Mercyful Fate is an influential Heavy Metal band from Copenhagen, Denmark, formed in 1981 by vocalist King Diamond and guitarist Hank Shermann. Melissa is Mercyful Fate‘s first full length album, released on Roadrunner Records in 1983. The music was entirely composed by Shermann while lyrics were written by King Diamond. The band have had a mixed timeline with a split-up and a hiatus since only to finally reunite recently to play at Metallica‘s 30th anniversary performance in early December 2011. I suppose the band doesn’t really need an introduction so I will just quickly discuss the album’s title before jumping into the album itself and its importance in the development of Metal.
King Diamond is famous for using a special microphone handle during live performances of both Mercyful Fate and his self-titled band. He now uses a femur bone and tibia bone attached in the shape of a cross, but in the early eighties, and until it was stolen, King used a human skull, that he baptized Melissa. Interestingly, the bones of the microphone handle he still uses today are actually from Melissa‘s skeleton. The skull was an inspiration to the name of Mercyful Fate‘s debut album, the title track Melissa and several other songs from their later albums. In fact, the skull was heavily injured when King acquired it, the person seemed to have been severely hit to the head. The singer was so intrigued by it that he had to create a story behind Melissa‘s skeleton. And it is the title track that introduces us to Melissa, whom King imagined to be a witch that was burnt at the stake by a priest. King sings in this song of Melissa’s lover, who is devastated by the loss of his love, and swears to take revenge upon the priest.
Notice King Diamond without his usual face paint and Melissa‘s skull sitting on the table next to him in the picture below.
King Diamond – vocals
Hank Shermann – guitars
Michael Denner – guitars
Timi “Grabber” Hansen – bass
Kim Ruzz – drums
Before we discuss the album itself, I think it would be safe to say that the album is a classic. And to truly appreciate what this effort brings to the table and why it is a classic, we need to put everything in context. This album was released on the 30th of October 1983, before Bathory’s self-titled, before Slayer’s Show No Mercy, a year after Venom’s Black Metal and at a time where bands darker and heavier than Manilla Road, Angel Witch and Tank were scarce. Many bands ended up being heavily influenced by this album and this band, whether it’s Darkthrone or Metallica.
Mercyful Fate took Heavy Metal by storm, bringing the dark themes, the evil lyrics and riffs all into the equation. It’s hard to say Melissa is even part of the First Wave of Black Metal simply because the album wasn’t as fast as what Venom had released or what Sodom or Bathory would end up releasing. Musically, the album was still a somehow darker Heavy Metal album with touches of Power Metal here and there. The guitar riffs were brilliantly composed and extremely catchy, very similar sounding to what Judas Priest or Iron Maiden sometimes had specially when they added oriental touches at times. The music on the album will not disappoint, from start to finish. It is a very polished album, very different from what Thrash will later bring on to the table. But I think that the key behind Mercyful Fate’s success and its major impact on metal music as a whole was King Diamond; his lyrics, vocals and imagery were all extremely defining.
The opening Evil kicks in with the now-famous riff and King‘s first scream out of so many more to come. This song introduces the listener quite well to the lyrical theme as well as King Diamond’s alternating vocals between the higher pitched and falsettos and the lower darker vocals. Later on in “At the Sound of the Demon Bell”, the way King Diamond hits the falsetto on “Halloween”, the first word of the song, will change your whole idea of All Hallow’s Eve and the way he then changes back and forth between his vocal ranges gives a brilliant discussion feel to his lyrics. This is all well accompanied by typical but still interesting heavy metal bass and drums playing.
Now onto Satan’s Fall, the long epic. At this point in time, not many heavy metal bands have had songs passing the 10 minutes mark, Manilla Road had a couple but they were mostly slow songs, some other bands may have had some as well. But at that time, it was no normal feat. The song takes you on a journey of riffs, insane vocals, power metal solo breaks and showed the band’s energy in delivering this masterpiece. It is also worth to note the presence of lyrics influenced by Greek Mythology amidst mostly Satanic lyrics:
“Now they cross the river Styx and see the castle rise
Waiting on the other shore for Charon to arrive
A shape with horns and glowing eyes, Satan’s still alive”
Finally, the final track Melissa is the first of many to come that talk about Melissa, King Diamond’s mascot. It’s a slower song compared to the rest of the album and the riffs have a high Judas Priest feel to them. The lyrics are a straight monologue of Melissa’s lover as mentioned earlier.
Album Highlights: Curse of the Pharaohs, At the Sound of the Demon Bell, and Satan’s Fall.