Howl like a wolf and a witch will open the door… celebrating 30 years of Mercyful Fate’s Melissa.

Melissa_albumIt has been 30 years, to the day, that Melissa was released upon mankind and it has been filling hearts with its legitimate evil ever since. This album was my first introduction to this band and I can remember being initially turned off by the vocals and obvious lack of outward aggression that was employed by bands I loved at that time like Metallica, Venom and Celtic Frost. Mercyful Fate was a grower band for me, but when the formula and that demon summoning falsetto clicked, it was evident that this amazing Danish quintet possessed something 100 times more special and musically gifted than all the bands previously mentioned, along with just about everyone else in the metal world as well. I have never been one to follow Christian dogma, but even today, when I listen to Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath, I am certain that the Devil is indeed real and King Diamond once held counsel with the lord of this world.

As an album, Melissa is to be commended for arising out of 1983 and not sounding like Iron Maiden, or any other high profile metal band from that era. Instead, Mercyful Fate cultivated their style into something unique and with so much dimension, that it is commonplace to hear the songs on this album and become lost in the twin guitar genius of Michael Denner and Hank Shermann. The way they built riffs with varying harmonies… at times it sounds like demons laughing. For the separate guitar lines to conjoin and make something even more substantial or downright chilling, was an obvious influence from 70’s hard rock bands, but the forward thinking of both of these guitarists felt so alive and rich that it sets them apart from the Smith and Murry’s of the world. Both of them are stellar guitarists coming together to form a seamless songwriting unit. With such amazing riffs being created, I still listen to Melissa and am blown away at how the solos uniquely break away from the foundations of each track, to effortlessly fall back into the main guitar parts and become integral to the flow and character of each song.

But Mercyful Fate doesn’t begin and end with it’s fantastic 6 string interplay. Timi Hansen’s bass work is stunning and sits so naturally with this material. His lines are playful and always colorful whether he’s stirring the pocket, or breaking away with passionate fills. Kim Ruzz was such a solid drummer and strikes me as a Clive Burr caliber player with penetrating hi-hat work and rhythmically interesting fills and double bass patterns. His playing borders on jazz inspired, but far less pretentious. He’s just a “REAL” player with a gifted knowledge of what each song needs to be held together and pushed one step closer to perfection. And the voice… King Diamond… folks either love or hate the shrill blasphemies lifting from Mr. Petersen’s lips, but this unique style is the atmospheric and a tad bit creepy icing on what could almost be considered a perfect cake. This early in his career, his high-end is piercing and so sinister sounding, only to be made more so by waves of effectively used reverb to give us all that lost in a ritual chamber sense of drug addled vertigo. All 5 members brought their distinct talents to this band and this album for a union that sounds just as fresh and vital today as it did 30 years ago. I would be remiss if I didn’t give each song a moment of my time…

Evil: What grandiose opening statement! The intro cackles to life like a horde of demons mocking a priest, while the endlessly catchy push of the verse riff seals this track as a classic for the ages! “I was born in a cemetery, under the sign of the moon…” still sends chills down my spine. The solos playfully interact with King’s vocal lines to further bring this song to life and offer a subtle and calculated impact giving King all the room and drama he needs to torment the listener with his twisted visions. “And when you’re down beyond the ground, I’ll dig up your body again and make love to shame”. Fuck yes. Such an amazing opening track.

Curse of the Pharoah: Many consider to this to be one of the bands best songs, and from a songwriting standpoint, it probably is. I just think it should have fallen later in the album since following up the impact of Evil with such a mellow groove always struck me as a bit anti-climatic. Still, the hooks dig deep in this one and the slower tempo really gives Denner and Shermann a lot of space to work in their flair. I guess I’ve just heard this song too many times that it has become Mercyful Fate’s “Paranoid” if that makes any sense…

Into the Coven: The next 3 songs are pure unholy gold and stand the test of time as some of my favorite music ever. Into the Coven is the musical equivalent to pure evil. There is a chill in the air and the candles flicker to the currents of cloaked figures slowly passing the altar. This is the atmosphere that permeates this track and it is a similar vibe experienced when watching 70’s classic horror films like Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Omen. King’s gift of presenting a melodic vocal line that works with the guitar riffs, yet sail just a bit independently of them, is genius. Bring on those passionate solos and this one always had me looking over my shoulder in my darkened teenage bedroom. “Because my soul belongs to Satan” never sounded so fucking serious and heartfelt.

