Thursday, August 6, 2009

One from the vault: Mercyful Fate 1999

Here's one from the vaults. Back in 1999 I was on a short hiatus from Midwest Metal after the birth of my son, Max. I've mentioned this before but at this point in my life I didn't know how things would work out with a new baby and trying to juggle all the music stuff I was doing at the time. Basically I was freaked out with all the new changes in my life!

So I was able to freelance for a few magazines around this time and one of them happened to be one of my all-time favorites, Ill Literature. The creation of a highly respected Metal mover and shaker, Marco Barbieri. I forgot what issue this ran in, but I was excited to contribute and looking back a decade later, glad to say I nailed it.

This decade of silence from Mercyful Fate is even longer than their original break up back in the mid 80's so I'm not sure what that means. Perhaps it's more telling of the times they "disbanded" 1985 and 1999, they were at very different stages of their careers. In 85 they were poised for a huge breakthrough when the bottom fell out.

In 1999/2000 they were still very influential, but they were also just one of many bands doing the rounds, recording, touring and working the press. However with the current interest in the band, as seen in the Guitar Hero: Metallica game one has to hope they will return yet again, the oath still unbroken.

Mercyful Fate
If 666 Was 9
By Tom Trakas

With a crisp chill in the air and the promise of a longer, darker season upon us, it only seems fitting that the founding fathers of occult Metal would return. Mercyful Fate have wasted no time in delivering their latest testament of black magic, ‘9’ to the masses. I spoke to Guitarist/Songwriter Hank Shermann about the things happening in the coven circa 1999.

Any specific answer to why the follow up to ‘Dead Again’ has come so quickly?
No, not really. Just a bunch of coincidences, ya know? Everything started happening when King Diamond [the band] were supposed to enter the studio, which didn’t work out due to the individual schedules of the members. Then we decided not to do the European tour for ‘Dead Again’ so instead we went into the studio to make a killer album. So we really used our time wisely, went in and it was great!

I thought it was great for the fans. I mean bands that release a quality album in only a year’s time do not exist anymore.
I, for one, like having an album out each year. I mean as a band we need that type of momentum especially with all the bands that are out there nowadays. But we knew we had to come up with a killer recording and we feel we did. We knew we had to do something special or we would’ve just dropped down in a rut. Everyone was just so focused and willing to contribute.

King was back to signing a lot of melodic vocals and the songwriting went back to a simpler, harder style with different tunings and trying some new things. We did a lot of fast Heavy Metal songs, some Black Sabbath type stuff that we experimented with, but the whole time we knew what the outcome would be. “Sold My Soul” and the title track, “9” which Mike Wead did, are the results of the experimenting.

“Sold My Soul” is definitely a highlight on the new album.
Yeah, thank you. I think it works because it has a little bit of a modern atmosphere going into it. We kind of thought it had the potential to be played on the radio after it was recorded. That’s not why it was written, but King dared to do it [the song] and that’s why it does work.

Was writing ‘9’ any different with Mike Wead’s position in the band really cemented?
Yeah, a bit. Although he was a full member going into the ‘Dead Again’ sessions, he was sort of laid back. And compared to King and myself, members for 20 years, it was his first recording with us, so I could see that happening. So he’s worked his way into our gang and now when you hear his solo’s, it’s definitely Mike Wead playing. His main contribution, “9” was a great touch of something new coming into the band.

1998/1999 have been some of the most prolific years for Mercyful Fate, ever. There’s been the Metallica tour, their inclusion of the “Mercyful Fate medley”, there’s been tribute albums etc. I read a quote from you that said you’ve made more money from the Metallica royalties than any other music in your life. Is that true?
Did I say that?

That’s how it was printed.
Well hopefully it was taken from a full comment that included me saying how cool it was of them to do what they did, an honor really. Because we have seen some money out of it is just the way it works because as Mercyful Fate we’ve always just been barely surviving. And we cannot compete with the people that they’ve reached, so the fact that we’ve gotten some great exposure and a bit of a financial boost to go with it has been nice.

You know it’s all a bit weird because we’ve been in the business nearly 20 years and it’s really hard as a Metal band. I mean there’s so many bands and the Metal scene itself is not what it was like back in the 80’s, it’s crap really. There’s times where it’s hard to survive. I mean even though we do survive and we’re able to go on tours it does cost a lot to tour.

