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In the Shadows could be considered a righteous 'comeback' record long before metal comeback records became a thing, as the majority of 80s acts hit their midlife crises and decided to give it that last college try. King Diamond and crew weren't leaping back into some trending rebirth of aesthetics in 1993...traditional heavy metal, especially here in the States, was a veritable dead zone. Beyond the touring stability of a few dozen acts, grunge and death metal had all but taken over, and groove metal reaching terminal velocity thanks to Pantera's success. That a defunct Danish staple like Mercyful Fate could return with such a fantastic record as this is a testament to how great they were in the first place, but color me unsurprised...
...because for about 15 years, Kim Bendix Petersen never once let me down on a single full-length. In fact, beginning with Melissa and Don't Break the Oath, up until the time someone lost their marbles and decided to release that riffless, idealess, uninspired creative nadir The Graveyard, King Diamond/Mercyful Fate probably laid claim to the greatest streak in all metal music. Ten full-lengths of quality in that '83-95 era, ranging from just 'great' to utter perfection, and yes I'm including Time and The Spider's Lullabye in that total. So when the King decided to take a short respite from the constant touring and brilliance of his solo group and reunite with his alma mater, with less than a decade since Don't Break the Oath, I had little to no trepidation about the ability of these men to deliver, and not only were my expectations met, but in some departments exceeded. Don't Breath the Oath is, and will likely remain my favorite of the Mercyful Fate records, but without question, I find In the Shadows to be their most creative. The sophomore is the first I'll turn to when nostalgia summons, but this felt far more unique to me in 1993 than Oath did in 1984.
A statement that would likely generate some dissent among various acquaintances who have argued with me that this simply sounds like another King Diamond solo record, but I have to disagree. Apart from the fact the two groups are inexorably linked due to Kim's falsetto shrieking and thematic similarities, I have long found the playing of the Shermann/Denner configuration quite different than Andy LaRocque. These guys had a more workmanlike unity to their playing, where Andy's more like a one man exhibition falling somewhere between Randy Rhoads and Yngwie Malmsteen, regardless of whoever is backing him up. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy all three of these legends (and Mike Wead to boot), and they could easily cover for one another if the need arose; but while there was obviously some influence from the old Fate carried forth into the King Diamond legacy and then back again, it's definitely the rhythm guitars that make all the difference discerning between the two...that and the fact that this particular disc reached a new benchmark in production quality that even renders masterworks like Abigail and The Eye somewhat unwashed (though I wouldn't trade the atmosphere inherent to those recordings for the world).
But In the Shadows has an atmosphere of its own. The record is loaded with these incredibly interesting, eerie and slower lurching riff progressions that are remarkably well-conceived, the sort of planning you're just too rarely going to find in a younger or 'throwback' band more concerned with copying pre-existing patterns of chords and mutes and then juggling them around like lottery balls. Granted, these unique twists did exist on the first two Fate outings, but to a lesser extent, not as fully fleshed out. Fear not: there are still numerous bursts of intense, melodic speed/heavy metal here as found in "Egypt", the spiritual stepchild to "Curse of the Pharaohs". Hank and Michael can certainly eviscerate a fretboard, but without exception, it's the moodier and measured picking patterns on this album that truly excel and stand to memory. By 1993, when many groups had dissembled or were stylistically shifting towards the status quo, Mercyful Fate was polishing and innovating its own brand into crystalline clarity and ear-carving catchiness. And it's not simply limited to the rhythms...the leads and melodies here are spectral, pristine, and just as important as their surroundings, and you also feel a tasteful amount of blues and 70s hard rock inspiration over the entire album.
What's more, the musical decisions here really seem to fit the individual tales of specters, seasons, shadows and other introspective gloom that dominate the lyrics. Unlike King Diamond records, which are more or less metallic-orchestrated novellas following an internal narrative, these read like short stories, though often also from the first-person perspective. Petersen shines throughout, engaging in quite a lot of his mid range to balance off against the shrieks and grooves in cuts like "The Bell Witch" and "The Old Oak", with a few of those blissful, ghostly lower falsettos emphasized with an additional whisper track. By this point, the King might be considered a master composer by any standard, so it's not unexpected that he can so carefully lay down each line, an author aware of every phrase before he dips his pen in the inkwell. The synths strewn across the songs are generally tasteful and supportive, occasionally reminding me of their use on The Eye, especially in the instrumental "Room of Golden Air" which honestly is the one tune that sounds like a leftover from that period. Acoustics are likewise sparse, used only in brief segments (like the intro to "Egypt"), it's ultimately those uncanny and morbid mid-paced rhythm guitars that drive so much of this experience.
