Mercyful Fate

Roadrunner Records, 1983

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Back when I was in high school, I had a friend named Dave Amato. Dave and I were not the kinds of kids one would have thought of as headbangers, but Dave was very much into the scene, trading bootlegs and videos long before I ever thought such a thing was possible.

Dave also spent countless hours trying to get me interested in the two artists he absolutely worshipped -- Mercyful Fate and King Diamond. I guess this, to Dave, was just what he needed to unwind to after a day in Catholic high school. But I never was interested in either band -- and it wasn't because they spouted Satanic or occult references faster than I can spew foul language. They just never interested me.

I don't know what ever became of Dave; we lost touch when I was in college after he ended up burning me on some videos he promised to copy for me. But he might be interested to hear that I finally did invest in a few Mercyful Fate tapes (thanks to Chris Carbone and his eBay auction). And after plowing through the band's 1983 debut Melissa... well, I still don't understand what the big deal was.

(I should note, for the record, that my copy of this release is actually the original 1983 version on Megaforce; the disc has since been remastered on Roadrunner, and is the one still available commercially.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Mercyful Fate became known for three unique aspects. The first was vocalist Diamond, whose range could go from a sinister growl to a balls-in-a-hydraulic-press scream. Whether you love him or hate him, Diamond undeniably has one of the most recognizable voices in any genre of music. The second is the strong imagery in the lyrics, making sure that Melissa - or any of their albums, for that matter - aren't things you'd play for the Reverend when he comes by for a visit. Some of the lyrics make artists like Slayer and Danzig appear to be contemporary Christian material in comparison. The third is the two-guitar attack of Hank Shermann and Michael Denner.

All of this said, Melissa falls short in two areas. First, it occasionally is damned near impossible to decipher what Diamond is singing unless you have the lyric sheet. This is due to the echo put on his vocals, as well as partially obscuring him in the overall mix. Second, the songwriting occasionally gets too involved with the instrumentation - possibly tied to the difficulty of hearing Diamond. (Then again, after reading some of the lyrics, maybe it was just as well that I didn't understand. Cripes, Steven King has nothing on these guys.)

Yet there are some absolutely fabulous moments on Melissa. The title cut is the highlight, daring to present Mercyful Fate in a gentler sound, building up the momentum without allowing it to rage out of control. Likewise, "Black Funeral" is a shot of adrenalin straight into your heart. Timi Hansen's bass work on this track is absolutely incredible.

But the bulk of Melissa takes itself a little too seriously in both musical and lyrical content. Tracks like "At The Sound Of The Demon Bell," "Curse Of The Pharoahs" and the 11-minute epic "Satan's Fall" (WARNING - I'm giving away the ending: God doesn't win in this story) all come off a bit pompous - or at least as pompous as a song can be.

Yet there is something about Melissa that begs the listener for repeat listenings... and it's not a call to join the occult. I haven't been able to put my finger on it just yet, but I tend to think it's an attempt to find something more in the music's big picture.

Melissa put Mercyful Fate on the map, and it has enough intriguing material where those who are curious about the band can make initial discoveries. But unless you're someone like my former buddy Dave, this is an album that's good mainly for cleaning out the musical pipes when you need a change of pace, and is not quite worthy of worship status.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Roadrunner Records, and is used for informational purposes only.