Copenhagen-based Danish black metal band Mercyful Fate (sic) was formed in 1981 with a load of Satanic rhetoric and Judas Priest to an unsuspecting fledgling underground scene. The band was formed out of the ashes of punk band Brats featuring guitarist Shermann and Black Rose’s Mr. Diamond. The band initially featured a bassist called Carsten Van Der Volsing who appeared on the band’s first demo. Rumour has it that the group was called Back To Hell between demo 1 and 2. Lars Monroe was on the drums, but was replaced by Jan Musen. Several Danger Zone songs appeared on the band’s 1981 demos. But it was the Burning The Cross demo which gave band true form. This lead to the band’s first EP, the self-titled EP on Rave-On, which featured classics like Nuns Have No Fun and A Corpse Without A Soul. The Satanic cover was an eye-opener. The EP is often called A Corpse Without A Soul. The group travelled to England to record a couple of songs for an Ebony Records sampler and would also play at the Aardschock Festival. With Timi Grabber (bass) and Kim Ruzz in the line-up the band recorded Melissa – the name of a witch – which was issued in the USA by Megaforce. That edition featured a different recording of the title track. The band’s true classic, Don’t Break The Oath, continued the band’s Satanic orientation and was issued in 1984. King Diamond was a professed Satanist and mocked for it in the UK weekly Kerrang to good effect. King Diamond would claim responsibility when during a show in Denmark Girlschool vocalist Kim McAuliffe was electrocuted. During the same period Mercyful Fate and Manowar would get entangled in hatred having come to proverbial fisticuffs due to tour arguments and treatment as openers. Eric Adams of Manowar would call Mercyful Fate “fucking pussies.” The group opened for Motörhead next.
Sadly this was the end of the band for now. King Diamond, Michael Denner and Timi Hansen would form King Diamond, the band, after the departure of Shermann who publicly denounced the band’s Satanic and extreme stances and yearned for a more commercial sound. His next band was called Fate. This band flopped, while King Diamond went from strength to strength and, ironically, had even more commercial success than before.
A couple of band samplers kept the demand – and record company accountants – happy and satisfied. Shermann and Denner formed the ill-fated Zoser Mez. Despite this band’s true metal stance commercial success is still not sighted. 1992’s Return Of The Vampire was a compilation-cum-new album. Soon thereafter King obtained a recording deal with Metal Blade for the reformed band and 1993 brings In The Shadows. The band now featured bassist Sharlee Angelo. Snowy Shaw was credited on drums, but the actual musician n the recording was Morten Nielsen of Zoser Mez and Shermann Soldiers. Mercyful Fate received support from Metallica during this period including a coveted opening slot. Other shows with Megadeth and Flotsam And Jetsam followed. Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich guested on In The Shadows. The band’s return tour was the focus of The Bell Witch EP. The EP was pressed in a limited run of 20,000! Denner left in 1996 only to rejoin in 2009, but the band continued issuing albums through Metal Blade and touring. King Diamond would continue his solo band however and would simply intermingle the activities. Mercyful Fate went into hibernation with the advent of the new century and Shermann and Denner formed Force Of Evil. The band was underperforming King Diamond and a suitable and well-budgeted contract eluded it. Metal Blade and Mercyful Fate parted ways in 2002 fighting over budgets and contract advances. The band had actually re-signed with the label in September. The band promised a DVD full of vintage stuff in 2004.
Mercyful Fate re-recorded the early songs Evil and Curse Of The Pharaohs for the video game Guitar Hero: Metallica in 2009. The tracks featured King Diamond, Michael Denner, Hank Shermann, Timi Hansen and drummer Bjarne Holm. King Diamond would make a rendered appearance in the game. Former Mercyful Fate drummer Kim Ruzz (a.k.a. Kim Thyge Jensen) was in a Danish hard rock band, Metalruzz, as of 2012. Guitarists Hank Shermann and Michael Denner jammed the band's Melissa album at the latter’s apartment in Copenhagen, Denmark the autumn of 2013. The two were commemorating the album’s thirtieth anniversary on October 30th. After touring with Volbeat in 2012 Mercyful Fate guitarist Hank Shermann launched a new project in 2013 called Shermann Tank. The group's style was described by Hermann as "metal with crushing brutality, relentless guitar attacks and vocals from the depths of hell... dark and melodically captivating." In the summer of 2014, Mercyful Fate guitarists Michael Denner and Hank Shermann joined forces in yet another project called Denner/Shermann. They would continue with their respective main bands, Denners Trickbag and Shermann Tank. Slayer guitarist Kerry King joined King Diamond on stage on July 25th 2015 at the Mansfield, Massachusetts show of Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival to perform the Mercyful Fate song Evil.
