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Thirty-Five Years Later: Mercyful Fate – Melissa

As Halloween quickly approaches us here in 2018, like every October, I spend a lot of time delving into music that is spooky, dark, Satanic, monster-related, you name it.  Of course, I do this the rest of the year, but it’s even more prevalent around this time of year. Amazingly enough, the record that may just hold the title of my favorite Halloween album turns thirty-five years old this year: the absolute masterpiece known as Melissa by Mercyful Fate!  Last month, Motley Crue’s beloved Shout At The Devil, another Halloween favorite, turned thirty-five as well, so this is quite a year for spooky birthdays of significance!

Photo of the whole band, King Diamond center without makeup.

For those unaware, these Danish lads gave Roadrunner Records their first release, and it was also the first release for the band in the United States, despite having an EP previous to Melissa (source).  The album took form from previous bands consisting of Mercyful Fate members, including Kim Petersen’s (known to us as King Diamond) previous punk group called The Brats. Oddly enough, there are very few hints of punk music present here, as the ideas sprung by Denner and Sherman combined with King Diamond’s ghoulish interests took a heavy metal approach, as we all know.  There’s no denying that the attitude makes its way in, however. With all of this fun trivia behind us, it’s easier to understand how something this magnificent could come almost out of nowhere, and change heavy metal forever.

The amount of musical variety picked up here and squeezed fresh into a glass of only seven songs is impressive in itself, especially considering that only one of them is overly long. “Satan’s Fall” is the track that I speak of, reaching over eleven minutes, which was their longest tune until Dead Again came out fifteen years later. This monster contains more than fifteen riffs, and from what I understand was a nightmare to record as parts kept getting added. There are solos everywhere, changes in mood, King Diamond’s famous wails, and solid transitions to weave it together. Not a moment on this track isn’t clouded in darkness. Of course, none of the other tracks shed much light either. The lyrical content on Melissa is some of the most hellish and unhallowed music to hit the scene at the time, even topping Slayer and Venom, two other bands famous for this.  The PMRC was hard on the band’s asses with the release of “Into The Coven,” a track containing a soft intro and a welcoming feel, only to reveal an evil energy of joining dark forces. This is one of my favorite tracks due to how melodic it is, and the way harmonics are laid on vocally and instrumentally. Plus, scary stuff is fun, is it not?

I mentioned the punk background that was instilled in the band previously, and this can mostly be heard on “At The Sound Of The Demon Bell,” with its speed picked style and angst laced attitude. Not to mention, this track is a direct tribute to Halloween. “Evil” and “Curse Of The Pharaohs” are probably the songs that hit it the biggest, and that’s likely thanks to the rock n roll vibes and haunting nature, all while being overloaded with melody. “Black Funeral” is a fan favorite, being a quick track exemplifying King’s signature vocals in the most over the top fashion, all topped off with some of the most impressive dual guitar work. The solos that flood this record still amaze me. Lastly, the title track ties everything together, being the album closer and the finish to this story of a witch named Melissa.  So what does it all boil down to? Combining evil shock and horror factors with rock n roll fun, heavy metal aesthetics, blistering solos and riffs for days, and adding in a drop of punk attitude is what makes this so magnificent. But even taking my word for it doesn’t do it justice, because the influence it had on metal moving forward from 1983 was tremendous.

Let’s just start with this.  Would black metal exist without this record?  Perhaps, but it either would have taken longer to take form, or wouldn’t be comprised of the same elements.  I mentioned Venom earlier. They certainly helped it take a big step forward. They had the raw instrumentation and the hatred for Christianity, but at the end of the day, it was clearly more silly than anything.  Mercyful Fate’s Melissa introduced long drawn out shrieks in a clear sense that brought on a new level of extreme. Think about it; if you combine Cronos’s nasty and raspy snarls, with King Diamonds loud, high but clear shrieks, you get the black metal vocal style that bands like Bathory and Emperor would later take on.

The level of evil in this is a beast of its own.  Again, that wasn’t entirely new, but Mercyful Fate were the ones that took it over the top, and it had a much spookier energy to it than other bands did.  Even though it’s just art and nothing else, it has a more fear ridden haze to it that brought discomfort to many. King Diamond’s makeup was also without a doubt a push for the black metal look, giving us corpse paint, inverted crosses, and all sorts of dark imagery and clothing. 

Black metal wasn’t the only thing spawned by this record.  For music goers that seek out stronger rhythm and clarity and can’t stomach much black metal (such as myself), King and co. did a lot of work elsewhere.  Musically, they really aren’t black metal at all, they just shifted the genre in the right direction. What also inevitably happened was the formation of heavy metal bands that brought on darker subject matter but didn’t feel the need to go too extreme musically. This also led more bands to implement lots of falsetto (also thanks to Judas Priest, Ronnie James Dio, and the likes). And of course, if thrash wasn’t already getting dark thanks to Slayer, it sure as hell was now.

Later generations of heavy metal even draw influence here.  Bands such as In Solitude, Hell, Portrait, and of course Ghost took a lot from this, keeping the style relevant to newer generations. As most know, King Diamond has a hefty solo career just packed with occult themed concepts, helping to drive this even further.

One final note, I think it’s worth mentioning the vast amount of layers stacked onto this plate.  The melody and harmony have been mentioned numerous times already. What’s really surprising is just how calm it can be, which is the rock n roll roots showing again.  Indeed, there are devious and crushing riffs everywhere, but the construction is loaded with softer rhythms and steady drum beats that make it so appealing, yet still remaining eerie for the album’s entirety.  Acoustics weave their way in, soothing vocals are used, and the accessibility of this could not be more spot on.

I don’t think it’s even worth questioning whether or not Melissa is relevant today, or if it holds up well. With the amount of bands past and present that pay homage to these Danes, and the clear reflections in heavy metal since then, it would be silly to even question this.  Melissa is one of the greatest heavy metal records ever released, and many labels including Roadrunner, Megaforce, and Metal Blade have this available in different formats. If you’re a long time lover of this album like myself, there’s no better time a year to re-visit. If this album is new to you, drop everything you’re doing now and go give it a listen. Thirty-five years of age, and Melissa is still absolutely stellar.

Don’t touch, never ever steal, unless you’re in for the kill!

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