Sludgecore band Agoraphobic Nosebleed threw a fit for publicity over a recent batch of Death Metal Underground’s Sadistic Metal Reviews. Frontwoman Katherine Katz called us Fox News for our criticism of Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s shrieking short woman over a drum machine shtick and our psychological speculation as to why Agoraphobic Nosebleed would even bother releasing such failure other than for commercial exploitation of a musically-ignorant hipster fan base craving reaffirmation of their modern liberalism. Katz even claimed that artists should be responsible for the extreme actions of others in response to satire and that some topics should be completely off lyrics. For her, everyone who listens to “Embryonic Necropsy and Devourment” will potentially commit feticide. This is incredibly hypocritical for a band who shared a member with Anal Cunt and wrote Frozen Corpse Stuffed with Dope.
Michael Denner and Hank Shermann (the dueling guitar virtuosos behind Mercyful Fate) have announced that the mixing and mastering is done on the upcoming album from their technical power/speed metal project, Denner / Shermann. Hopefully Masters of Evil (to be released by Metal Blade Records on June 24th ) is better than their previous EP but don’t get your hopes up. Check out the preview track below:
October is indeed the season for Mercyful Fate, or at least pretenders to its metallic throne. Earlier this month, we saw two members’ underwhelming reunion in Denner/Sherman. More recently, THEM, composed of an unrelated group of musicians despite likely being named after King Diamond’s 1988 solo album, has released a track from their own upcoming attempt to capture something of that band’s approach.
Sweet Hollow is a concept album very much in the vein of King Diamond’s projects; at this point perhaps most notable for featuring members of Symphony X and Suffocation. The single (“Forever Burns”) resembles an exaggerated, more technically ambitious take on KD’s melodramatic heavy/speed metal sound, to the point of including a great deal of falsetto singing. Even if the final product turns out to be any good, this may scare some of its potential listeners away. Currently, Sweet Hollow is planned for a January 2016 release.
When I first became aware of this recording, I figured the obvious points of comparison would be Mercyful Fate for spawning the eponymous duo of this act, and Satan because that word was in this album’s title. Those comparisons have turned out to be less appropriate than initially expected – Satan’s Tomb draws more from recent mainstream heavy/power metal than either of those two. It’s not enough to separate them entirely from this comparison, but those expecting the second coming of Don’t Break The Oath are going to walk away disappointed for more reasons than they might expect.
What we have here is an arguably “darker” recording. There are a few overtures towards Denner and Shermann’s past in Mercyful Fate, like the harmonized guitar leads at the beginning of the title track, but musically, the members pull more on techniques popularized after the early ’80s, creating guitar sounds from a more dissonant, chromatic, abrasive source, as if the band had occasionally listened to more extreme works and allowed a tinge of their riffing style to seep in at crucial moments. The vocals also adopt a different style – Sean Peck relies on strained screams with little in the way of falsetto to make his presence known. Oddly enough given this approach, his vocals are not the prime attraction – I would go as far as to say he is subordinate to the guitarists despite his attempts to sing over them. Regardless of style, Satan’s Tomb does fairly well on the instrumental front, showing better technique and a good use of microvariation and riff diversity within its style.
The main flaw of this album is that its songwriting is particularly haphazard. One thing Denner/Shermann consistently draws from its musicians’ past is an emphasis on complicated song structures. The band members try to recapture some of this, but songs here consistently suffer from organizational problems, including one particularly ill-planned coda at the end of “War Witch”. Without anything to properly glue together more obvious transitions, songs here listen like a heap of unrelated samples, which is amusingly similar in effect to the band’s promotional trailer. More conventionally structured songs like the title track don’t suffer to this degree, but the album wouldn’t necessarily be better if it were more simply shaped. Ultimately, we’re left with a somewhat ambitious, but flawed effort – while the rest of the album is otherwise acceptable or better, structural weaknesses are, as a rule, simply too great to ignore.
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.
Mercyful Fate Don’t Break the Oath was released on September 7, 1984. Back then, you most likely purchased the album on vinyl or cassette. King Diamond, the vocalist of Mercyful Fate, expanded on the image that Kiss and Alice Cooper had adopted years earlier, but he backed it up with powerful speed/heavy metal with melodic vocals and lyrics informed by more than a passing acquaintance with the occult.
If you ask me, Don’t Break the Oath was the peak of his career. The band picked up on the speed metal techniques of rhythm and used them to expand heavy metal with more fluid tempo and riff styles, then built epic songs out of that which did not over-emphasize the vocals but let them aid the songs, much like on the second Iron Maiden album. In the 1980s, just about every metal band listened to this classic.
Like many of our American readers, the Hessians around here will be sitting down to eat a huge meal tomorrow and then unceremoniously lose consciousness in a tryptophan coma before rallying for dessert and shooting guns at the moon. But before we can eat, we must cook, which leads to the topic of metal for cooking.
Unlike the average musical genre, heavy metal is very easy to do but very hard to do well. Maybe one in a thousand bands are worth hearing for more than a week, and one in ten of those worth buying. But some albums adapt more than others to playing in the background while a Hessian cooks.
