Review Summary: Although it does not live up to its predecessors, Time is still an extremely enjoyable album that proves that Mercyful Fate were still at the top of their game during the 90s.
April 12, 1985 was a sad day for metalheads. For on that day, the Danish heavy metal band Mercyful Fate decided to split up, leaving behind them a legacy of only two full-length albums. These albums, Melissa
and Don't Break the Oath
, were two of the most monumental metal releases of all time. Although both albums borrowed heavily from New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands, their uniqueness derived from the dark and Satanic themes each song carried. Melissa
and Don't Break the Oath
, along with their self-titled EP (also known as the Nuns Have No Fun EP) earned Mercyful Fate a massive cult following in the underground metal scene of the 80s. However, this would seemingly all come to an end in that fateful month of April 1985.
Shortly after Mercyful Fate's breakup, vocalist King Diamond formed his own, self-titled band along with guitarist Michael Denner and bassist Timi Hansen. Surprisingly, King Diamond and Mercyful Fate sounded entirely different from one another. Mercyful Fate focused on strong riffs, melodic instrumentation, and Satanic lyrics. King Diamond, on the other hand, focused on being as "spooky" as possible. A typical Mercyful Fate song has an eerie atmosphere, made flesh by haunting melodies and foreboding lyrics, often concerning the occult. A typical King Diamond song gives the listener the feeling as if he or she is watching a 1930s black-and white horror movie, complete with jump scares, over-the-top acting, low budget production, cheesy special effects, and an overly-cliched story. This isn't to say that there is anything wrong with a King Diamond album; however, it must be understood that King Diamond's direction was astoundingly different from that of Mercyful Fate. In 1983, after five solid King Diamond releases (most of which were concept albums), Mercyful Fate reunited. While this may have seemed like a headbanger's dream come true, no one was sure what to expect. After all, it was the 90s; the heavy metal fan base was slowly diminishing, the best metal bands of the 80s were descending into mediocrity, and metal bands were starting to go in a completely different direction. After ten years of stagnancy, could Mercyful Fate still retain the sound that made them so popular?
Fans were polarized by Mercyful Fate's first reunion album, In the Shadows
. While most were pleased by it, hardcore Mercyful Fate fans complained about its differences from the 80s releases. The most notable difference can be found in the album's lyrics. The Satanic lyricism and demonic themes that were extremely prevalent in previous Mercyful Fate releases are almost nonexistent on the album, being replaced by songs that dealt with ghost stories and ancient legends. One song in particular, "The Bell Witch," despite being a fantastic song overall, sounded exactly like something that would be found on a King Diamond album. After all is said and done, however, one thing was certain: In the Shadows
was the not the true return to form fans had hoped for. This prompted Mercyful Fate to do a complete overhaul on their sound for their next album, Time
, released a year later in 1994.
is the polar opposite of In the Shadows
in every way imaginable. Musically, In the Shadows
sounds near-exactly like an 80s Mercyful Fate album, but lyrically speaking it differs heavily from their classic releases. Time
, on the other hand, ditches the King Diamond themes and returns to the lyrics of the classic Mercyful Fate albums. However, musically, it is incredibly different from anything they had released. This time, the most notable difference is in the songwriting. Mercyful Fate decide on a simpler, more accessible style of writing songs. This is a vast difference from previous albums, which had a large focus on songs with an epic feel and with complex arrangements. Take the song "Satan's Fall" from Melissa
, for example. "Satan's Fall" was an eleven-minute epic organized into several sections. Each section of the song contained a completely different riff, altering the mood of each section and making each one unique from one another. The songs on Time
are very direct and to the point. Songs like "The Preacher" and "Lady In Black" begin with their riff and variate little as the song goes on. This stylistic change makes the album seem shorter and more far more simplistic than any other Mercyful Fate album released before it.