Speaking of financial things. How did you survive financially from the years of 1985 up until the reformation of Mercyful Fate in 1993?
Well I always had music. I had a band called Fate, that within a month of forming had a recording contract with EMI Denmark (note: Fate also included current MF Drummer Bjarne T. Holm) and the second album was released here in the US by Capitol.

So I was occupied with that for three years and then from there I hooked up with Michael Denner again, that band was called Zoser Mez, and we did that for a few years, did some recording and did some concerts. That music was similar to Mercyful Fate. And just by coincidence, at that same time Zoser was happening King was visiting his home in Copenhagen and he heard a song of ours which was an instrumental and that song got him thinking that it sounded like old Mercyful Fate.

Was that song, the instrumental, ever used?
Yes, it was on the ‘Time’ album, the song is “Castillo Del Mortes” we, of course, took some parts out and added some, but for the most part that’s what started this whole thing again.

A lot of fans are saying that this album [9] is the best MF album since the band got back together. What do you feel has been the ultimate album, excluding the first two albums?
Well, as with all our albums, you can only tell if it’s good or not after it’s complete and in the stores (laughs)! When you’re in the middle of creating it, it’s always good. I personally feel ‘Time’ is not that strong. Although it’s very melodic…

But a lot of people love that album!
From talking to the fans, I am aware of that, but it’s just not Mercyful Fate. It’s got some parts that are, but the majority of it [the music] is not in our style at all.

How about ‘In The Shadows’?
That was definitely one of the best written. Because we had to prove that we could still write a good record and during that time we were all excited about having to prove ourselves and that’s how that album was written. And in the end it was a very tough album to follow up without that extra kick.

Was part of that feeling similar to the ‘Melissa’ album? What I mean is they say you have an eternity to write your first album.
Definitely. All those songs [off Melissa] were written without a recording deal and even before we did the first mini-LP. So those songs were just our songs, they, I mean we had no idea 20 years later people would still want to hear these songs.

It was just us and a real street attitude which is what you have when you’re young. Now it’s totally different for a young band, you have bills, responsibilities and you have to make a choice of doing music as a hobby and have a professional career or try to just make it as a band. Which, like I’ve said before, is very hard because there’s so many [bands] out there.

Do you and King ever discuss, I don’t know, but how tough it is to have your first two albums, ‘Melissa’ and ‘Don’t Break The Oath’ as such important and influential albums. I mean there will always be the comparison of whether or not a new record stands up to those two.
It would be very easy to emulate or copy those songs because we already did them, but that’s not why we’re still here. We never sit down and think we’ve got to write another “Evil” or “Satan’s Fall”, because you know we could. That style is already in our system and is very natural.

But think about it, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and so on, their first albums are always the best! It’s like a book or movie. I love the movie ‘Alien’, but I didn’t care for ‘Alien 2’ at all. It’s all the same, really.

We touched upon the tribute thing a bit earlier and I wondered what you thought of the Mercyful Fate tributes and the bands that wouldn’t exist if not for Mercyful Fate?
It’s cool, it’s very flattering, really. I mean I was there too, I was inspired by Judas Priest, Kiss, UFO and a lot of bands. I mean if because of Mercyful Fate someone became a guitar player or started a band, cool.

A few years ago you got to become a kid again when you participated in the Judas Priest tribute.
Yes, indeed. It was very cool to do because they were such an inspirational to us in the early days. Plus the timing was perfect because we were already in the studio. I don’t think we could’ve done it otherwise, to tell you the truth.

And finally, what do you see in the immediate future for Mercyful Fate?
After tonight we have three concerts left and that’s it, I believe until the Summer of 2000 which I believe will be festivals in Europe or something. Everyone will be returning to their other projects, our bass player has like five other things, Mike Wead has one and I have some things. But that’s due to King living here in the US and having four or five months off.

I, of course, just do not sit at home and do nothing, I need to do music. There are always some things that, in the long run, are not best for the Mercyful Fate band, but it’s better than not having anything! The magic does kind of disappear, it’s like AC/DC having 10 bands around it which takes away from the main band. But regardless we still have the power to deliver from the heart when it’s time to do another record, the strength of the ‘9’ album will still be there.

Mercyful Fate Select Discography
Mercyful Fate aka Nuns Have No Fun Mini-LP: 1982/Rave-On
Don’t Break The Oath:1984/Roadrunner
The Beginning:1987/Roadrunner
In The Shadows:1993/Metal Blade
The Bell Witch EP:1994/Metal Blade
Time:1994/Metal Blade
Into The Unknown:1996/Metal Blade
Dead Again:1998/Metal Blade
9:1999/Metal Blade