Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mercyful Fate - In the Shadows (1993)

In the Shadows was the first studio album from Mercyful Fate, since 1984's Don't Break the Oath. Nine years had passed since this influential band parted ways and the prospect of the original line-up coming together to write music once again was something remarkable. It's quite interesting in that this album, released in June 1993, presented a very unique situation. Surely, Mercyful Fate wasn't the first band to reunite after several years. And, like many others, it would be natural to compare In the Shadows to the old albums, or to analyze how well it picked up from where the last record left off. The trouble was that a few members had already continued what they began, as King Diamond's Fatal Portrait was the true successor to Don't Break the Oath. The legacy of Mercyful Fate had already evolved into something else, with The Eye representing the final chapter in the classic period of King Diamond (the band) . Of course, In the Shadows, as fascinating of an album as it is, can't even be thought of as a follow-up to that record; the direction taken on the King Diamond albums was but one direction that this could travel, while In the Shadows represents sort of an alternate reality of what could have been, had the band remained together.

So how does one really analyze this record? It's impossible to look at it, completely, on its own. There's simply too much history involved to do such a thing. The best method is to approach the album and determine whether or not it remains true to the spirit of the band's previous output. Amazingly, the songwriting is very much in line with the style of the Mercyful Fate E.P., Melissa and Don't Break the Oath. Considering some of the projects that Hank Shermann had been involved with, since the mid-80s, that is very impressive. It's so good to hear Denner and Shermann together again, as they really compliment one another.

The production is clear and decent enough, though not overdone like some albums from this era. For example, if they had a similar sound to Metallica's black album, it would have ruined everything. While not as raw as the early stuff, this record never comes off as being too slick or polished. The best way to describe it would be that it really does sound like an updated version of Mercyful Fate. It's not a direct continuation of the sound, but it possesses all of the primary elements and it manages to stay faithful to the spirit of the old albums, while not sounding dated. It's strange how it doesn't come off as some retro album, though it contains music that, easily, could have been released several years earlier.

Looking at the tracklist, it's clear that even songs that don't particularly appeal to me, entirely, obviously fit in. The ones that really stand out include "Egypt", "Shadows" and, naturally, "Is That You, Melissa?". Ironically, King wrote all three of these, so it would appear that the former guitarists weren't all that necessary to create some very memorable tunes, once more. These songs, alone, would be worth the cost of the CD. In "Egypt", the part from 2:33 to 2:54 is probably what really puts it over, as the song might have seemed a little average until then. Of course, "Shadows" is very memorable from beginning to end. And the real highlight has to be "Is That You, Melissa?", as it really embodies the atmosphere of the original, while being quite different. The use of the main melody from "Melissa" was very well done and added to the epic feeling conveyed by this song. The re-recorded version of "Return of the Vampire" isn't bad, but I still find myself preferring the original. I hate to support the general consensus, but the drumming of Lars Ulrich is quite detrimental to the flow of the song, when compared to the demo version.

Prior to hearing this, I remember having very low expectations for it. I even avoided the album for some time, not wanting to tarnish the mental image that I had of Mercyful Fate. However, in time, I had to give it a listen. For better or worse, my ears hungered for more from this band, so I took the chance. In the end, I would say that it was very much worth the risk, proving to be a very good reunion album. The music kept to the roots of their old classics, and even provided a few more essential tracks. Unfortunately, the band didn't know when to call it a day, and they went on to release four more albums, none of which managed to maintain the successful formula found on In the Shadows.