Let’s start this week’s throwback with a riddle. What do you get when you combine speed metal with Satan? The answer is [insert any good European metal band here]. Seriously, over the years countless bands have played around with lyrical themes about Hell, Lucifer, and other forms of anti-Christian imagery. For the most part it’s worked well for these bands, and has even yielded some classic albums for the genre (“Number of the Beast”, “Hell Awaits”, etc.). Even though most of this was done for shock appeal, the metal community would occasionally come across a band that was sincere and believed deeply in the satanic message they were conveying through their music. In the early 1980’s, Mercyful Fate was at the top of the pack for bands of that nature.
So what made Mercyful Fate stand out as a unique entity during this era of rapidly evolving heavy metal? Two things come to mind. First, is the guitar work of Hank Shermann and Michael Denner. While these guys utilized the popular technique of the dual guitar, the melodies they created while doing so created an eerie feeling in the listeners, as if they were descending further into hell upon hearing each note. They also changed up the tempo of their riffs quite often, easily switching from a slow jam to speed metal in a matter of seconds. There is a clear prog rock influence in the sound. Second, and probably most important, is King Diamond. Vocally the King made use of a falsetto creepy enough to frighten Satan himself. Lyrically he inspired countless black metal bands, nuff said. Also, he is often credited as the first musician to use corpse paint. The combination of all of these characteristics along with the band’s instrumentation helped to establish a unique image for this Danish five-piece in the heavy metal scene.
Mercyful Fate has incorporated so many different styles into their sound that it is almost impossible to categorize them. They are sometimes credited as being one of the first black metal bands due to their lyrics. Musically, they are a speed metal band with little touches of 70’s prog. rock. Honestly, the only appropriate label for Mercyful Fate would have to be called “Influential Metal”. They were a very important band for the 1980’s. The albums “Melissa” and “Don’t Break the Oath” were classic gems and helped to inspire bands such as Metallica and Slayer as well as a large portion of the Scandinavian black metal scene. With strong guitar work, unique vocals, and dark yet interesting imagery, it’s easy to see how.