Morten Nielsen's beats, while simplistic and rock-oriented rather than intense, have this great mix with just the right amount of resonant to the snares and kicks. No idea why they were credited to Snowy Shaw, but I'd just assume that was an error on the part of the label/graphics team. The one component lacking for me here is the bass playing, which seems really subdued, and not one of Timi Hansen's finer performances alongside the King. I mean, this is a very airy, eloquent mix, like a cold moonlit night with only a few clouds; so a booming or buzzy bass tone might prove distracting, but the volume is such that it only hovers below the rhythm guitar and I don't pick out a lot of interesting or inspired grooves and fills, with a few exceptions like "A Gruesome Time" where the instrument shines a little more than usual. Otherwise, In the Shadows just sounds so timeless and tremendous that I would hardly change a bloody note. Even the 1993 rendition of "Return of the Vampire" sounds dramatically improved thanks to its production...would've been better as a pure bonus track, since it seems mildly redundant, yet in keeping with the various 'sequels' on the album like "Is That You, Melissa" or "Egypt", it makes some sense and is thankfully tacked on as the finale.
Mercyful Fate had such a classy comeback here that it's hard to imagine any long time fans not enjoying it, beyond those easily marginalized louts who seem to joy in clinging to some proscribed period of a band's work and then automatically rejecting everything exterior to that phase. In the Shadows is intelligent, it's intricate, and it's thoroughly innovative despite such a strict adherence to the band's lyrical aesthetics and traditional 80s style. With the exception of "Room of Golden Air" and "Return of the Vampire", it's quite coherent without any of the tunes sounding quite the same, and it's even got that captivating cover image which broaches a number of the album's subjects. Perhaps most impressive, at least to me personally, is that this is one of those rarities which seems to improve with age, despite its minor flaws. I enjoyed this more in 2003 than 1993, and now in 2013 that trend continues, to be reflected in my rating. I simply can't imagine spending a Halloween without throwing this on the deck at least once. I know, the same could be said for anything King put out in the 80s with either vehicle, most of which is mandatory, but In the Shadows is absolutely one of those uncommon gems of that earlier 90s period not to involve death or black metal. If I find myself in the mood for hellfire, leather and burning witch-skin, Don't Break the Oath would still be the defacto Fate disc due to its ferocity and importance, but this is such a great record to kick back to on an autumn New England night with a seasonal brew, to just watch the leaves drift or wallow in the slowly encroaching cold.
From the opening screaming notes by King Diamond, AAAHHHH, EEEEEEGYYYPPT!, you feel a ton of suspense. The band kicks in immediately with an insanely heavy riff with a powerful drum beat and the lyrics describe ancient Egypt and the worship of the gods Anubis and Osiris, lords of the underworld. It's catchy and fast. A really razor sharp guitar riff steps in during the middle of the song, changing direction slightly, yet still in key. Hank Sherman and Michael Denner sound great together, and you can still tell them apart by their unique style(s).
Next comes The Bell Witch. A really weird, winding riff opens a twisting, turning song with abundant time changes and, again, great musicianship abounds. The song tells the story of a witch haunting a family, mostly a little girl in old-time Tennessee. Even though that sounds like it should be a children's book, it's the real deal in metal stylings. It might almost be considered progressive. Even more progressive and complicated is The Old Oak, however it tends to stray into more off-key territory and gets boring in parts. I think they forced it a little too much, but overall it's pretty listenable.
The title track starts off with a really solid maybe 2 chord riff and is pretty standard verse/chorus/verse stuff. I like the steadiness of it since it doesn't try so hard to throw you off guard as some of the other songs do. It's real straight metal.
There is some filler afterward until we get to the instrumental Room of Golden Air. You get to enjoy the guitars more by themselves and it's a decent change of pace until the Legend of the Headless Rider kicks in. Again, this is one of those twisty, turning deals that seems out of key a lot of the time. It's a little too long for me and not real easy to follow.
The closer, Is That You, Melissa?, opens with a harpsichord sounding almost like a funeral. This is another straightforward, solid riff that is NOT complicated. It's a great way for King to really get emotional and it is a simple rocker.
*Bonus Track: Return of the Vampire is just that classic Mercyful Fate that we should all remember from the beginnings of their career.
