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DENNER / SHERMANN – Twinned By Fate
Anthony Morgan
October 2015

Hank Shermann and Michael Denner

Guitarists Michael Denner and Hank Shermann, known for figuring among the classic line-up Danish metal group Mercyful Fate, discussed the possibility of recording a tape together. The tape in question was slated to include the pair performing old Mercyful Fate riffs from inaugural full-lengths Melissa (October 1983) and Don’t Break The Oath (September 1984), the albums celebrating their 30th anniversaries.

“While doing that in 2013 and 2014, the idea came up, like ‘Wow, this is pretty fun playing the old songs again. Why not form a band?,’” Hank continues, recounting the formation of Denner / Shermann. “It was a very simple idea that we had, but we were really into it. The idea was born, and the next thing was ‘Okay, what should this band be called?’ Then after thinking about it, we said ‘Why not just call it Denner / Shermann?’ That’s a direct kind of point of what it’s all about, at least for the fans and as guitar players.

“We thought that that was a good idea, and then we announced it in the media – that we were going to do some things, and were looking for a singer and stuff – and that was when Sean Peck… Actually, before we approached any singers ourselves, Sean the vocalist sent us a message, saying ‘Hey, I’m Sean. If you need a singer, I would be interested.’ Those were basically his words, and then we said ‘Hey Sean. It sounds cool what you have been doing with Cage – let’s try out a few things.’ Then everything was happening, because what he then sent back to us was amazing. It was like ‘Wow, this is exactly what we like.’ We are big fans of early Judas Priest and of course Mercyful Fate, and we feel that we are right down the alleyway we want to be in regarding the vocalist.

“We just kept exchanging messages. I sent all of the music to him, and he sent the vocals back. Then more music and more vocals were sent back and forth until we were done, and that was ongoing for three months. Basically, me and Michael were doing the music, and he was doing the vocals. Then we were ready to go and record it, and then have it mixed and mastered and all that, and have it sent off to the record label. It was pretty intense, but it was also a big challenge that we were pretty excited about. While we were doing the new songs, we got this recording contract with Metal Blade Records, so that was the icing on the cake (laughs). That was basically how Denner / Shermann was formed; getting the idea of playing guitar tracks from the old Mercyful Fate albums, and then suddenly ‘Wow, we need to make a band here.’ Here we are today, with an EP out.”

Rounding out Denner / Shermann’s line-up are Snowy Shaw behind the drumkit, and Marc Grabowski occupying bass. “Snowy was Mercyful Fate’s drummer for the Time album (October 1994),” the axeman notes. “He also did some tours with us – with Mercyful Fate and King Diamond – so we have known him for 25 years, or something like that. We said that we had to have Snowy on this album, because we consider him one of the best drummers in the world on so many different levels. It’s not just being a metal drummer; it’s just as a whole drummer. He has so many layers in his playing, so you can actually enjoy just listening for the drums. He was totally into it, and we were very happy about that since it’s a good body of work. Also, we consider him one of the best.

“With Marc the bass player, he was an old friend I knew from the 90s back in the US. He’s an exceptionally gifted bass player. He can play anything; classical, blues, heavy metal, thrash metal – anything. He also used to have an old band called Corruption, which were more like Pantera. He did vocals and bass at the time. Then I had this band called Demonica, where Marc was the bass player. When we were deciding on a bass player here, I said that I thought we should take Marc because he’s extraordinary, so we brought Marc into the Denner / Shermann band. That’s two Americans, two Danes, and one Swede (laughs). It’s a little mixture, but it works well.”

As referenced, Denner / Shermann issued four-track EP Satan’s Tomb during October 2015. “The first song, ‘Satan’s Tomb’, that was actually the first song I sent off to Sean,” Hank informs. “That was to kind of test his vocal abilities and all that, so for some reason that ended up being the first song on the EP and the title track. I think the first song is very basic classic heavy metal with a nice guitar intro played by Michael, of course. That’s his signature, and his speciality. There’s some melodic aspect in the song, with the verses and stuff, and the catchy chorus. I think it has all of the elements though, and it’s not too complicated. In the middle, we have the twin guitar duel, where I start the first solo and Michael takes over. Then it kicks into what you’d call a C part, and then we have a breakdown, and then it kicks into the last chorus. That song is maybe the most melodic song on the record, and a little more simplistic than the rest of the songs.

