MERCYFUL FATE – Down To The Bones
Metal Forces, Issue 2 (1983)
Without doubt, a lot of bullshit has been written and spoken about Danish metal band Mercyful Fate in recent months. Consequently, it was with a sense of relief that the band and I met recently to conduct a ‘no holds barred’ interview for the readers of Metal Forces. So without further ado, let’s allow Messrs. Shermann, Denner, Diamond, Grabber and Ruzz to tell their story.
We’ve heard various stories of how the band first came together and of personnel changes along the way. Would one of you like to set the record straight?
Hank Shermann: “Originally, Michael Denner and myself were playing in a Danish outfit called Brats. We recorded a track for a compilation LP entitled Pære Punk which was released in 1979. It seems a little strange now that there should have been this punk / heavy metal crossover, yet at that time there was only a fine dividing line between the raw power of punk and the heavy energy of metal. People are quick to forget, but Iron Maiden originally came from the punk circuit. Paul Di’Anno was sporting a skinhead haircut back in those days! Then within a few months the emphasis had changed to heavy metal – all the leather studs and Di’Anno grew his hair long. Anyhow, the guys at CBS liked what we were doing and offered us an album deal.”
What was the full line-up on that album?
Michael Denner: “Along with Hank and I – we played lead guitar and did some vocals – were a couple of other guys: Yenz was the bass guitarist and lead vocalist, and the other guy Monroe played drums and piano. We spent the early part of 1980 in the studio in Copenhagen, and laid down twelve songs which were later put out by CBS on the Continent, titled 1980 Brats. Basically, it was a heavy metal album tinged – or tainted some might say – with a punk feel. Eight numbers were metal songs, three were punk and the other was a Russian folk song, sung in Russian by myself. That album was very useful to us in a number of respects. It gave us some very important studio experience, a good deal of exposure on TV and radio throughout Europe and through a quirk of fate brought us together with our current English manager and publicist, John Kibble.”
How well did that album do?
Michael Denner: “Without talking specific figures, we were selling thousands, especially in France. So much so that we were in the process of setting up a French tour, when out of the blue CBS dropped us. At the time it seemed catastrophic, yet with hindsight Mercyful Fate would probably never have come together, but for that decision. The CBS thing caused Brats to go their separate ways; I started a new band called Danger Zone with Timi Grabber, while Hank joined forces with an already notorious singer named King Diamond, who had been working with a band called Black Rose. Danger Zone wrote five numbers for a demo, and we decided to ask Hank and King to come along and work with us on the recording. The demo complete, we realised that the four of us clicked; we set about writing new material, and looking for a new name. Our ex-manager’s girlfriend came up with the name Mercyful Fate and it stuck.”
What had you been doing up to this point King?
“As Michael mentioned, I’d been working as vocalist and rhythm guitarist with Black Rose. People talk a lot about Fate being a ‘horror metal’ band. Well, the roots of that can be traced directly back to Black Rose. Our biggest influence was Alice Cooper, and much of what he stood for emerged in our show. For example, I was carried onstage wearing a straitjacket by two male nurses and placed in a wheelchair. After the first song I’d throw off the straitjacket, toss the wheelchair into the audience and get on with the rest of the show. We used various props; splitting a pig’s head, slaughtering a baby full of pig’s blood etc. It was, and still is my philosophy, that when the audience pays to see you play live they expect more than just a perfect reproduction of the vinyl they have. Rather they come to see a show and a showman. Alice was one of the great showmen of his time and I aim to emulate him. That’s why an audience expects a visual and aural experience when they come to see us.
Take the Aardschok day (festival) earlier this year over in Holland. We opened the proceedings mid-afternoon in bright sunlight and yet were the only band which really got the fans involved in the show. There were still 2,000 people outside when we came onstage, and when they heard us start up they began rioting because it was taking so long to get in. The local police ordered that they all be allowed in free, to defuse a potentially explosive situation! The response from the audience to the show was magnificent. We burnt the cross, and exploded the nun, despite the fact that we work on a tiny budget. Many much more wealthy bands do nothing for their fans. It’s all one-way traffic; they rake in the money and give little or nothing in return.”
Did the Kerrang! review upset you?
Timi Grabber: “Nobody likes to be described in the terms Kerrang! used. They send somebody like Neil Jeffries to review a metal festival when he’d be far happier at a Men At Work gig! We just felt sorry that all the Fate fans in Europe and North America who weren’t present were told nothing of interest. Quite honestly it’s just a case of journalists forgetting their responsibility to their readers.”