The up-side(s)? I was really impressed with the production overall. Each instrument is very clearly recorded and the arrangements are complex and catchy. You have the awesome Sherman/Denner combo. King Diamond sounds great and not so much over-the-top as we heard a lot on his solo stuff (I like almost all of his vocals anyway, though). I listen to this album over and over and always have that "fresh" experience. Lot's of heaviness and technical virtuosity.
The down-side(s)? (And the reason I can't give it 100%). It has a lot of boring parts with no direction to go. The chord/tempo changes seem forced to a degree, indicating they probably spent too much time away from each other in the recording studio.
I picked this album up when it was released in '93 and also got to go to the show, which was unbelievable. It's no "Oath" by any means by virtue of losing that raw, visceral edge, but it is definitely an album I will be keeping in my collection forever.
Highlights: Egypt, The Bell Witch, In the Shadows, Is that You, Melissa?
For me, this is a very odd album and one that I just can’t get into. I mean, this is a decent enough album and some of the songs do tick all the right boxes, but there are just too many flaws that are glaringly obvious. Simply put, I can’t help but compare In the Shadows to the band’s 1980s work, and, inevitably, it comes up short. Maybe Mercyful Fate’s classic output just made too much of a deep impact for me to ever be truly satisfied with what is essentially a safe comeback album. I mean, sure, there’s some great riffs here and there, and some sections do get me nodding my head in approval… but that’s perhaps indicative of some greater problem. See, the only praise I can give In the Shadows is rather faint, and it only gets my head nodding… not banging. It seems that writing songs about headless horsemen was another sly-winking indication: the band are kinda directionless on this album. They’ve risen up from the crypt and shaken the dust from their decrepit bones… but where next? They’re back, sure, but where do they go from here?
I guess they simply had too much to lose. After all, there’s not a single fault I can find with Don’t Break the Oath, and yet here the faults are popping up all over the place and sprouting new heads. But let’s start with the most glaringly obvious one, shall we? Well, in case you didn’t notice, this is 4/5ths of Mercyful Fate’s classic line-up, meaning there’s no Kim Ruzz. Apparently, for whatever reasons the band didn’t get on with their estranged drummer, and as such he wasn’t invited back to join in with all the reunion fun and games (no pizza, cola and jelly for Mr. Ruzz, sadly). What is also apparent, then, is that the remaining members of Mercyful Fate didn’t realise what an important part Ruzz played in the band’s classic era. Ruzz really gave the band their groove, and what he contributed really gave the band an unstoppable force to build upon. It certainly doesn’t help matters that he was replaced by Morten Nielsen, whose performance is excruciatingly ‘by-the-book’ and really rather static (a fitting comparison would be to when Mikkey Dee was replaced by a drum machine on King Diamond’s The Eye). As much as I loved Kim’s drumming I didn’t expect his absence to be such a crippling loss to the band, and yet it is. They’ve still got plenty of riffs and hooks here, but it just doesn’t have the same drive behind it. You put what are, frankly, often rather good riffs with a static drum performance and it just isn’t the same wild beast. And isn’t that just a wonderfully drab snare sound? Sometimes I don’t buy into the whole “the band is only as good as their drummer”, but this is certainly a textbook example of that old mantra in action. Similarly, the tell-tale-heart of Timi Grabber’s basslines are notably toned down and understated, and he really doesn’t have much time to shine on this album. As a result Mercyful Fate are sounding far less interesting this time around.
Honestly, I think this album is trying very hard to basically go for a ‘Melissa anno 1993’ sound and for that reason if often rings rather hollow. It’s certainly not even attempting to be as malign or ominous as Don’t Break the Oath, so it’s rather Melissa-esque… more straight-forward, catchy (basically, if Melissa is a bit more straightforward compared to Don’t Break the Oath then this album strikes me as a streamlined, up-dated approximation of Melissa, albeit without most of the said album’s punch). Again, something like ‘The Old Oak’ seems to be a very deliberate throwback to ‘Satan’s Fall’ and, obviously, it suffers for it. Rather than coming up with something as incredibly off-the-wall as ‘Satan’s Fall’ they’re trying to recapture that same vibe and, unsurprisingly, it ends up being rather tame in comparison.