Much of Mercyful Fate’s success relies not only on the unique musical style and quality songs, but also King Diamond’s unique imagery, make-up, beliefs, high-pitched vocals and stage show. The theatrical presence and gory story lines and visuals would set the band apart from the masses.
The band is a legend, the man a myth. When two years ago word came in that the Danish outfit were about to reform and record a new album, my first and initial reaction was one of displeasure. I did not believe that fate would be as merciful to the band as it once had been. Having released In The Shadows at the beginning of last year and the somewhat pointless EP, The Bellwitch (originally a Westwood Live broadcast this summer), frontman King Diamond, guitarists Michael Denner and Hank Sherman, bassist Sharlee Angelo and drummer Snowy Shaw are about to unleash their new effort entitled Time. It is an appropriate moment to face King and put my perspectives before him. “Not at all,” marches King verbally when I wonder if he regrets the band’s reunion. “Especially when you hear the new one!”
I am interested to know how King sees In The Shadows, however, before we get to Time. “It’s a really good album. There are a lot of good songs there.” King feels, “It belongs with the other albums, but what I can hear listening back is that we were newly together again. After not playing together for eight years, it takes time (pun intended?) to capture the magic and be comfortable with each other.”
I am sure everyone is eager to hear about the new album. “I will first tell you about the two videos.” He begins, “We are shooting them here in LA. One is called Nightmare Be Thy Name. It deals with a guy who has a curse hanging over him. The Master of Dreams, or whoever is making up those dreams, and sticking them in his head. The dreams are like nightmares to him because they are like second sight. He sees the future of people, which he doesn’t want to, and he wants the Master of Dreams to stop playing those games. But he knows that he won’t stop. The master of dreams will go after him to the grave and beyond.”
Who is the master of dreams and what inspired this song?
“I don’t know who he is,” the singer disclaims. “I have experienced deja-vu quite a few times – it’s weird. It’s weird sitting in a situation, which you’ve already been through and realize that if I do this then what will happen.
“I remember in old Mercyful Fate being on the tour bus,” further narrates the Dane. “I had just been dreaming that I had a big argument with Kim Ruzz, and I say something that shuts him up. I wake up and I couldn’t believe it. I did have the argument with him I realized if I said this I would shut him up. I said it, just like the dream, and he shut up!”
The second video, Witches Dance, is an outdoor shoot. It’s about a guy who’s asleep and is dreaming of the darkened sky with the moon outside being just like a demon’s eye dancing on the blackened sky. It just feels like nothing is real in his dream. He suddenly hears an evil chant and feels like these shadows lurking around him and closing in. He is taken out of his bed by these cold hands, which lead him into the woods. In the forest, he sees a fire burning and hooded shapes around it. There is a throne of silver and he realizes that, including him, there are thirteen people there. A ritual is about to be performed, and being twelve, these people needed another person. So they grabbed him out of his bed. But he is still dreaming – remember that. Then he sees Satan on the throne and before him they must take their turn. Whoever walks into the fire in the dance must be sacrificed. Later, the first verse repeats, except ‘was’ is now ‘is.’ Finally, the guy wakes up and you don’t know if he’s going to experience this for real in the woods now that he’s up. Or is he dreaming for a second time?”
What will happen? “ I don’t know,” hesitates King. “It’s for people to figure out what will happen,
Time stands out because it has weird instruments from beginning to end,” King Diamond begins detailing the album. “It’s very mystical – melodic at first and strange later. It has three sets of vocals at the same time. It ends super heavy with full power and choirs. It just gets heavier and heavier. The song wishes you could save beautiful moments to use later on. The Mad Arab is a story, which will continue on the next album. It has some extremely heavy shit. Age Of Light is a glorification of Lucifer. It also refers to The Oath.”
That particular song was the actual oath of Satan, I interject.
“No, it was a mix of different initiations,” the singer pensively clarifies. “You can’t write the real initiation process in lyrics. It’s too long anyway. The song was more of a ‘best of’ what goes on. There’s no way you can put all that needs to be done in a song. That’s always the problem with lyrics, which is why it’s good to do concept albums. You get the space you need.