How do you see your stage show developing in the near future?
King Diamond: “Of course we have a great many ideas which we hope to put into practice when the finance and technology become available to us. Without giving too much away, we are at present working with one of Europe’s leading pyrotechnic experts on many different forms of special effects. Furthermore, we aim to be the first band to combine our lyrical imagery with onstage magic and illusion. We want people to go home thinking ‘Well I saw it and heard it, but I don’t know how they did it!’.”
How did you come to record for Ebony Records?
Hank Shermann: “Basically, up to that point we had been fairly frustrated. Although we had done support spots to Gillan and Girlschool back home, we were having some difficulty interesting the major record labels. It was by this time early 1982, and Mercyful Fate had already recorded two four-track demos. John Kibble had been knocking on all the major label doors, but nobody was willing to take that big chance; although a lot of the A&R people liked what we were doing. Then, Daryl Johnston (Ebony boss) asked us to record a couple of numbers for the compilation Metallic Storm. We did ‘Black Funeral’ and ‘Walkin’ Back To Hell’, the first of which appeared on the LP; while the latter, though scheduled to appear on the follow-up Ebony release, was at our request omitted due to a line-up change.”
The next step of course was the now infamous four-track mini-LP on Rave-On Records. What led to Fate recording in Holland?
King Diamond: “After the Ebony release we began to receive some good publicity in Holland through Aardschok magazine and Radio Hilversum. Rave-On being located in the same town (Eindhoven) as Aardschok meant they soon caught wind of us and offered us the deal. We recorded during September ’82 and also played our first Dutch gigs. The reception of both was so strong there, that we were able to return again in March and June of ’83 for more concerts. There’s really no doubt that the Dutch headbangers are among the finest and most knowledgeable in Europe, if not the world. Just after the release of the EP, Aardschok held their annual readers’ poll and Fate were voted ‘Best New Group’ and to my great pleasure I was voted ‘Best New Singer’!
“Quickly one thing led to another; we came over to England during March ’83 to record our session for the BBC Friday Rock Show, and had a really memorable day with Tony Wilson (producer) putting ‘Satan’s Fall’, ‘Evil’ and ‘Curse Of the Pharaohs’ down on tape. The BBC session was a big success for us and ultimately led us into our current deal with Roadrunner Records.”
Yeah, that leads us neatly on to the new LP, Melissa. For a band thought of as one of, if not, the heaviest currently on the metal scene, it’s a pretty unusual title for an LP! Who or what is Melissa?
Timi Grabber: “Melissa was a medieval witch who lived in Denmark. She’s always been a source of inspiration to us, so we ‘obtained’ her skull and she now joins us onstage for every gig, resplendent upon the altar!”
What are the plans regarding the LP and touring?
Michael Denner: “Unlike the mini-LP, Melissa is due for release worldwide thanks to the very hard work put in by Cees Wessels – the guy who runs Roadrunner. In the UK it’s being put out by Music For Nations, who incidentally are giving us a great deal of support in setting up a British tour for the New Year. There’s also going to be a single available in the UK featuring ‘Black Masses’, which isn’t on the album. Megaforce, who are to release Melissa in the USA, are putting the single out as a limited edition picture disc.”
Are we going to get the picture disc here in Europe?
Michael Denner: “A small number are to be made available through our fan club. So all we can say is, first come, first served!”
What do you guys genuinely think of Venom? Do you really hate each other?
King Diamond: “To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t until relatively recently that we first heard of Venom. We’ve said many times, they are just one big publicity stunt! A sort of Sex Pistols ’83. In fact, that appears to be their main musical equivalent. Metal has built its good reputation on the enormous skill of the likes of Blackmore, Schenker, Van Halen etc. We feel that we can contribute as much to the progress of metal as they have, because we are doing something fresh, vital and original. Sadly, Venom through poor musicianship and a string of concert fiascos have disillusioned a great many heavy rockers and generally give metal a bad name.”
That just about wraps things up, apart from to say thanks on behalf of our readers for taking the time to talk so frankly to us. Any last words?
King Diamond: “All that remains to be said is that we hope everyone enjoys Melissa, and that we’re all looking forward to playing in England again; and meeting all our friends in that bastion of fine metal – Shades!”
Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 2 (1983)
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