attempt to hook the listener's attention with cheesy keyboard playing and a Satanic reciting of Our Father
. Past Mercyful Fate album-openers have hooked listeners in with powerful riffs, such as "Evil" on Melissa
or "Egypt" on In the Shadows
, while other openers rely on jaw-dropping guitar solos to catchy the listener's attention, such as "A Dangerous Meeting" on Don't Break the Oath
or "A Corpse Without Soul" on the band's self-titled EP. Perhaps this comparison to band's past releases is inappropriate, however, seeing as "Lucifer" sounds almost identical to intros found on King Diamond albums. Each King Diamond album begins with a minute-long intro which sets the scene for the rest of the album, which could easily be what Mercyful Fate were attempting. However, on Into the Unknown
, due to the fact that no other song on the album carries Satanic themes, "Lucifer" feels completely out of place, not to mention somewhat desperate.
While some songs on the album are largely uncreative, a handful of them are simply mediocre. "Kutulu (The Mad Arab Part Two)" makes little improvement over its dull predecessor. Essentially, the song is a blatant rehashing of its predecessor, from its Middle Eastern-sounding riff to its lyrical content. While the album's title track sounds original, it may easily be the most boring Mercyful Fate song to date. "Into the Unknown" epitomizes the album's shortcomings; despite having a running-length of sixth-and-a-half minutes, the song fails to do anything interesting. This song exemplifies Mercyful Fate's departure from their complex song structure, present in their earlier releases. When compared to the song "Satan's Fall" from Melissa
, it becomes clear why "Into the Unknown" falls flat. "Satan's Fall" constantly changes its riff throughout its running length, and its many instrumental passages each present a different type of atmosphere which completely alters the song's mood. "Into the Unknown" repeats the same riff over and over until it eventually becomes stale, and the while instrumental sections are truly the highlights of the song, they fail to impress nonetheless. Several other songs on the album, such as "Deadtime" and "The Ghost of Change," suffer the same problems that plague the title track, each one adding to the overall blandness the album displays.
Into the Unknown
's one and only saving grace is that, at the end of the day, it is still a Mercyful Fate album. Even though the songwriting takes an enormous step down, the band's musicianship remains as impeccable as it has always been. Sherman and Denner's guitar solos never cease to impress; and while their riffs are not nearly as memorable or original as previous releases, they still manage to be extremely catchy and powerful. King Diamond simply never disappoints as a vocalist. Although he does not jump from his high and low voices as much as he used to, his voice still retains the passion and energy that makes him one of the greatest vocalists to ever grace the stage. For the first time on a Mercyful Fate album, unfortuanately, the drumming and bass can be considered a low point; the bass is barely audible on any track and the drumming, more often than not, is rather simplistic. The extremely high quality of the guitarists, however, make up for the other members' shortcomings.
One of the greatest qualities of any Mercyful Fate album is that the band completely immerses itself into the music, creating an extremely strong atmosphere with each and every song. As expected, this remains true on Into the Unknown
. "The Uninvited Guest" and "Fifteen Men (And a Bottle Of Rum)" are both ghost stories reminiscent of those on In the Shadows
. Although both songs are undeniably cheesy, it is still very challenging to not be creeped out by their spooky, B-horror movie-esque atmosphere. "Kutulu (The Mad Arab Part Two)" goes for a completely different type of atmosphere. The song, just like its predecessor (arguably even more so), has a traditional Arabian feel to it. "Deadtime," on the other hand, may easily be the most ridiculous song on any Mercyful Fate record. The song begins, shockingly, with clean singing by King Diamond, before exploding into its riff. "Deadtime," basically, is Mercyful Fate's attempt at a bedtime story; and yes, the song is as hilarious as it sounds. The only song on the alum which, atmospherically speaking, falls flat is "Lucifer." However, with the exception of that song, the album is generally successful at building incredibly strong atmospheres.
Every positive aspect of Into the Unknown
has a negative aspect working against it. While the songs are musically appealing, riffs sound rehashed and instrumental sections sound uninspired. While the songs all succeed in building an atmosphere, none of them are very creative lyrically or thematically. Into the Unknown
is an incredibly misleading title; the title leads the listener to believe that Mercyful Fate are taking on a new, adventurous, and unpredictable approach with the album's sound. However, this could not be further from the truth. Into the Unknown
is the first Mercyful Fate album since the band's reunion that fails to live up to their extremely high standards.