“The Preacher is a fist in the face of all these preachers,” King further proves the new album to be good. “there is one called Robert Tilton: one fucking phony jerk. He took advantage of people so bad he is being sued now. In one case, this old woman, whose husband was very sick, was sending him money asking him to pray for her husband. He would send letters back saying send more money, send more money. One day, he got this lawsuit through the door. This TV preacher was saying, “if you don’t send money, we can’t save your husband.” And the woman’s husband was dead for a month!”
Hovering around the subject of religion I tell King Diamond that I need his definitive statement regarding his religious beliefs. To my pleasant surprise he does not hold back. “Oh, I am a full-blown Satanist.”
I interviewed Glen Benton of Deicide a while ago. He opinionated that you are not an advocate of Satan. You both claim to be disciples of Satan. What is the conflict?” There are many different kinds of Satanism and, yes, I am a member of the Church Of Satan (headed by Rev. Anton LaVey),” King Diamond responds to my inquiry. “I’ve been invited to the church and spent a night there. When people see the word ‘Satan’ they see only negative. Satan is not only bad, to me. It represents both sides of everything. I don’t believe in the Christian devil.
“Christianity has both God and the devil. I believe there is neither of these two. I believe in the powers of the unknown, which I have experienced many times. I know that rituals work. I don’t do them often because you can easily misuse them. They will get back at you if you don’t respect them. Some people think Satanism is what the Christian church portrays it to be. If you are as bad and as evil as you can be and you think that’s Satanism you have become part of the Christian religion. I call it Christian Satanism. That never has and never will have anything to do with me. All those people who complain of Satanism, what do they know of it? Where do they get their knowledge? Book, TV or what the priest told them? Very often people who go nuts and kill say they did it in the name of Satan. No, they didn’t! They did it in the name of the preacher. A person who does that is insane beyond salvage to begin with.”
Will King go as far as recommending the Church, I ponder.” The Church Of Satan is the way to go for me,” is King’s stance. But I have always respected the fact that people are different and have different needs.”
As for the Deicide main man,” With Glen Benton, I don’t give a flying fuck what he says about me or what he thinks I am! It would be a waste of my energy to think about him. I have my own beliefs and live my own way. If he just lives in a fantasy, pretending, I suggest he changes himself to fulfill his own dream. I hope he is sincere and serious about what he is saying. Otherwise, it’s just a charade. You’re not making anybody happy. Least of all yourself!”
Remaining on controversial grounds, I can’t help but steer the conversation to Cathedral and, more specifically, vocalist Lee Dorian’s contentions in the press concerning the lack of professionalism in the Mercyful Fate camp. “Usually I don’t give a shit what people say,” retorts King in his confident tone. “It’s a matter of professionalism. Our tour with Cathedral was their first, which was longer than a week. Usually, I am not at the venue until ten minutes before the show. I don’t get to see all the politics and the crap with the crews hating each other, et cetra.
“It all started with Cathedral demanding a sound check. Like, yeah, right, you are the third band on the bill and you demand a sound check? What do you fucking think this is, man? Have you ever been on tour before?
“We had promoters promising this and that in our contacts. If we don’t get it and if we play it sounds weak and distorted. People shouldn’t pay to see a band that sounds like shit. So, in such instances we don’t play. One night at New Orleans, we cancelled a show because the promoter had nothing in there that he should have. But Cathedral played anyway. Then Lee Dorian started jerking off on stage. I don’t know if he was high or whatever – saying shit like ‘that faggot King Diamond. I told their manager to tell him to come right here to the bus and say it to my face. If he means it he will say it to my face and I’ll fucking fix it for him. He never showed up. They never showed up. Never saw them again. Probably hiding in the cathedral.”
The chat, however, ends with another endorsement of Mercyful Fate’s fourth full-length album. “This is much more well produced and a lot harder. We’ve been spending a lot of time in the studio,” informs King. “We recorded it at Dallas Communication Complex and got into detail with everything and you’ll hear it too!”
The album sounds more than a tad interesting and the motley frontman was certainly more than liberal in his statements. The man is currently in the studio recording Spider’s Lullaby with his band King Diamond after which Mercyful Fate will head to Europe for a tour. US and Canadian fans will be able to see the band live as of mid-January. See you there in ‘time.’
This interview initially appeared in Pit Magazine No. 12.