Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In the Shadows: The Finest Moments of King Diamond & Mercyful Fate - Part 2 of 7

Mercyful Fate's In the Shadows was a big deal. Released in 1993, it signaled the return of a band broken up since 1985 as well as the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between Metal Blade Records and the reunited band (as well as King Diamond solo). The '84 Don't Break the Oath lineup remained largely intact. In the Shadows, while nowhere near as revered as the band's first two records, is still highly regarded by many fans and, in this listener's opinion, renders the near-decade between records nearly nonexistent as the band seemed to pick up exactly where they left off.

The casual fan will often say that Diamond solo and Mercyful Fate are interchangeable. I understand that entirely. There's a nuanced difference (largely named "Andy La Rocque") and, admittedly, it's a little difficult to sometimes move beneath the undeniable presence of King Diamond's vocals to peel back the layers and enjoy both bands. In the end, if you like one there's a damn good chance you'll like the other and, really, any differences don't matter. That said, there's a grind and a heft to the guitars in Mercyful Fate absent from the heavily-melodic work of King Diamond solo. Add in the complex, oft-interwoven lyrical themes and interconnected stories that frequently dominate King Diamond's records and Mercyful Fate brings the listener a more immediate, in-your-face "typical" heavy metal experience (if you can even apply that label to a Diamond-fronted band).

The one-two opening punch of "Egypt" and "The Bell Witch" is downright staggering. Hank Sherman and Michael Denner on dual guitars are rivaled here only by Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. They churn out riff after riff after riff while managing to trade one incredible solo after another. "Egypt" dwells, of course, on Gods of the Dead, Anubis and Osiris, while "The Bell Witch," truly terrifying, is based on American folklore, haunting the listener with the immortal lines Goodnight, see you in Hell... / Say bye bye to Daddy, Betsy /  Call the doctor!!! ... I made sure / Call the doctor!!! ... there ain't no cure.

"The Old Oak" and, particularly, "Shadows" illustrate that degree of heaviness that separates Mercyful Fate from the slightly more refined King Diamond solo work, both loaded with killer riffs. "Thirteen Invitations" tells another macabre tale, with a baker's dozen of unlucky souls gambling with the Devil for eternal life and "Room of Golden Air," an instrumental (!), exists for the sole glorious purpose of Denner-Shermann-Denner-Shermann soloing. If only it were twelve minutes long. The epic, instead, is "Legend of the Headless Rider," at near eight minutes, telling the gruesome tale of a man chased down by Death only to eventually find himself captured and relegated to the role of soul-stealing ghoul for the next season.

There are no low points on In the Shadows. None. Well, OK, one. The tacked-on "bonus track" re-recording of "Return of the Vampire" stands out. Not because it's bad. Not because it seems to exist only to cash in on guest drummer Lars Ulrich's megasuperstardom at the time. Because it feels forced after a perfect ending. "Is That You, Melissa?" (with an elegant harpsichord intro) ties back perfectly to Mercyful Fate's earlier works, completing the circle with a tribute to the original solo. To add anything after is simply foolish sequencing. But, really, this is like complaining about too much sex with a beautiful woman, beer taking up too much room in the refrigerator, too much frosting on your birthday cake. It's the complaint of the spoiled, the greedy. And, in 1993, with ten more brand-new albums from Mercyful Fate and King Diamond to come across the next ten years, it was easy to feel spoiled, too easy to take the man and the bands for granted.

Up next: Abigail

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