Denner / Shermann (l-r): Marc Grabowski, Michael Denner, Sean Peck, Snowy
Shaw and Hank Shermann

“The second song called ‘War Witch’ is a little more aggressive. It’s a little more uptempo, and also features a lot of cool guitar if you ask me (laughs). It starts with a lot of crazy guitar solos, and then a drum intro, and then guitars. Then it kicks into something really aggressive, almost Painkiller-style (Judas Priest, September 1990) and stuff like that. Then we did a little twist where it kicks into the verses – again, trying to make it a little melodic rather than just having it be too monotone. So, we did some tricks there in the verses, because we like to work with contrasts. That’s the thing; we can have a melodic verse, but we can also have a very hardcore chorus or bridge and stuff like that.

“That song is like the uptempo song of the EP in general, and also, it has some nice guitar solos in the middle and some instrumental parts as well. Sean is doing his high scream vocals that he’s so good at, and then we have this surprise ending after the chorus. It kicks into a half-beat – one step down on the guitar – which is like a little trick, and then it gets really heavy. Those are the things we like to play with to surprise the listeners, but it’s also fairly simple. Like the first track ‘Satan’s Tomb’; it’s very straightforward in the whole feel, when you’re listening to it, with some twists in there. It’s a little more complex and with quite a few things going on, though. That is basically the side A on the vinyl.

“If you flip it around, it will be side B. The first song is called ‘New Gods’, which is the third song on the EP, and that’s where we kind of play a little more around. It’s a more complex song, a longer song, and it contains some tempo changes, well-known Mercyful Fate build-ups or frameworks. Since I did most of the songs back then, it’s kind of in my blood to do it that way even today of course. With ‘New Gods’, we had a little more ambition; we had two more straightforward songs in ‘Satan’s Tomb’ and ‘War Witch’, so we tried to upgrade it a bit, to get a little deeper, and so there’s a lot of different moods in it.

“There’s a lot that is reminiscent of the early Judas Priest material, and some Mercyful Fate ambience going on there. That’s one of my favourite tracks. It’s a little difficult to describe, because so much is happening in the song. There are a lot of instrumental parts with the guitars and the vocals, and then we have guitar duels between me and Michael. Then it gets heavy, and then it turns around. The drum signatures get different, so I think that should be interesting for old Mercyful Fate fans. They can hear some similarity in the songwriting, since I did most of the writing. It’s six minutes long, so there are a lot of different parts in that one.

“Then continuing the EP we have a song called ’Seven Skulls’ which is also not necessarily complicated, but there’s a lot of things going on. We have an intro with my signature guitar, and then it kicks into a more upbeat classic heavy metal riff and vocals there, and then into a heavier type of chorus – a melodic chorus. That’s what we aimed for. There are also some nice time changes in there, so we like to play around with time changes, to suddenly change the tempo and the mood and all that for the listener and for ourselves. Then we have this build-up with high screams, and this story going on. There’s extraordinary drumming, as well – Snowy’s really showing his skills on this song as well. Then we kick into the two guitar solos, building up to those. I start the solo and then Michael takes over, and then we dial down to a heavy half-riff with some devilish vocals on it, which are all very Mercyful Fate-like – as you would hope for it to be. Then we end the song with the chorus.

“That’s my quick description of the four songs; two songs which are a little more straightforward but in our signature style, and then ‘New Gods’ and ‘Seven Skulls’ are the more intriguing songs, let’s say – a little more complicated, more things are going on. Yeah, there you have it (laughs).”

Musically speaking, Denner / Shermann will inevitably be compared to Mercyful Fate. “Obviously with the sound, every time me and Michael play guitar together, it sounds like 100%, genuine, authentic Mercyful Fate,” the composer concedes. “That’s just how it is, because every guitar player has a sound. No matter what amp or guitar you’re playing on, your sound is who you are. Of course with that aspect and with me being a composer and having so much experience with that – having created all of the music off of Melissa, and three or four songs off of Don’t Break The Oath – it’s still in the blood.

