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While being something of an interlude immediately following Mercyful Fate’s triumphant return in “In The Shadows”, just before the departure of original bassist Timi “Grabber” Hansen, “The Bell Witch” offers a fairly rare insight into a band whose theatrical aesthetics are the stuff of legends. It is not an altogether common thing to be able to come into possession of a live performance by this band in audio form, let alone video form, unless the name of the game is bootlegs. In this respect, one might be tempted to look at this as a shameless cash grab by Metal Blade, but the contents of this speaks for itself.
One of the things that always separated the archaic tendencies of Mercyful Fate from King Diamond’s more cinema-like solo offerings is the duality of nobility and humility in its presentation. Overindulgence in complex vocal choirs and overdubbed guitar harmonies are not to be found, even in the times of greater technology that were the 90s. King and company have no need for an overblown sound, and it shows through in spite of the band’s inherent grandeur in both “The Bell Witch” and “Is That You, Melissa”, displaying a plain heavy metal aesthetic alongside heartfelt melodies and a poetic (as opposed to storyteller narration) operatic performance from the King.
In keeping with the fact that the 2 studio songs are also found in reunion studio offering “In The Shadows”, the live offerings performed by 4/5s of the original beast that put Denmark on the map are a much greater point of interest. Though I did not have the pleasure of beholding the earliest performances of this band (and what 5 year old wouldn’t want to be scared half to death by Melissa’s skull), and no official recordings of them have been released, I would venture to guess that the near flawless and crystal clear renderings of “Curse Of The Pharaohs” and “Come To The Sabbath” do this band’s early 80s stage legacy justice. Likewise, the colossal speed metal fury that is “Egypt” rivals its studio incarnation in energy and drama.
While only a smattering of live songs are a tough sell for throwing green at an EP, this is one of those cases where any self-respecting fan of classy early 80s metal needs to make an exception. With no other official live material to brag of, this band’s 1994 interlude before “Time” which could almost be considered a promo for “In The Shadows” after the fact, is obligatory. Though it will likely not warrant the same amount of ritual hearings as the first two studio albums, or even the third one, this is very fit for adorning any collection containing any or all of those releases.