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Rhymes with 'fine', but not 'great' - 73%

autothrall, October 27th, 2016
Written based on this version: 1999, CD, Metal Blade Records

Dead Again did not leave me with any huge expectations for its potential successors. It wasn't a terrible record, but the next rung down on a ladder of compulsion that started off high through the magnificent comeback In the Shadows, and then slowly scaled downwards with each subsequent effort over the 90s. But when the buzz about and artwork to 9 seemed to point to a revival of their sound on the legendary Don't Break the Oath, I admit to a degree of giddiness, since that remains my absolute favorite of the Fate canon in both songwriting and the mood that its sharp, gleaming studio production evokes in me every time I hear it.

Sadly, this was just nowhere near as good as the Danes were in their prime, opening with a dryer, if stylistically loyal track, before admittedly starting to hit closer to the mark further into its playtime. I had a much stronger reaction to it when it was initially released, but have felt any fire for it cooling off in the intervening years, despite it looking pretty snazzy. Roughly 4/5ths of the lineup had the collective ability to knock this one out of the furnace, with the exception of drummer Bjarne T. Holm, and even he had been around for the two records before this (which is not exactly cause for praise, I know). Ultimately, though, this is about an EP's worth of reasonably strong material diluted by an equal amount of tunes that don't work nearly as well, and approximately nothing anywhere that can even approach 1994's Time in terms of raw catchiness and construction.

The production is not exceptional, but it's solid...a bulked up Don't Break the Oath with a deeper end, which sounds good on paper but can't overcome the redundant feel to a number of the songs. The band shifts between faster paced heavy/power metal numbers like the opener "Last Rites", and the huge Wead and Shermann just about perfected on In the Shadows, as in "The Grave". These latter are coincidentally my favorite moments on the record, anchored by D'Angelo's lines and really driving home the dynamics as they erupt into faster paced segments, leads and King's falsetto shrieks. Drums are workmanlike, and the rhythm guitar tones are perfectly adequate and clear with enough chug to the lower end mutes that they feel fulfilling. Diamond's voice is a xerox of his finer years, capable of effortlessly harmonizing and capitalizing on that disparity between the soothing mids, the screams and the narrative, lower range...the only issue is that most of the individual lines here just don't feel as memorable as they were on the first five solo discs or the first three Mercyful Fate full-lengths.

Far be it from me to claim that the formula was 'tired', here, it's more likely that these particular assemblies of beats and notes didn't glue themselves to my ears like their predecessors. There is no sign throughout 9 that they've lost any of their competence or drive, though it would be difficult to claim anything here was really that ambitious either, especially not the lyrics to songs like "Sold My Soul" and "9" itself, which seem like no effort was spent. It might seem like I'm coming down hard on an album that I essentially find 'good' when I sum up all its parts. There's not seriously wrong anywhere. This is a step above Dead Again in most departments, and has some quality leads and a couple tunes I crave from time to time, but it's not even qualified for consideration when I want the 'full experience' and have records like Don't Break the Oath, Melissa, Fatal Portrait and The Eye lying about my flat.