Day 4 of the #mayvinylchallenge asks for multiple records with the same cover theme and uh…I don’t want to shock you but skulls are pretty prominent on heavy metal records. I know! Who would have guessed? I eventually stopped after “S” because I already had over a dozen examples to show off. But if I could only review one for today, it would have to be one of the most iconic metal records of all time, featuring one of the most distinctive vocalists of all time. Let us now make secret confessions about Melissa, the debut album by the one, the only, Mercyful Fate…
…who I really didn’t like when I first heard them.
I know, I know…sacrilege and I should leave my metal credentials at the door on my way out. But at the time I was way more into Iron Maiden and the LA metal scene that was taking over, then slowly falling for the more extreme thrash scene. It was too much to consume, and the little I heard of Mercyful Fate and King Diamond simply went over my head in favor of more accessible, tangible records. That changed when Headbanger’s Ball showed the video for “Welcome Home” from Them. The music was sharp and progressive and instantly reminded me of Fates Warning, another recent band I had fallen hard for, and the guitar theatrics from Andy LaRocque won me completely over. I was soon going back through King’s career and lo and behold: Mercyful Fate didn’t care that I was late to the party, and invited me to their Dangerous Meeting.
(see what I did there?)
Anyway, yes Melissa is amazing. It’s the template for progressive metal whether people believe it or not: no one else was mixing these classical elements with heavy syncopated riffs like Mercyful Fate was, and no one in a million years could emulate what Diamond was doing on vocals. It starts with “Evil” and what surprised me listening to the song today was how much groundwork they were laying for Ghost (okay, maybe not so surprising), even up to the more mainstream hard rock moments in the harmonized solo section toward the end of the song (that WAS surprising).
“Curse of the Pharaohs” is the stone cold classic of the album, super heavy and driving thanks to the twin attack of Hank Sherman and Michael Denner. That chorus is anthemic without losing any of its mystical menace. The riffs for the solos are completely different from the main sections of the song, and it all comes together as something not quite of this earth. “Into the Coven” has not only the wicked classical guitar intro, but also the distinction of being on the PMRC’s “Filthy 15” due to its perceived satanic content. Again, Denner’s solo is pure blues hard rock fire. And is that riffing evocative of KISS in sections of “At the Sound of the Demon Bell” or are my ears mistaken?
Side 2 kicks off with the gallop of “Black Funeral” and it’s maybe the evilest song on the album so far. You’d be forgiven if you only think of Diamond’s voice as high pitched and keening – here he shows a great range and some serious versatility, all against some nasty bass work by Timi Grabber. But then we come to real meat of Melissa: the epic dark “Satan’s Fall”. And since I haven’t spoken about the drumming of Kim Fuzz yet this is as good a place as any: his work setting up the different section, particularly Diamond’s call and response section early in the song is an essential component as to why the band of the best in the genre. It’s so epic and heavy and cool it almost makes you forget there’s still the subdued and stately title track before things wrap up for one of the best metal debuts of all time.