The following are the suggestions endorsed not only for you, but that will be playing in our house as the feast is prepared.
Metallica – Kill ‘Em All
Metallica took the mixture of heavy metal and hard rock with punk spirit that was NWOBHM and re-hybridized it with a new generation of punk. These hardcore punk bands used maximum distortion and as a result could get a chopppy abrasive sound out of their guitars. Metallica applied to this the muted strum technique that other bands used periodically and created from it a genre that used guitars as explosive percussion instruments. Kill ‘Em All uses the classic melodic riffs of NWOBHM, the open chords of an adventurous metal band, and the new speed metal riff style to make an album of high energy and relentless impact. While it sounds ancient now, most ancient things are good, because if it has survived this long, it has more going for it than the flash-in-the-pan stuff that pops up a dime a dozen anytime someone thinks a shekel or dinar can be made from them. The first Metallica album still compels but in the simple-hearted way that teenage ambition wants to conquer and/or destroy the world, but would settle for just raising hell and then passing out early.
Mixes well with: Iron Maiden, Exodus, Cathedral and Godflesh.
Misfits – Static Age
Glenn Danzig reinvented music three times, at least. He started out composing melodic punk music that injected a sense of emotion into a genre that was otherwise close to droning refusal to conform, then turned down a metal path with Samhain and then modified that path to include a bluesy Doors-style hard rock in the mix with Danzig. Having had his fill of music for people who need a constant beat, he turned to soundtrack music but gave it a metal flair, coming out with Black Aria in 1992 and presaging the neofolk and dark ambient movements. Lately he has thrown southern rock into his metal mix but he continues to forge into paths that others did not see before him. On this early Misfits album, Danzig writes songs filled with longing, like a spirit soaring over a world composed of a daylight layer of pleasant lies and a nocturnal substrate of grim violence and bitter alienation. The result is one of the most Romantic statements to come out of punk, but it also produces the perfect environment for churning out turkey, stuffing and sweet potato mash.
Mixes well with: Cro-Mags, Repulsion, Dirty Rotten Imbeciles and Suicidal Tendencies.
Suffocation – Breeding the Spawn
How do you exceed the standard set by an album like Effigy of the Forgotten? Suffocation launched into their second record with large ideas that did not quite form into song, but it came together quickly enough and then ran out of time, plus had a production style that was less nuclear than the previous album. Nonetheless some of the best material from this innovative band, who took the percussive strumming of speed metal and worked it into death metal songs with complex jazz-inspired rhythms, appeared on the second album. This exploratory work sets the perfect mood for fudging your way through that recipe for cranberry sauce that you sort of remember from when Aunt Griselda made it fourteen years ago. It also satiates the palate that craves metal which is willing to throw aside everything that “works” and leap into the great unknown with the intent to reinvent metal as we know it.
Mixes well with: King Crimson, Bathory and Celtic Frost.
Deicide – Once Upon the Cross
After exhausting their artistic energy with the legendary Legion, Deicide had to re-invent themselves as individuals and as a band in order to crank out this release. Written (rumor has it) primarily by drummer Steve Asheim, this album takes a look over past Deicide and strips it down to what it does best: rhythm, structure and even the occasional hint of melody. These songs muscle along with intense power and high energy and make for the perfect kitchen companion to those recipes which require slashing meat, smashing tubers and bashing berries. Not only that, but if you are experiencing guilt for having invited the mother-in-law over even though she is a Jehovah’s Witness, never fear! You will pay back any debt incurred to the gods of blasphemy with the absolute livid hatred of Jesus, Christians, God and the Bible that pulses through this album like the raging heart-rate of a murder suspect pursued by police helicopters through Ferguson, MO. Not only that, but if you are worried about people “backseat driving” during your cooking and they happen to be Christian, this album will guarantee you the kitchen to yourself.
Mixes well with: David Myatt, Ted Kaczynski and Charles Manson. Actually, anything… or nothing.
…and the best for last…
Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath
There are no bad albums that make good albums to cook with, but there are albums which are bad albums to cook with despite being good albums. In addition to being the best of the King Diamond/Mercyful Fate oeuvre, Don’t Break the Oath represents the furthest into technical speed metal with the least amount of overdone musicality or theatrics. King Diamond and his team achieve the perfect balance of his Alice Cooper dramatics, the guitar pyrotechnics of Hank Sherman and Michael Denner, and the mainstay of this band which has always been their ability to write a song with dramatic changes and hints of melodic but a consistent ability to hit hard and with a sense of grandeur and mystery that is essential to any darkside metal. In particular, the rhythms of this album work really well with sword training, bear wrestling and cooking for the traditional highly critical American extended family. Crush eggs, beat flour, and pulverize tissue to this classic of speed metal with an edge of the dark occult side which gives metal its mystique and aura of the mythological. Not only does the music provide power, but the album as a whole provides a landscape that roughly fits the panicked improvisation at the heart of any good holiday meal.
Mixes well with: Metallica, Slayer, and the tears of your enemies or entrees.
Released 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.