“That’s the style that we like best ourselves, a little more classic heavy metal, so obviously it is in that area (laughs). Also, being big fans of Judas Priest, from early Judas Priest up to maybe Killing Machine (October 1978) and stuff like that, albums like that. Sad Wings Of Destiny (March 1976), Sin After Sin (April 1977), Stained Class (February 1978), and Killing Machine (October 1978). They are extraordinary albums, in my opinion. They’re like totally cool, even 30 years later. Back then, Judas Priest were a little part of the inspiration for Mercyful Fate, alongside other bands of course.

“Even today, 30 years later, I still favour those old records, probably because we grew up with them. I would say it is almost inevitable that it will sound like and be reminiscent of our old band, and some of our early inspiration. Compared to when I did the riffs to all of the old classics back then, not much has changed since back then. Not much has changed in how I do it today – it’s the same guitar. I’m just playing my Fender, jamming, so not much has happened (laughs). It’s basically sticking as well to what we created back then, just with different riffs obviously. Also, since I know I’m not composing for Mercyful Fate but for Denner / Shermann, we can go other ways that we probably wouldn’t have done with Mercyful Fate. Who knows? That should be detectable for any true fans of Mercyful Fate. They should be able to hear where we come from.”

Sean authored Satan’s Tomb’s lyrical fare. “Sean is the master of the lyrics – that’s his universe,” Hank confirms. “When I work with singers like King Diamond, Sean or others, all lyrics are totally in the mind and control of the one who sings them. I don’t want to interfere, like ‘The only area you cannot sing about is the Devil.’ You can sing about crime, love, or anything (laughs). It’s totally in Sean’s mind and fantasy and universe he’s creating. Of course, he was aware that since me and Michael… Obviously, people knew that we were the original guitar players of Mercyful Fate, so of course he flirted with some evil stuff. He can take it in any direction, because he can sing anything from love to movie characters, comic book figures. He has a big span in his crazy mind, and that fits Denner / Shermann really well. I feel he’s a strong frontman, and nowadays you really need to have a strong person fronting the band. Sean really has that power, aura and ambience around him that takes what it needs to be a good frontman.”

Cover artwork duties fell to Thomas Holm, an artist whose name should be familiar to Mercyful Fate fans. “Coincidentally, there was this American guy who approached me some time ago,” the axe-slinger remembers. “He said ‘I bought this album artwork off of Thomas, who did the Melissa and Don’t Break The Oath album covers. Now I can’t use it.’ He asked if I was interested in buying it, and I said ‘Yes, I really like that. I’m sure that at some point, I can use that cover for something.’ Then I bought it. That was a few years back, so I have actually had it saved here on my computer.

“Then now with Denner / Shermann, that was the perfect time to say ‘Hey, I already have the cover. This old school metal cover, an 80s kind of style painted by the same artist who did Melissa and Don’t Break The Oath, and others as well – like some King Diamond albums.’ This is the perfect fit. It signals the musical style we’re doing, and it is done by the same painter who did our classics. In our career, our classics are Melissa and Don’t Break The Oath. That’s perfect; for this first EP, that’s the perfect fit.

“I wrote to Thomas who did the painting, and said ‘Hey Thomas. I just want to let you know that finally your cool painting is going to be released.’ He said ‘Wow, cool,’ and wished us all the best and all that. You can see that everything is pointing backwards. We have Brian Slagel, who’s been supporting us for about 25 years. We have Thomas Holm, who did the early covers for Mercyful Fate and King Diamond. So, we have a lot of old, good friends putting into the band, and who are around the band. We also have Mercyful Fate’s manager, since we are in daily contact with him anyway. So, it feels pretty comfortable and smooth at the moment (laughs). You never know how things work out.”

Denner / Shermann’s material will undergo issue through Metal Blade Records for the foreseeable future, as was the case with the EP. “Mercyful Fate signed to Metal Blade in 1992, and we have known Brian Slagel since the late 80s I think,” Hank shares. “Mercyful Fate is still signed to Metal Blade; we still have one album left on that contract, so it was natural for us to have Brian listen to the songs. We sent them directly to Brian, because we know him so well and have his information and so on. He was totally excited, like ‘Wow, this sounds cool. Let’s figure something out for a recording deal,’ so that actually went pretty smooth (laughs).

