Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mercyful Fate - Return of the Vampire (1992)

In May 1992, Mercyful Fate fans received a gift from Roadrunner Records in the form of the Return of the Vampire compilation. With nearly a decade since the last release by this legendary band, this must have been a very welcome treat to the ears of those that had been previously unable to get their hands on this material.

Of the nine tracks on this collection, the most important are undoubtedly the first five, which are from the Burning the Cross demo. Of these, "Curse of the Pharaohs", "A Corpse Without Soul" and "On a Night of Fullmoon" were later recorded for the band's proper releases, the latter being an earlier version of "Desecration of Souls". The songwriting is a little more primitive here, though still enjoyable. Though not as concise, these somewhat longer and less focused versions still possess the same evil atmosphere that Mercyful Fate was known for. However, the real gems of this compilation are the massive epic track "Burning the Cross" and "Return of the Vampire".

The first time that I heard "Burning the Cross", I couldn't believe how incredible the song was; moreso, there was a sense of disbelief at the fact that the band neglected to include this masterpiece on either of their classic albums. Though some of the riffs were later used for other pieces, none compare to the brilliance of this composition. This takes the NWOBHM formula and injects it with an overdose of epic melodies and evil vibes. It is very memorable and just makes no sense that some version of this track was not featured on Melissa or Don't Break the Oath. It is almost a criminal offense. As for "Return of the Vampire", this song was revisited the following year and no real justice was done to this original. The ominous mid-paced riffs and haunting vocals make this one of the most memorable tracks of the band's career, even including the somewhat humourous backing vocals during the chorus. One has to wonder how this would have come across if re-recorded between 1983 and 1984.

As for the other four songs, they are certainly interesting to die-hard fans of Mercyful Fate, but they fail to match the atmosphere of the Burning the Cross demo tracks. It is fascinating to hear the band's development on tape, but this earlier and less evil version is not nearly as appealing as what they would soon after become.

It goes without saying that Return of the Vampire is an essential collection for any fan of Mercyful Fate. For those that are among the few to already possess a copy of Burning the Cross, then you can dismiss this. Otherwise, if you worship albums like Melissa and Don't Break the Oath, yet have not bothered to pick this up yet, do so with haste. This is highly recommended.