When Mercyful Fate‘s Melissa first hit the shelves in 1983, it changed the face of metal forever, paving the way for the future of black metal, death metal, and even heavy prog. But it did so in an insidious, not-so-obvious way.
The album is a bit more of a grower than a shower. Other releases of the time, like Venom‘s Welcome to Hell two years earlier, were notable for the way they channelled punk and heavy thrash to create a new, extreme sound. Obviously, that type of metal also had a massive impact on the scene, reflected today across extreme music, but Melissa showcased how slow, intentional music with an almost operatic quality could still be crushing and heavy as hell.
The first time I heard this record, it was probably about 20 years old, as it was around 2003 when I was having my own metal awakening. While it wasn’t as heavy or catchy as a lot of the other stuff I was checking out—old punk, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Slayer—there was a quality to the record that had me absolutely enthralled, and I couldn’t stop listening. It was slow, sneaking, seemed to tell a story, and was heavy without hitting me over the head with fast riffs. While I would go on to gravitate a bit more towards the faster side of metal, I found myself coming back to the album time and time again and noticing something new every time.
Part of that intrigue was definitely tied to King Diamond‘s voice. His falsetto scream was something that I hadn’t encountered in other bands, even though you could argue vocalists like Rob Halford have equally powerful and unique voices. As an angsty teen obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe and Carrie, it makes sense that the vibe of the sad yet building songs resonated with me, and I often wondered how teens in the ’80s, when metal was even more taboo, must have felt.
As a musician, I also have to give a special shoutout to Hank Shermann and Michael Denner on guitar. The interplay between their sections, especially on the song “Black Funeral,” is worth mentioning any time guitar work is being highlighted. While they can both clearly riff and solo, they also make space for each other’s music.
And while the record certainly is epic and full of memorable imagery, the songs are all well-crafted, too. The title track is another great example of this, as even at almost seven minutes, there is never a dull moment in the track. While it doesn’t rely on the classic metal formula for a catchy, classic song, the riffs and licks are all super memorable. And another absolute crusher is “Satan’s Fall,” the longest, most epic, and most evil of all. That song in particular really feels like it laid the groundwork for King Diamond’s solo work, namely the album Abigail.
So for me, 20 years later, this record still stirs the same feelings of interest and fascination, and I can clearly see how modern trad metal bands are still incredibly influenced by it. And as for it’ entire contribution, 40 years later, it still has a major impact on how metal has both evolved and stayed in touch with its roots.
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