Certainly, some songs deserve praise; ‘Egypt’ and ‘The Bell-Witch’ certainly do their bit to ensure that this album makes some lasting impact. ‘Egypt’ is familiar enough – harkening back to ‘The Curse of the Pharaohs’, as you might expect – and yet it’s not plain retread. With wailing leads and riffs a-plenty, it’s hard to find that much of a problem with it. Even if King’s closing vocals of “E!” “Gypt!” remind me a little of a cheerleaders’ chant (“give me an ‘E’, give me a ‘gypt’! What does it spell?!”). It’s definitely above par for post-reunion Fate, anyway. ‘The Bell Witch’, too, makes a bit more of an impact that the rest of the album. But, for me, King’s vocals are a bit too standardised and the lyrical themes are, well, kinda like a King Diamond track rather than a Mercyful Fate song. You’ve even got character names like ‘little Betsy’ popping up, which just ain’t doing it for me. Old Mercyful Fate was very much akin to old-school European horror, and I don’t think I want a MF song that’s set in Tennessee. Mercyful Fate needs Europe’s ancient ruins and haunted palaces… something dark, something medieval. I’m sorry, King, save it for your solo project.
I honestly don’t want to spend too much time covering individual tracks, as for the most part I could tell you the same story: there are individual cool parts and some nice solos here and there (after all, this is still Hank and Mike). This is the standardised, streamlined stuff and it’s breaking my heart. What more can I say, really? It’s an odd little album (how many other classic heavy metal bands were reforming in 1993, eh?) and not a wholly bad one. But it’s never really sat all that well with me… they had too much to lose and, typically, they lost it. I think as far as post-reunion Mercyful Fate goes, I much prefer the Time album (which, tellingly, has a stronger drum performance). Simply put, this is the ersatz version of what Mercyful Fate previously was: key ingredients are missing and they’re trying to replace them with mud. I ain’t buying it.
I'd almost be tempted to say that this is better than Don't Break the Oath, but that is because the production and musicianship on here is excellent. Who would have ever thought that a reunion album could be so goddamn good? Seriously, what other band out there has come back with a "reunion" album this strong? Well, I can think that Maiden's Brave New World would be about the closest, but In the Shadows blows that right out of the water. This is material that is as good as the eariler works.
Everything from the early 'Fate days are here: excellent dual lead work, powerful bass, and King's unique vocals. Nothing cheesy as well, even the obviously nostalgic track, "Is that You, Melissa?" with the original Melissa solo played at the end of it. Some of the stuff on here is decidedly heavier, such as "The Old Oak," with killer riffs up the ass, and the title track. But you've still got Sherman and Denner complimenting each other beautifully...even Murray and Smith haven't aged this well!
But the main element that makes this album so great is the atmosphere. Sure, they may have upgraded to better recording technology, but the sound is still fucking eerie as hell. On subsequent releases, they'd lose the atmosphere as well as something else I can't put my finger on, but here...everything fucking works and works like a charm.
Amazingly, my least favourite track on here is "Return of the Vampire." Even though it does feature the "stupendous" Lars Ulrich on drums and it's an old number redone, it doesn't touch any of the new material on the rest of the album. Sorry, Lars!
This is an album that will appeal to Mercyful Fate fans in particular, and metal fans across the board. I surely prefer Melissa and Don't Break the Oath to this, but this is damn nearly as good. And if you don't have their other early stuff, well, then you are a fucking poser.
In the Shadows (released in 1993) is MF's comeback disc since the band disbanded right after the highly praised album Don't Break The Oath. Although most Mercyful fate fans point out that Mellisa and Dont't Break are by far their greatest works, i tend to prefer this offering much more for a few different reasons. One is that King Diamond no longer sounds like teenager going through puberty with his non stop high pitched screams (which are fucking cool). Instead on this release King decided to have abit more variety pushing for more of his more low pitched demonic voice, although still mantaining his higher vocals in just the right places. Heres the thing if you like KILLER RIFFAGE look no further seeing as this album puts out quality riff after riff. Some of them very evil and creepy others rocking and upbeat, but the lyrics are almost always something out of the occult. Hank Sherman and Mike Denner are two of the most underated guitarists of all time, as they prove their high level of creativity and musicianship on this one. In the Shadows is much different than say Mellisa or Time mainly because they tried alot of new things like more complex and interesting song structures as well as neat vocal patterns that stick in your head believe it or not. If only they continued on with this sort of style although the follow-up to this was also very wicked but i don't think they can ever out do this. I know you huge MF fans all love Mellisa And Don't Break the Oath alot more than this one, but this is a much more mature release that really expands the way metal should be. GODDAMN INTERESTING. Diamonds vocals are not in the least bit anoying as some may say. Very unique voice indeed. As a passing by comment all fans of Good Horrow linked storys you should check this out. You Horrow Buffs will love this. Enjoy for this album fucking Kills.
Best Tracks: Egypt, The Bell Witch, The Old Oak, Shadows, A Gruesome Time, Legend of the Headless Rider, Is that You Mellisa?