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DENMARK, Copenhagen

Date Formed 1981

Categories: Black Metal, Heavy Metal


When metal came to the fore once again on the back of the NWoBHM boom, fans began to turn their attention outside of the UK and USA to focus on Europe and Scandinavia. Although many acts were to be championed, only a handful proved to have any tenacity, Denmark's MERCYFUL FATE succeeded due to a number of distinguishing factors, singer King Diamond's unique falsetto vocals, his onstage persona and the band's Satanically charged lyrical content. Whilst it was commonplace for metal bands to flirt with Lucifer and his minions on occasion, MERCYFUL FATE employed the Devil's legions exclusively. Fortunately for the Danes they had the musical muscle to back up this novelty.

MERCYFUL FATE was borne out of the ashes of Danish Punk Heavy Rock outfit BRATS, a Copenhagen group formed in the late 70s by guitarists Hank Shermann (a.k.a. Rene Krolmark or Hank De Wank). In 1979 Michael Denner alongside vocalist Yenz (later to turn up fronting GEISHA and Y) and drummer Monroe enrolled. BRATS recorded one track for a 1979 Punk/Metal crossover compilation album called 'Pair Punk' and released one full album on CBS Records '1980 Brats' which made quite an impact in Europe, selling particularly well in France. It even led to the track 'Zombie People' picking up British airplay courtesy of Capital Radio's Alan Freeman.

'1980 Brats' was basically a Metal album with Punk overtones, although the album also included a quirky Russian Folk song sung in Russian by Denner. However, the group disbanded and Hank Shermann soon linked up again with Michael Denner, who had formed DANGER ZONE, frontman KING DIAMOND, (Kim Bendix Petersen), a veteran of local bands BRAINSTORM and BLACK ROSE, and DANGER ZONE bassist Timi Grabber along with drummer Kim Ruzz and recorded a four track demo. The tape featured the tracks 'Some Day', 'Death Kiss', 'Love Criminals' and 'Combat Zone'. King Diamond, having steered himself away from a potential career as a pro-footballer, had already made a name for himself in Europe with the BLACK ROSE stage show, which thrived on blood n' gore theatrics. This was a trait that was to spill over heavily into his new band.

Diamond immediately stamped his distinctive seal on the proceedings with his uniquely high range vocals. This eardrum shattering falsetto was to become the band's trademark stamp. Whilst the shrill operatics put many metal fans off, it did brand the singer and inspired a dedicated hardcore of fans. Shortly after the demo, the band switched monicker to MERCYFUL FATE (there is conjecture the group briefly operated as BACK TO HELL) and 'Love Criminals' began to pick up heavy airplay on Dutch radio thanks to the healthy state of the underground tape trading scene at the time.

MERCYFUL FATE demoed again in March 1981, recording at The Rocktape Studios in Copenhagen. Three songs were laid down by Diamond, Shermann, Carsten Van Der Volsing, handling both guitar and bass, together with stand in drummer Jan Musen. A further promotional recording involved a re-work of DANGER ZONE songs 'Killed For Love' re-branded 'Running Free' and 'Not Amusing' morphed into 'Hard Rocker'. Also onboard would be 'Love Criminals', an evolution of a track from THE BRATS days. That Autumn the group, having fleetingly employed Benny Petersen, utilised Karma Studios to put down another batch of songs. On the strength of the final tape were invited to Hull in England by Darryl Johnstone at Ebony Records to add a track, 'Black Funeral', to the 'Metallic Storm' compilation. MERCYFUL FATE also recorded 'Walkin' Back To Hell' during the Ebony session, but this was never released. (It later surfaced re-worked as 'A Dangerous Meeting' in 1984).