“We had tried a lot of other labels like Nuclear Blast – everyone, right? Italian labels and everything. Then suddenly, we got it to Metal Blade, and they really liked what they heard. We’re very happy because like I said, we have a good relationship with Metal Blade and Mercyful Fate is still signed to them. Back in the 90s, we were doing a lot with Metal Blade when we were touring with Mercyful Fate. We have been out to California a lot to visit the record company, so that feels good. It’s like a big family, and also King Diamond is signed to Metal Blade. Now, we are signed – Denner / Shermann – and Mercyful Fate is signed. There’s another Danish band called Artillery who are also signed to Metal Blade, so it’s pretty cool. It feels good.”

Mercyful Fate 1983 (l-r): Kim Ruzz, Michael Denner, Timi Grabber, Hank
Shermann and King Diamond

Mercyful Fate fans cannot help but wonder as to the prospect of a potential future full-length. “Initially, back in the mid-90s we signed the recording contract, and still we have one album left,” the musician divulges. “King has been having some health issues lately though, like maybe the last four or five years with his back, his heart and what not. He’s had to care of himself, and also since the year 2000, I think he has been focusing and concentrating on work with his own band – the King Diamond band. As it looks now, it seems like they are going to tour Europe in 2016, playing festivals and stuff, and also are going to make a new album.

“Hopefully with Mercyful Fate, I’m sure that at some point, we will find a time when everybody is having time off to either record a new album, or maybe do some select, exclusive shows. That could also be interesting, but we just have to see what happens. I am sure that at some point in the future though, we will get together again at least for some shows or an album. Hopefully we’ll do it with the original line-up. That’s what we talked about a few years ago, but suddenly there were a lot of other things happening with King and there are a lot of other things happening with us now. We just have to find the right time and see how that evolves.”

Should a future full-length be recorded, the majority of Mercyful Fate fans hope the recording line-up happens to be the band’s classic personnel. “Of course, we haven’t talked to any of the guys as such,” Hank laughs. “It has been some years since me and King talked about maybe seeing what’s going to happen, but since there are so many fans and followers of Mercyful Fate and everyone is still fit and playing live at least? Me, Michael and King. Timi (Hansen) the original bass player is also pretty fit as a bass player – he just needs a little rehearsal, and then he’s good to go. The original drummer Kim Ruzz, I haven’t had so much contact with, but some of the other guys know that he’s still drumming and stuff. Who knows?

“Of course from a fan perspective, everyone would like to see the original line-up. Like with Black Sabbath; of course you want to have Bill Ward as the drummer, and all that. We have to see what happens. Hopefully one day we can announce something, like maybe one last album or maybe one last show. Who knows? I mean, everyone is getting old here. King is doing really well with his own band, and we are about to start Denner / Shermann and will see how that goes. Also, like I said, there are so many fans following King Diamond and Mercyful Fate. I think that’s also a factor too as to what decisions we make in the future.”

Nevertheless, the interviewer compiling this feature is hopeful that Mercyful Fate cuts a fresh platter. “That would probably be what everyone, especially fans, would like to hear,” the performer muses. “We are certainly capable of doing that. Me and King have talked about that at some point, that if we are going to record another album at this time of our career, then it has to be a masterpiece. That’s the criteria; it has to be extraordinarily good, and we are very up for that task. That has only been loose talk though, and was some years ago. Like I said, everyone is on different paths now. King Diamond and Denner / Shermann are here, but the good thing is that the three of us are very active, and things seem to be running well. That’s one good thing at least (laughs), rather than if everyone was retired and getting too old and rusty, and all of that (laughs). It’s good that at least most of the original members are still active and still up to par with what is expected, so yeah.”

A debut full-length from the Denner / Shermann ensemble is slated to arrive in 2016. “When you’re working with a record label, you wish that it was out by this date, but then the record label says ’It will be out on this date,’” Hank cautions. “Me though, I hope the full album will be released in May 2016 before we go into the summer months, because we are so far into the writing. I think we have a deadline of February 1st to complete mixing and mastering. Hopefully Metal Blade will be into releasing the album in May, maybe early June. It depends. You never know, because there’s a long time – like three or four months – where they have to prepare distribution, advertisements, you name. I think our deadline is about February, because by the end of this year to next year, we will be playing live.

