Sunday, June 10, 2012

Mercyful Fate- Melissa (1983)

A Raw and Frenetic Dose of Old-School Black Metal
Mercyful Fate- Melissa (1983)
Rating: 95%

Exploding through speakers like a heavy metal blitzkrieg from hell, Mercyful Fate set turntables on fire with their debut album Melissa. With uncompromising heaviness, impressive musicianship, and shocking satanic imagery, the album became an instant hit with metal fans the world over.  The powerful and sinister style the band showcased on Melissa came to define the genre of black metal and exists today as a classic example of old-school 80’s metal.

Featuring the unique vocals their corpse-painted lead singer, the great King Diamond, as well as the rapid, skillfully-executed duel guitar stylings of Hank Shermann and Michael Denner, Melissa scorched like no other and helped push forward the boundaries of extreme metal. The band had already garnered cult status among the underground metal scene with their seminal EP Nuns Have No Fun, which featured a big-titted nun nailed to a burning crucifix on the cover, but it wasn’t until Melissa that the band refined their style and gained significant popularity.
'Nuns Have No Fun' EP

Like an explosion of thunder crashing down from the heavens, the heavy-hitting crunch of Shermann and Denner’s duel guitar assault kick-off the album opener ‘Evil’, a track that more than lives up to its name.  King Diamond’s high-pitched scream soars over the opening riff, introducing the listener to his uniquely sinister vocal style in a most epic fashion.  ‘Evil’ is a driving metal song that manages to be as heavy and shocking as Venom while maintaining the hard rock groove of Deep Purple. It should also be mentioned that drummer Kim Ruzz offers an absolutely frantic and pounding performance on the song that gives it an extra boost of energy. 

The more traditional, NWOBHM-inspired  song ‘Curse of the Pharaohs’ follows, offering the listener a chance to catch their breath and immerse themselves in an ominous and wicked realm. King Diamond truly shines on this track, showing off his wide-range of vocal prowess.

The following song ‘Into the Coven’ gained notoriety in the mid-80’s when it was included on the PMRC’s Filthy Fifteen, a hitlist of 15 songs recommended to be banned, cited for its occultism. Honestly, they chose the correct song to go after, because ‘Into the Coven’ is a powerful descent into madness, taking the listener on a ritual to sacrifice their soul to satan. The band continue their winning streak with two more ferocious slabs of metal in ‘At the Sound of the Demon Bell’ and ‘Black Funeral’, the latter featuring perhaps King Diamond’s greatest ever vocal performance.

Mercyful Fate in 1983. King Diamond on far-right without make-up
The epic ‘Satan’s Fall’ kicks the album up a notch in what can only be described as 11-minutes of pure Armageddon. The musicianship truly shines on this track, Shermann and Denner have a field day serving up their most devastating arsenal of riffs while the rhythm section drive the song forward with a perfect balance of power and groove. 

 The somber and doomy ballad Melissa closes the album in a depressing way. Melissa is technically great featuring outstanding vocal melodies by King Diamond and a complex structure and musicianship, but I feel as though the album deserved a more scorching and high-energy song to close with and that Melissa should have appeared earlier on. Personal opinion aside, ‘Melissa’ is a masterfully composed and performed song by a band in their creative prime and easily holds its own among the other classics on the record.

Mercyful Fate are universally respected in the Metal community from fans across the wide spectrum of subgenres precisely because their music features so many different elements and cannot be confined to any specific genre besides heavy fucking metal. Melissa stood out during heavy metal’s most prolific period and established Mercyful Fate as some of the most cutting edge music on the scene. The album still holds up to this day, influencing musicians and recruiting listeners to the legiance of satan.
Besides the original vinyl print, I recommend the 2005 Roadrunner Cd set which includes a bonus DVD and several bonus tracks one of which, Black Masses, is good enough to have been on the album itself. 

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