Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mercyful Fate - Melissa (1983)

With the success of their mini-L.P. to launch their careers, the members of Mercyful Fate wasted little time in capitalizing on this by signing with Roadrunner Records in 1983. By July, this Danish Black Metal band found themselves in Easy Sound studio, in Copenhagen, to record their debut L.P. It was produced by Henrik Lund, who did his best to capture the intense heaviness and complex arrangements that made Mercyful Fate stand out.

Melissa was one of the earliest Black Metal albums that I got my hands on. Of course, to some younger fans this might sound odd but, of course, in the 80s Black Metal was used to describe heavy music that had a very obvious Satanic theme in the lyrics and image of the band. The dark sound on this album was complimented, in a strange sense, by the fact that I obtained the record during a very bleak and dismal point in my life and this feeling was captured and amplified by the efforts of Hank Shermann, King Diamond and the rest.

The L.P. begins with "Evil", which bursts from the shadows and continues the NWOBHM-inspired sound that was prevalent on the E.P. The pace of the song isn't so intense, but the riffs and vocals work together to cloud the listener's mind with a murky fog. The ghoulish way that King's vocals fade in should be enough to send chills up the spines of many. The very first lyrics of the album do well to set the tone for what is to follow.

"I was born on the cemetery
Under the sign of the moon
Raised from my grave by the dead"

This isn't quite as raw as the E.P. but the quality of the songs makes up for that, as well as the fact that the band had time to fully realize their dark vision. King Diamond managed to develop his unique singing style, and he often goes from his normal voice to a creepy falsetto. He also overdubs falsetto voices that harmonize with the main voice. As the song progresses, it speeds up and the sound is dominated by very good solo work.

"Curse of the Pharoahs" begins with another sinister riff, maintaining the dark feeling from the previous song. To describe the sound, one would have to reference early works from Iron Maiden, such as Killers, as well as 70s hard rock and heavy metal bands like Deep Purple and, of course, Black Sabbath. Lyrical content on this one is less evil, yet still obsessed with darkness and doom.

The next song managed to make the PMRC's 'Filthy Fifteen' list, back in the 80s. "Into the Coven" begins with a classical guitar intro which is then followed by a neo-classical electric piece, creating a uniquely malevolent and foreboding atmosphere, before the Black Metal assault begins. The opening solo and mid-paced thrash riffs carry you down a river of blood toward an eternity of fire and suffering. King's falsetto approach is utilized quite a bit, throughout this song. The vocal delivery possesses as much conviction as the riffs themselves. The slower section creates a really eerie and sorrowful feeling. After this brief lull, the band increases the speed, dragging you deeper into the flames of Hell. As for the lyrics, it doesn't get more Black Metal than this:

"Suck the blood from this unholy knife
Say after me: My soul belongs to Satan"

To say that the music on this album is catchy might be a bit misleading, as that denotes some sort of insincerity on the part of the musicians, in an effort to make something that appeals to the lowest levels of human cogniscence. What can be said is that the riffs and vocal lines are extremely memorable and each song truly has a life of its own. No two songs sound alike, yet it is all unmistakably Mercyful Fate.

"At the Sound of the Demon Bell" begins with a sound that is less threatening and soul-crushing. The feeling is more reminiscent of some of the material from the E.P. in that it isn't quite as dark. Musically, this shows some influence from early Black Sabbath, and the overall feeling owes more to the 70s metal sound. The demonic choir in the background adds a lot to the aura as it darkens over the course of the song. This piece is much like a journey into the shadows, as the atmosphere becomes more hellish as it progresses. The song, effortlessly, flows from one part to the next, showcasing Mercyful Fate's ability to create mini-epics.

Side Two begins with more of an up-tempo, galloping pace. "Black Funeral", unfortunately, is the shortest song on the album. It is almost criminally short, yet that is the sign of a brilliant band; they know when enough is enough. Sometimes, less is more and this is a case where the listener is left wanting even more, which is better than the listener looking around to figure out if a song is nearly finished. Like the rest of the album, this song is pure genius and features some of my favorite vocal lines of the record. As for the lyrics, the blasphemy and Satanic rituals continue in full force:

"Open the black box on the altar
Her blood is still hot, so let it out
Oh hail Satan, yes hail Satan
Now drink it, now drink, drink, forget that whore"

This hellish song concludes with an incredibly wicked guitar solo that suits the song, perfectly. For a debut full-length, Mercyful Fate seems to possess an uncanny amount of talent when it comes to songwriting and execution.

Next is the 11,5-minute epic, "Satan's Fall". This begins with some of the most intense riffs and solos of the album, really grabbing the listener by the throat. Some of the darkest riffs and most maniacal vocals are found on this piece of blackened art. Unlike a lot of lengthy songs, this does not retain the same pace throughout. This is a very dynamic song, though there does not seem to be any overall structure or theme. "Satan's Fall" is more of a twisted journey through the abysmal depths of his grim and mournful kingdom below. Comparisons could be made to Venom's "At War With Satan", another monstrous epic that gets more hellish and sinister as it progresses. Of course, the obvious difference here would be Mercyful Fate's superior musicianship and the higher number of haunting melodies found in their music. The song builds in emotional intensity as King's voice permeates even the deepest graves with an almost sorrowful wailing:

"Oh the law of Satan
Pray and obey it forever
Oh the law of Satan"

Not long after this, the song really takes a depressing turn, possibly foreshadowing what is to come, for a brief time before the speed and intensity builds. Some of the guitar harmonies, in the closing minutes, seem reminiscent of Iron Maiden, yet blackened beyond their comprehension. Anyone attempting to describe such a masterpiece with mere words is destined to fail. This is something that truly needs to be heard and experienced. Be warned: it can be quite a draining endeavour.

This classic album concludes with a truly miserable song. The opening melody of "Melissa" reaches its icy hand into your chest and takes your withering heart into its frozen grip. Slowly, it applies more and more pressure, allowing you time to reflect on your pathetic existence. Death does not come quickly for you. No. Yours will be an agonizing death that affords you the opportunity to truly lament all that has been lost. King's mournful howling pierces what is left of your pitiful soul, stripping it from your body and leaving you empty. There is nothing uplifting about this song. Though the tempo changes a bit, it is always dark and consumed with despair. This dark tale of mourning over a dead witch is the most personal of any song found on this album. Naturally, it is something that most listeners can relate to, in some manner or another. The ultimate theme is that of loss and this is conveyed through the melancholic guitar melodies as well as the lyrics, delivered in a most haunting fashion.

"I'm kneeling in front of the altar
Satan's cross upon the wall
Strange emptiness, a crystal ball between two candles
Melissa has entered another life"

As the sorrowful sounds of this final song fade, so to does your miserable life. What else can you expect, from a journey into the depths of Hell? There is no fun to be had, watching as others burn and suffer. There is only deepest solitude and utter darkness, as you are tormented beyond the realm of sanity as your soul burns for the amusement of only one: Satan himself.

Melissa is an undisputed classic of early Black Metal. Released on 30 October 1983, this album has not lost any bit of its effectiveness, over the years. It has proven itself to be a timeless classic and should be considered required listening for all Metal fans. Refusal to worship at the altar of Mercyful Fate is a grave offense. Listen to this, or end your life.