As a live act MERCYFUL FATE was an extremely heavy proposition, with the twin guitar work of Shermann and Denner added to the distinctive, wailing histrionics of King Diamond. The singer also developed a second focus of attention, manifesting the characterization of King Diamond by way of a chilling monochrome face paint design, this directly inspired by ALICE COOPER. This, along with his penchant for microphone stands made of human thigh bones and a theatric stage show imbued with liberal pseudo-satanic overtones, meant MERCYFUL FATE was certainly out to get noticed.

With interest in Holland outpacing the rest of Europe, MERCYFUL FATE signed to Dutch record company Rave On in September 1982, cutting tracks over just three days at Stone Sound Studios in Holland. This resulted in a four track mini-album, often referred to as 'Nuns Have No Fun' due to its schlock artwork featuring a crucified nun surrounded by cowled practitioners of the dark arts. Beyond the visuals, the music was equally lurid, the track 'Nuns Have No Fun's chorus exclaiming "C.U.N.T. - that's what you are!" In later years it would be revealed that the track 'A Corpse Without A Soul', despite being held in great esteem by the metal masses, was in fact a savagely truncated edit. The original had been laid down over a ten minute duration but the sound engineer's tape ran out before the band wound up, hence the final 6.52 time signature on the EP.

The EP's impact on the underground metal scene was huge and Ron Quintana's San Francisco magazine 'Metal Mania' voted it EP of the year. Whilst in England on a short tour in March 1983 (including a memorable show at the Clarendon Hotel in London's Hammersmith district) the band recorded a cult session for BBC Radio One's 'Friday Rock Show' featuring the tracks 'Evil', 'Satans Fall' and 'Curse Of The Pharaohs'.

As momentum gathered MERCYFUL FATE soon split with Rave On and signed to Roadrunner in Europe and Music For Nations for Britain in early 1983. That July at Easy Sound Recording in Copenhagen they recorded their debut full-length album 'Melissa', so titled in honour of a notorious Danish medieval witch whose skull Diamond claimed to own, with producer Henrik Lund. Oddly, US versions, manufactured by Megaforce Records, provided extra incentive for collectors as the first pressing featured a different take of the title track. An accompanying single, 'Black Masses' / 'Black Funeral', was also issued.

MERCYFUL FATE promoted the October 1983 'Melissa' album heavily, opening for the likes of URIAH HEEP, GILLAN and GIRLSCHOOL. Regrettably with the latter KING DIAMOND claimed responsibility for invoking the 'evil presence' which electrocuted GIRLSCHOOL vocalist Kim McAuliffe at a show in Copenhagen. The band also courted controversy when they pulled out of a British tour supporting MANOWAR after just one date at St Albans City Hall. MERCYFUL FATE claimed that as they had contributed financially to the costs of the tour they were being treated unfairly by the headliners as regards set up times and soundchecking. MANOWAR refuted the allegations and MERCYFUL FATE were promptly ditched in favour of Birmingham support band CRAZY ANGEL.

In May 1984 MERCYFUL FATE recorded their second album, 'Don't Break The Oath', again with Henrik Lund in control of the faders, and embarked on their first American dates as headliners and as openers for MOTȪRHEAD. The album was another success, scoring many European chart positions.

Upon completion of touring across the USA the Danes were hit with the departure of Hank Shermann in December 1984 as the guitarist opted to form the much more commercial FATE. This group achieved critical acclaim but unfortunately little else. Meantime, Michael Denner forged LAVINA. Before long, he would be joined by two of his MERCYFUL FATE colleagues, bassist Timi Hansen and guitarist Hank Shermann, the latter having just exited the ranks of FATE. Rick Sterie took on the lead vocal role whilst Nick James took command of the drums. LAVINA recorded a three song demo in September 1988 and a 1989 follow up prior to evolving into ZOSER MEZ. Kim Ruzz famously opted out of the music business and took up a more sedate profession as a postman.