At the Sound of the Demon Bell: I’ve always loved the flow and drive of this song and how the guitars are always in motion. There is a groove established here, but it’s very busy and builds to an intensity not yet experienced on this album until now. King’s vocals are soaring on this one… probably why it was never a mainstay in their live set, if it was played at all. Love the bluesy riff work just before the speed kicks in…

Black Funeral: A perfect song. Truly. This is yet another pure proclamation of evil set to chilling music. Kings’s use of “OOOOOooooo” sounds otherworldly as he hails Satan from his dark altar of sacrifice. The lyrics were so much more satanic and downright shocking to anything Jack Van Impe ever warned our parents about during the years of evangelical “Satanic Panic”, yet Mercyful Fate often slid under the radar of the Christians during the witch hunt set upon bands like Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne. And the music… again… such a sensible flow and the riffs spoke volumes with interesting melody and that soul wrenching darkness. My only complaint is that the song ends after an amazing solo and always seemed like they could have returned to the main verse riff for more structural substance. It’s an amazing song that just sounds unfinished to me.

Satan’s Fall: If I were to have a complaint with Melissa, it would be Satan’s Fall. Let’s face it… the song is a mess. It’s like they set out to write a long song, yet didn’t have a cohesive strand or musical theme to carry throughout the bulk of it so the structure is linear and disjointed. Each change in the song is ushered in by an intro riff where the drums fall away and a solitary guitar line brings in the next segment. This is an indication that they had a handful of riffs that didn’t go together all that well and they made it work by bridging the gap in key or tempo with these unnecessary intros. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. And the finished product sounds forced. Such a lack of feel musically forces King to sing in an equally awkward manner, finding a lot of his vocal ideas to sound strained and just off from the rest of this song and album as a whole as he struggles to hold onto a segment of melody that just isn’t there. Again… Satan’s Fall is a mess and would have been much better suited if the band harvested 5 or 6 quality riffs from this monster and made 3 new, more focused songs. But still…. some of the segments in this song are great by themselves. It’s just hard to envision them extracted from this track and repurposed.

Melissa: A great way to end what remains such a passionate and largely stunning album. After enduring the beating that is S.F., the title track ends the procession with pure emotion and atmosphere, a much needed change of dynamic and hint at the genius that is to come on Mercyful Fate’s follow-up, Don’t Break the Oath. On Melissa, the transition from quiet/sad moments to the more bombastic middle of the song is inspired and once again demonstrates just how scary this band was not only in their talent and cohesion in playing together as a band, but their dedication to King’s unholy vision for what MF needed to be to stand apart from so many other bands starting out in metal looking to make a name for themselves.

The songs are an impressive statement themselves, but would have been a bit less potent if it wasn’t for the production. Melissa has a haunting sense of antiquity to it, for even though there is obvious distortion in the guitars (supplied by an old amp and NOT a distortion pedal), everything has it’s own clean voice that can be heard/felt. What helps unify these independent elements is reverb. In fact, the reverb on this album is like the 5th instrument that pulls everything together into a theater of awareness and twists it into an even darker voice of expression. The production of Melissa possesses a life all it’s own and I love how the older mastering techniques of the time make the listener have to crank up the volume for more intensity and an all encompassing journey. Melissa further benefits from an organic and very real listening experience. Funny how this concept is often lost to the ages as the world races to embrace technological advancements in the recording industry. Even the members that made up this band can no longer replicate, or get the old formula right. But that is another discussion for another time.

Melissa is the reason why Mercyful Fate remains one of my favorite, if not THE favorite, bands in metal. And that says a lot. The songs on this album never get old. “I think Melissa’s still with us…” It is indeed and has remained in constant rotation in my life since the day teenage me finally “got it” and quickly devoured everything that this band and King Diamond as a solo artist would release. When I find myself getting burned out by the modern evolution of metal, Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath always stand as my happy place/safe houses and reset my senses with pure artistry and vision for the way it should be. Melissa is a timeless classic. I cannot believe it is 30 years old today. -Marty
Megaforce Records

~ by martyworm on October 30, 2013.

3 Responses to “Howl like a wolf and a witch will open the door… celebrating 30 years of Mercyful Fate’s Melissa.”

  1. Well written, and I totally agree! I joined the party very late though; when I first saw them live at their reunion at Dynamo Open Air I was a total early 90s thrash/death disciple and I really didn’t know what to make of King and company… Hell, we even ridiculed them! Man was I wrong… A little later the video for Egypt was in heavy rotation on headbangers ball and those weird vocals and that classic horror movie vibe started getting under my skin although Mercyful Fate was deemed very uncool by my metal peers (who were worshipping Benediction and Entombed instead). An older friend of mine showed me the way to Melissa and then I was lost…

    “Now, now you’re into my coven… You are Lucifer’s child” \m/


  2. BTW that cover is sooo iconic, such a shame the CD re-issues totally ruined it!

  3. Great article. When I was listening again to the first two LPs this week I couldn’t help but be amazed, all over again, how original, courageous and skilled they were at this time…it’s not just the bravery of the songwriting, it’s their willingness as guitarists to just stop and start soloing at any time (at the drop of a hat) to add melody after melody into the final impact of a song…it’s generous to a fault – as if they just had so much to say they couldn’t contain themselves. Fantastic musicians, beautiful album. It will always be a classic…and it’s still very inspiring.

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