Mercyful Fate members reunite in Denner/Shermann

Denner/Shermann - Satan's Tomb (2015)
Mercyful Fate was one of the high points of traditional heavy metal in the 1980s, exerting huge influence through their over-the-top visual aesthetic and elaborate, theatrical songwriting. They arguably peaked on 1984’s Don’t Break The Oath; later works by both this band and its frontman’s project (King Diamond) varied in their ability to capture such high points.

October 2nd will see yet another effort from the band’s musicians – alumni from the band have united to form Denner/Shermann, and to release Satan’s Tomb, an EP of material in a similar but presumably modernized vein. The release date and album title are probably going to draw comparison to the band Satan’s upcoming album on the same day (Atom by Atom), despite definite differences in style. While our knowledge of Denner/Shermann’s sound and approach is less confirmed at this point, I’m fairly certain they need a better marketer on their side; at least as evidenced by the questionable decisions of the following trailer.

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Mercyful Fate – Melissa is 30 years old today

mercyful_fate-melissaReleased on October 30, 1983, the first album from Denmark’s Mercyful Fate proved to be a decisive one for metal. While the band never ventured behind a NWOBHM-speed metal hybrid comparable to Blitzkrieg/Satan, Tank or Diamond Head, the uniquely operatic vocals of King Diamond and the band’s ability to write compelling heavy metal that also had a touch of the otherworldly quickly made Mercyful Fate an important band.

While many have written about their influence on black metal, it’s important to mention that this is not a black metal band, or album. Expect heavy metal, with the type of muted-strum riffs that later made speed metal capture the attention of metalheads worldwide, but with a greater focus on dynamics and pacing. On the surface, it sounds like many other bands from the era, but Mercyful Fate gave the music a unique spin and pushed quality over the top.

As a result, the band, fronted by the legendary King Diamond in his Alice Cooper-inspired face paint, became a staple of the “below-mainstream” metal crowd and quickly won a place on every metal record store’s walls. Through a series of early albums such as Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath, the band gradually shaped metal’s underground away from repetitive intensity and more toward the type of operatic variation in intensity that marked the influences on King Diamond’s vocals.

30 years have passed since this album first detonated car stereos and home units, but its influence is vast and hard to estimate. First, it shaped bands like Metallica toward more imaginative and melodic songwriting; next, it shaped black metal as a melodic, dynamic, motif-driven genre. Finally, the band’s outright flirtation with Satanism as a form of successor philosophy to the genteel benevolence of the society at the time influenced the metal to follow in non-musical as well as musical ways.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGQFdv6ayHY

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The Craft of Metal #2: Abominations of Desolation

Abominations of Desolation (1986) appeared during the fertile years of death metal as the first full-length release from Morbid Angel but was relegated to demo status during the period when the band became more well known. All the songs except “Demon Seed” were re-recorded on later releases.

The true first Morbid Angel album reveals the genetic material that the band would then expand for the next three releases during what would be their musical prime. It shows the band at their peak from a compositional point of view owing in part to the combination of Azagthoth’s and Browning’s genuine belief in the Necronomicon and the focus on making their music the soundtrack to their beliefs.

The incredibly diverse riffcraft shows the band absorbing influences principally from Hellhamer, Angel Witch, Slayer and Mercyful Fate. Unlike their influences, the band plays fully developed death metal with long tremolo picked passages, single picked notes, fast alternate picked open strings playing against moving power chord progressions, even playing with other diatonic chords from time to time and combining the whole in a varied amount of ways depending on the needs of the songs. Notably absent is the influence of speed metal which would appear on the more streamlined Altars of Madness (1989). None of the bounce nor the rhythmic interplay of their contemporaries is in evidence here; the band does not accentuate the offbeats nor do they use the choppy syncopation of their more well-known peers.

From the heavy metal that was so influential to this record Morbid Angel brought the device of guitar solos, not as an ornament or an embellishment, but as a central piece within the composition that works closely with the rhythm guitars playing underneath. Here is a band with a limited number of technical tools derived from previous bands but combined in a large variety of ways that sets the standard for all of death metal and allows the band to create much more powerful melodies that can be interconnected in maze like arrangements.

Contrary to popular belief Morbid Angel never attempted to create atonal music as they obviously do enjoy smashing one note or power chord and then making the whole sequence invert the relationship formerly established. However, on a much subtler note Trey Azagthoth does have the ability to play with tonality in the most twisted of ways. Take for example “Chapel of Ghouls” and how the low chugging has a particular power to it and never sounds like the chugging between riffs from any speed metal derived band. That is because the chugging note is not the actual root note of the song but what is referred to as the subtonic. This is the last note in the natural minor scale and demonstrates a lack of desire to lead into the root note of the scale. Rather than a rhythmic embellishment, we are treated to an integral note in the many motifs of “Chapel of Ghouls” and how the band managed to truly convey power and occultist ideology through simple yet effective musical choices.

Chromaticism at this point in time had already been a widespread technique but Morbid Angel decided to apply their own twist on it. Rather than create fully chromatic passages the songs are derived from the minor scale and its variations but with added streams of three or four chromatic bursts. This really did obscure the tonality of certain passages, and gave birth to the myth that Morbid Angel played atonal music to make the band seem much more intellectual where in reality the young band did even better than that: they adapted tonality for their own style and to this day very few bands have been able to emulate these techniques efficiently.

The arrangements here push the riff as being above all else. Multiple melodies form these songs that flow in such a fluid manner that this would inspire the Norwegian scene in their compositional choices. The melodies vary in tempo and in note selection yet the transitions never sound forced as the band will lengthen the note duration when speeding up and shorten the note duration when slowing down. This allows for these motifs to mutate without being held back by rhythm. The influence of Mozart is subtle but is ever present in the way the band designs the arrangement of each song. At first each song has a primary melody that either begins the composition or is introduced by a motif of minor importance. A development then occurs either through a new riff that either takes the previous motif and transforms it or through an entirely new riff accompanied with a tempo change to push the tension even further along. Eventually the music arrives at an apex where all the tension is released before it concludes on the main motif that has now become a revelation.