With Shermann out of the group it wouldn't be long before King opted to break the band up in order to pursue a different course with KING DIAMOND. Taking back Denner and Timi Grabber (now using the monicker Timi G. Hansen) with him, and introducing new players ex-NADIR and GEISHA drummer Mickey Dee (real name Delaoglou) and guitarist Floyd Konstandin, the latter being superseded by former TRAFALGER and EF BAND guitarist Andy LaRocque (Anders Allhage), King would eschew the Satanic overtones of MERCYFUL FATE in order to pursue more conceptual, horror themes.

King opted to concentrate his efforts mainly on North America, where MERCYFUL FATE had built a strong and loyal following. The debut KING DIAMOND album, 'Fatal Portrait' was issued in February 1986 through Roadrunner Records and landed impressively at number 33 on the Swedish charts. Successive releases, 1987's 'Abigail', 1988's 'Them', 1989's 'Conspiracy' and 'The Eye', recorded in 1990 but issued in 1995, all charted in North America backed by exhaustive touring. However, the band line-up was always fragile and combined with a dispute with their record label, KING DIAMOND ceased operations at the turn of the decade. MERCYFUL FATE's legend was continually stoked too, with the emergence of archive collections 'In The Beginning' and 'Return Of The Vampire', both in 1992.

Having achieved a greater deal of success with KING DIAMOND it would be after hearing some of the material the re-united duo of Shermann and Denner in ZOSER MEZ that King felt the time was right to reform MERCYFUL FATE with Shermann, Denner, and Hansen. Original drummer Kim Ruzz could not be torn away from his day job in the postal service, so Morten Nielson, previously with APOCALYPSE and FORCE MAJEURE, laid down the drums for the comeback album. MERCYFUL FATE's reunion show took place in May 1993 sharing a stage with METALLICA. They then put in an appearance at the legendary Dynamo festival in Eindhoven, Holland during June. The 'In The Shadows' album from the reborn MERCYFUL FATE, offered up in August, had the added interest of featuring guest drummer Lars Ulrich of METALLICA on a revamped version of the 1982 demo track 'Return Of The Vampire'. Once touring duties were fulfilled Timi Grabber made the decision to return to family life.

The subsequent 1994 release 'The Bell Witch' turned out to be a mini-album comprising three live numbers and two new songs, 'The Bell Witch' and 'Is That You Melissa?'. The ensuing 'Time' release of October 1994 would witness the group on full throttle once more and touring America in early 1995 supported by SOLITUDE AERTUNUS. 'Time' included the track 'Castillo Del Mortes', originally laid down as a 1992 ZOSER MEZ demo recording instrumental entitled 'Land Of Goshen'.

In early 1996 the band received a request to render a JUDAS PRIEST cover version. Their suitably spine-tingling interpretation of 'The Ripper' was included on the Century Media album 'Legends Of Metal: A Tribute To Judas Priest'. MERCYFUL FATE added drummer Bjarne T. Holm to the line-up that same year for the 'Into The Unknown' album, which also featured new bassist Sharlee D'Angelo (Charles Andreason), former sessioneer for FACELIFT and member of KING DIAMOND. Subsequent live work found Michael Denner's position being taken by Mike Wead (Mikael Wikström) of MEMENTO MORI for the closing dates.

In late 1997 Roadrunner Records re-issued the early titles in re-mastered form and featuring the odd bonus track to boot. Outside of the MERCYFUL FATE sphere of operations the band members occupied themselves with a slew of band ventures. Shermann and Holm busied themselves working on a band project under the name of GUTRIX, releasing the album 'Mushroom Songs'. D'Angelo and Wead also created side project HEMISFEAR.

Shermann and Holm, in alliance with bassist Dave Moreno, released a Metalcore side project album 'Sick In The Head' under the title VIRUS 7 in 2000. That same year he also forged a unit entitled SHERMANN SOLDIERS to work on demos. This endeavour involved former NARITA singer Brian Rich, bassist Manil Lopez and MERCYFUL FATE colleague Bjarne T. Holm on the drums. During mid 2001 it was announced that Mike Wead had joined THE HAUNTED supplanting the outgoing Anders Björler. However, a subsequent American tour witnessed not Wead but THE CROWN guitarist Marcus Sunesson taking the vacancy.