“Since the EP only has four songs, obviously we will be playing songs from the new album that at that time might not have been released (laughs). I don’t think we want to have the full, new album out on YouTube before it’s released (laughs), but you never know. Who knows? These days, anything goes. I don’t think you necessarily need to think too much into that, but maybe Metal Blade needs to think about it. Obviously, we will play Mercyful Fate songs. The fans demand that we play maybe two songs, and maybe play one King Diamond song as Michael was part composer of some of those songs when he played with King Diamond. That’s at least the idea for now.”

At the time of writing, little information is available regarding the forthcoming effort. “It might be a little too early, but the cool thing is that of course there was not pressure on doing the four songs for the EP,” the guitarist enthuses. “Of course, we want it to show a lot of things in only four songs, and maybe that can be too saturated. Maybe you can make something that people can actually like, though (laughs). There was very intense songwriting for the EP with some tight deadlines and all that, but everything worked out fine. We’re pretty content, because this was the first time where Sean had to channel as a singer, given some of the riffs are different from his other band. I think that turned out well.

Hank Shermann and Michael Denner

“We just kept composing, but what I did was to change the style accordingly. The debut album will be more metal, let’s say. I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s a little tougher heavy metal. At the same time though, it’s also more melodic. I don’t know how to compare it, but they are some fantastic songs. I’m really pleased. I can’t wait to get the album out, of course (laughs). I’m really pleased, because suddenly, we were approaching the songwriting slightly different. It started with Sean just sending me vocals, saying ‘Hey, I have this idea.’ ‘Okay, cool.’ I lined them up on the computer and then I started to jam beneath his vocals, and that’s a different technique and a different challenge. I can easily just find a few chords that would sound cool for the vocals, but it also needs to be sounding really cool from the music side. It ended up that we got a few songs that were composed like that, and they turned out fantastic. I’m so excited about it (laughs).

“It’s a little more heavy metal. I would imagine that the new EP is also heavy metal, but it’s a little more tougher but at the same time also trying to get a melodic aspect into it, and some really nice guitars on it – for the six songs that we had been doing. Also, some of the riffs are more heavy. We have a few songs that are really heavy. Not like Black Sabbath heavy, but almost. We are expanding into different territories, but at the same time it’s all within our comfort zone. I have a big comfort zone (laughs), since I’ve been carrying so many crazy styles and ideas, so we have unlimited resources for anything here regarding that. That’s kind of the cool thing about it.

“Also, one thing that is important is that me and Michael especially are really enjoying playing this style again. Also, playing together again gives us a nice youthful feel of being young again, like when we started with Mercyful Fate. We were in our 20s, having fun, drinking beer and going out on the road, and all that. We kind of have the same excitement around this whole band here, especially with the songwriting. Also, having Sean providing vocals that we really like. We’re really into that screaming style, and a blend of all of the best singers from the 80s that we like at least. On the new record, there’s even some Uriah Heep-inspired vocals – with David Byron.”

Touring wise, Mercyful Fate fans also cannot help but wonder as to the possibility of a support slot underneath King Diamond, where Mercyful Fate compositions are performed with Diamond himself as an encore. “That’s certainly not a bad idea,” Hank agrees. “I don’t know how King would feel about that, but for us basically starting from scratch – we are starting with a new name and a new EP – I think that combination certainly isn’t bad. Like you said, that would be a perfect opportunity to do a Mercyful Fate encore or something like that with King on the vocals (laughs). Let’s see. With touring and stuff, of course you have a lot of bands that you are friends with. You might know the management and of course you might try to hook onto their tour as a support, and stuff like that. Beneath all of that though, there’s a lot of logistics involved. There’s a lot of business and economics, because it’s pretty costly to go on tour. We have to have the support of Metal Blade, and we have to have a decent offer in order to not play for free (laughs). Maybe I should suggest that to our manager what you just said there, though.”

Mercyful Fate fans would enjoy such a touring package. “Especially the fans,” the axeman concurs. “King is also very into doing things for the fans. We are never forgetting, because the fans are what make us musicians and gave us a chance to keep recording records for almost 30 years now. We have to honour the followers. There are people that have been following us since we started. Even though they might be up there in age, so are we (laughs), but it’s pretty cool. Let’s see what happens.”

Satan’s Tomb EP was released on October 2nd, 2015 via Metal Blade Records.

Interview published in October 2015.

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