Another thing that sets apart Time
is its abundance of experimentation. The experimental songs are some of the best, most memorable songs on the album. The first experimental song is "Angel of Light." It has a certain power metal feel to it, especially in its riff. The song's chorus is soft and melodic; by far the catchiest on the album. Although the song is shockingly melodic and calm, it still retains its heaviness due a superb guitar solo, intense drumming, and classic King Diamond vocals. "Castillo De Mortes," the album's closer, begins with an acoustic intro and spoken word vocals. This builds and builds, and after King Diamond's shriek of "OH, NO!" the song explodes into its riff. The verses are set apart by strong instrumental sections and mid-paced guitar solos. The most experimental song on the album, however, is the title track. "Time" is a slow-paced, ballad-like song which utilizes the harpsichord throughout. Although the song sounds beautiful and romantic, the foreboding lyrics change the song's meaning and give it an extremely eerie feel. Unlike any other track on the previous album In the Shadows
, "Time" achieves its disturbing atmosphere by combining gorgeous melodies with dark lyrics rather than by combining dark melodies with dark lyrics. Although experimentation paid off for Mercyful Fate in the long run, not every experimental song is a success. "The Mad Arab" is the least interesting experimental song on the album. It begins with a Middle Eastern sounding intro, which carries over into the verses. King Diamond's vocals are horrendous during the song. Rather than jump between his high and low register, he chooses a strange style of singing which remains static throughout the song, eventually becoming boring and annoying. "The Mad Arab" is placed awkwardly on the album, too; it is sandwiched between two traditional-sounding Mercyful Fate songs, which completely breaks up the momentum the album had been building since the first song. With the exception of "The Mad Arab," the experimental tracks give Time
a unique sound no other Mercyful Fate album had before it.
Many of the album's highlights are the songs which echo the style of 80s Mercyful Fate releases. The opening song, "Nightmare Be Thy Name," contains everything a Mercyful Fate fan craves. The song features the best opening of the entire album, beginning with a distorted bass intro which bursts into the song's highly memorable riff. The melodic, chanted chorus is reminiscent of Mercyful Fate's older material, particularly similar the song "A Dangerous Meeting" off Don't Break the Oath
. The lyrics are less demonic than those of other songs on the album, but the chanting of "nightmare...be thy name" in the chorus is just as effective. "Lady In Black," with King Diamond's falsetto singing over the verses and ominous lyrics throughout, sounds like a classic Mercyful Fate song as well, albeit slightly more melodic. Unlike In the Shadows
, there are no songs that are direct throwbacks to Mercyful Fate's older material. This is slightly disappointing, as the throwback songs on In the Shadows
are some of their best songs of all time. However, Mercyful Fate were clearly trying to establish their new sound during the album, so this is forgivable.
As to be expected, the members of Mercyful Fate each do a remarkable job. King Diamond's passion for his music cannot be matched, and his vocal skill still remains unrivaled to this day. He randomly switches from a low-pitched growl to a high-pitched cry during almost every song, and although his voice has lost a bit of its former glory, this does not detract from the songs in any way. Guitarists Shermann and Denner are simply experts. At times, they let off blistering solos, while at other times they play beautiful harmonies. Both guitarists play wonderfully off each other; together, they are one teams of all time. Like always, the drumming and bass take a backseat during most songs. However, the drumming is still solid and, at times, extremely intense and the bass never lets up for a second. Seldom is there a band that works as well together as Mercyful Fate does.
The only major flaw with Time
is its simplicity. Although the direct, to-the-point approach succeeds in making the album more accessible, it loses its complexity and unpredictability in the process. Usually, when a band takes a straightforward approach to their music, the outcome usually results in mediocrity. However, this album is an exception. Although the songs are more direct and predictable, each song has enough variety that the album never becomes boring.
does not measure up to its three predecessors (did you really expect it to?), it is still undoubtedly worth a listen. Even if the songwriting takes a step down, the quality of the music is just as remarkable as people have come to expect. Time
proves that, even during the mid-90s, Mercyful Fate were still at the top of their game.