January 2002 would witness the departure of MERCYFUL FATE from long term label Metal Blade. Meantime, guitarist MICHAEL DENNER taking the solo route, founding a band comprising of KING DIAMOND bassist Hal Patino, former MERCYFUL FATE drummer Morten Nielsen, vocalist Jesper Harrits and second guitarist Carsten Volsing, a man with an apparent 'early' MERCYFUL FATE history. Another band offshoot later that same year witnessed a union of MERCYFUL FATE guitarist Hank Shermann and drummer Bjarne T. Holm uniting with KING DIAMOND bassist Hal Patino for demos. This unit, adding IRON FIRE vocalist Martin Steene and another MERCYFUL FATE Colleague Michael Denner on second guitar, was dubbed as FORCE OF EVIL by March 2003.

There would be yet another MERCYFUL FATE related act springing up in 2003 as guitarist Mike Wead, of both MERCYFUL FATE and KING DIAMOND repute, teamed up with colleagues Snowy Shaw (KING DIAMOND, DREAM EVIL and NOTRE DAME), Sharlee D'Angelo (MERCYFUL FATE, ARCH ENEMY and WITCHERY) and Simon Johansson (MEMORY GARDEN and ABSTRAKT ALGEBRA) in a brand new group billed as FIREGOD. Yet another ex-MERCYFUL FATE man, drummer Bjarne T. Holm, resurfaced the same year as part of Nu-Metal band ZAUCE.

In 2004 the band would have their classic cut 'Evil' chosen as a pioneering piece of music for a compilation assembled by DARKTHRONE drummer Fenriz, released through Peaceville Records and entitled 'Fenriz Presents: The Best Of Old School Black Metal'. Also paying homage would be Canadian Power Metal band EIDOLON, cutting a cover of 'The Oath' complete with Michael Denner playing guest solos. Both Hank Shermann and Michael Denner repaid the favour, featuring guest guitar solos on EIDOLON album recordings in 2005.

In a surprise move, Snowy Shaw was named the new lead singer in leading Operatic Metal band THERION in October 2006. On November 18th original MERCYFUL FATE band members Michael Denner, Hank Shermann, Timi "Grabber" Hansen and Kim Ruzz appeared at the Danish Metal Awards held at the Amager Bio venue in Copenhagen to accept an honor award.

In February 2007 it was announced that Mike Wead had joined forces with a brand new, melodic Death Metal inclined project called KRYPTILLUSION. Kristofer Nilsson of UNDIVINE handled lead vocals whilst Stefan Westerberg, of IN THY DREAMS, STEEL ATTACK, WORLD BELOW, ASPERITY and CARNAL FORGE, featured on drums and Fredrik Groth from THE STORYTELLER assumed bass duties.

MERCYFUL FATE re-recorded both 'Evil' and 'Curse Of The Pharoahs' during 2008 for the Activision 'Guitar Hero: Metallica' video game. The original intention was to utilise the master tapes from the 'Melissa' sessions but these could not be located. These new tracks were recorded by King Diamond, Hank Shermann, Michael Denner, Timi Hansen and Bjarne T. Holm at Earplug Studios in Copenhagen and Nomad Recording Studios in Dallas, Texas. An animated version of King Diamond would also appear in the game.

DEMONICA was unveiled in mid 2009 as the solo project of guitarist Hank Shermann. He would be joined by an international cast of musicians comprising Craig Locicero, of FORBIDDEN, on guitar, Klaus Hansen, from BATTALION and TRAUMA CENTER, on lead vocals, Marc Grabowski, from CORRUPTION, on bass guitar, Mark Hernandez, of FORBIDDEN, HEATHEN, DEFIANCE and VIO-LENCE, on drums.

Garry Sharpe-Young

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