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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.
This is definetly Mercyful Fate's best album of the 90s. King has left the aggressive and raw MF production of the early 80s behind and returned with an incredible melodic, yet still aggressive album. 'Egypt', the album opener, starts off with a slow, acoustic guitar intro and then...."AAAAAHHHHHHHH.....EGYYYYYYPT!!! AHHH...AHHH....AHHH....AHHH", a kick ass riff bursts out and double bass speed kicks in, this is still Mercyful Fate alright, with a slicker sound. One of the best songs on the album, and one of the best by MF. 'The Bell Witch' is yet another catchy, well done tune, especially in the middle of the song when it speeds up...."Good night, Jon, see you in hell...say bye, bye to daddy, Betsy", great line. Next, we have 'The Old Oak', a slower, longer peice from the band, not very memorable but it's a decent tune. 'Shadows' is another one of the best songs heard here, killer riffage and a nice, soft chorus through out the song as it changes tempos from heavy to softer and back again. 'A Gruesome Time' and 'Thirteen Invitations' are straight forward heavy metal tunes, your typical fast riff, shrieking vox, and double beat songs from Mercyful Fate. The instrumental 'Room Of Golden Air' is a good work of metal and deserves more credit than what it's recieved. The album's epic, 'Legend Of The Headless Rider' is not what you would expect after hearing the other songs here and seeing the title of the song. At first I thought "Wow, I have to hear this one", but sadly, it's one of the weaker songs from Mercyful Fate and the weakest song on this album. Over 7 minutes long, it's a great song but it doesn't live up to what Mercyful Fate is capable of. Now we go from the weakest song on the album, to the album's main highlight...'Is That You, Melissa?'. Well actually, no, it's not "Melissa", but it's a damn good song and one of the best songs that the band has ever done. Man, the ending solo is just so beautifuly done, Hank Sherman is a godly axeman! Well the last track is a re-recording of their classic 'Return Of The Vampire' featuring Lar$ Ulrich on drums. And this was before he turned into a completly shitty drummer like on last few Metallica releases and of course, this is NO WHERE NEAR his "tin can" sound on St. Anger. Still, I like the early version of this song much better.
So Fate blasted onto the 90s metal scene with a bang! Sure, this is no 'DBTO' or 'Melissa' (as I stated earlier), but this is an excellent release from the band and is an essential album for every metal head to own.
Best songs: Egypt, The Bell Witch, Shadows, Is That You, Melissa?
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?