Let us look at “Angel of Disease,” which has a simple heavy metal motif in D# minor without any chromatic notes. It is then warped to a slower riff that is barely in D# minor but has been deformed entirely by surrounding chromatic notes and this continues the momentum of the main motif as the cycle repeats one more time before branching out into a palm muted stream of single notes working in opposition with the secondary motif leading us to the grand climax of the song. The solos Azagthoth performs obey the underlying riffs and, through a combination of insane melodies that are at times atonal whole tone jumps or some very unique arpeggios like the diminished seventh which is an endless stream of minor thirds, create some very unique sounds. The solos through their madness show a strong logic where they reinforce the arrangements either by providing the climax or by creating even more tension upon the chromatic segments.

Abominations of Desolation takes the underground metal that evolving at the same time and use it to make the first truly mature death metal record. Surprisingly the heavy metal of the past is still very present in this band though it remains a device for the creation of the more consonant motifs, yet one can only wonder what the avenue explored by the only song to not appear on future records “Demon Seed.” The extravagant heavy metal didn’t seem to be in accordance with the band’s future works but what we have here is a Judas Priest style composition that plays with its dual identity, and it would take a few years before the European bands would develop this style further.

Where the influence of future country singer David Vincent would push Morbid Angel to explore grindcore and speed metal whilst taking influence from this album, Mike Browning was able to channel the band toward creating a powerful piece of art that is still to this day not fully understood and that neither musician has been able to recreate. There are far too many elements in this album to effectively analyze in such small an article as this is, but it reveals the power held by the common beliefs of two above average individuals, as well as reveals the magic that happened in that incredibly short period time only to disappear back to the depths of hell.

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Satan’s Host

Satan’s Host was formed by USPM vocalist Harry Conklin of Jag Panzer fame. Where many bands transition from Death/Black Metal to Power Metal, Satan’s Host sought to reverse the stereotype by transitioning to Black Metal with vocalist Elixir. Eventually Conklin would return and they would attempt to find balance between modern Extreme Metal and NWOBHM in the style of Angel Witch. Though the mindset of an old dog attempting to learn new tricks is admirable, Satan’s Host never seemed to quite understand the source material that would inspire the majority of their long career.
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Introduction to Power Metal, Part III: 1980s US Power Metal

A salute goes out to Misters Imladris and Kaelrok for sharing recommendations and insights related to the subject at hand.

After having recounted and commented on the birth and evolution of the first wave of European power metal in part II, the time has come for this author to travel across the Atlantic and take a closer look at the contemporaneous development of power metal in North America, commonly referred to as United States Power Metal (USPM).
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1983

A footnote in an article we ran last week sparked a lot of controversy among our very passionate friends who lurk the DMU comment sections.  No, it wasn’t that we correctly identified SJW journalists as the nail in the coffin of metal as we know it; instead it was an observation of the last death of heavy metal:

In the early 1970s, heavy metal was an exciting new musical and cultural movement. So much so, that it surpassed even rock music (thought to be revolutionary just a few years before). But towards the end of the decade came a near-lethal blow: punk rock. Faster, louder, more abrasive and aggressive, punk had risen the bar and metal couldn’t compete. From 1977-1983, metal was almost completely obliterated. Many had declared the movement dead – a fleeting flavor of the week experiment that did not stand the test of time.

Many took issue with this: “metal wasn’t dead!”  they cried.  “Albums were released, things happened!”  “You’re erasing history Brock, your articles ruined this site and my life!”

The intrigue and utter distraction of this phrase sparked the need to further elaborate:  Did metal actually die, during this time period, or did I somehow just miss a few years of quality metal development?

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/smr/ Sadistic Metal Reviews: Terrible Traxx Edition

In our search for great metal in the internet age, we are constantly being swarmed by legions of mediocre bands releasing countless albums ranging from terrible to passable. Most bands aim to replicate their idols without understanding what actually makes them great and others rely on gimmicks or illogical hybrids of styles in their attempts to distinguish themselves from the herd. Sometimes we stumble upon fleeting works that point to something greater but those are few and far between and most of us do not have the time to sit through hours of meaningless music In hope to find a flash of brilliance.  Yet sometimes we come across music that is so bad not through neglect nor lack of skill but through the mental decay of the composers and troubling musical choices. In these situations all we can do is laugh and learn to not become like these people. Here is a list of songs showing various metal musicians at their lowest.

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Forces of Satan Stumble

The consensus seems to be that Christ does not belong in metal.  Well, neither does Satan.  Rigid patterns of thought are not conductive to the creation of transcendental metal music.  The failure of NSBM stems from the rigid ideology into which the music was forced like a Procrustean bed.  The two Christian metal bands worth a shit have been covered on this site: Paramaecium and Antestor.  The only NSBM bands that are not terrible are the bands, like Graveland, that preceeded the creation of the subgenre and were only lumped in with the scene later… Gontyna Kry seems to be the sole exception to NSBM sucking.

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Introduction to Power Metal, Part II: The First Wave of European Power Metal

[The epic continues!  Read part I of Johan’s journey here and listen for yourself via this playlist]

While working with what was intended to be the second part of a tripartite article series covering the history and general properties of the power metal subgenre, it soon became clear that a sufficiently thorough treatment of the subject would require more space and time than what was originally intended. This insight subsequently led to the conclusion that individual parts needed to be subdivided and portioned out in order to not grow out of proportion. The initial plan to present the material into three consecutive parts has thus been revised.
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