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Wrongfully considered something other than classic - 90%

jazzisbetterthanmetal, July 27th, 2011

9 is a perfect example of how to modernize and find new footing without resorting to marketable trends, i.e. "selling out". I'd rank it next to Dehumanizer in terms of forgotten gems that got overlooked for either changing too much or not changing enough, but at least that album gets some credit, especially in the wake of all the crocodile tears over the passing of Dio. Where's all the 9 love?

Balance was always key. Mercyful Fate were a legitimately creepy band and most parents wouldn't be too thrilled about their kid buying one of their albums, but there was also always a comic book camp factor; less pronounced than in King Diamond's solo career, but it was there. They occupied a somehow very narrow space between totally harmless and entirely harmful, and 9 maintains that balance with just the right amount of theatrical Satanic pomp and pathos. On one hand, look at the titles: "Burn in Hell", "Kiss the Demon", etc. They're still a silly band. On the other hand, when King croaks lines like "there you stood with your soul in your hand / thinking that God would understand" with heartfelt conviction, even profundity, it becomes apparent that they still aren't entirely self-aware and ready to sing about tea time, which counts a lot in separating something from ironic novelty.

Fate's complexity was always their main draw for me, and while there's nothing like "Satan's Fall" here, there's nothing that betrays their organic, thoughtful songwriting style either. (Excessive 10 minute prog gestures aren't needed for a song to be well written, people.) They always reminded me of Black Sabbath in that they found ways around the restrictions of verse/chorus dogma, even when they adhered to it; prechoruses are occasionally given more melodic emphasis than the parts they precede, bridges follow no strict logic in placement, etc. It creates a free, "sectional" feel even when music decidedly has a formula, and it's an ideal framework for King Diamond's dissociative crooning.

King manages to inject more humanity than usual in his performance here without compromising his signature over-the-top schizo appeal. Those famous ghostly falsettos are generally (not always!) relegated to backing accents, but the new emphasis on the "normal" vocals has given him more opportunity to explore his middle and lower range. He puts to great emotional use a sort of snarling shriek that almost approaches modern black metal, with it simultaneously being an obvious, natural extension of traditional, albeit morbid heavy metal singing. Even with a few defects like suspect production choices and one or two underwritten songs, what you'll remember about this album is that it has a ton of THOSE moments that just put a chill down you spine the way the lyrics are enunciated. Where is your savior of all? He's EXECUTING YOUR SOUULL, EE-YEEURHAAH!!

Yeah, this feels more modern than Melissa and Don't Break the Oath, but those albums were informed by their environment too, and were also modern at some point; nothing is created in a vacuum. There's more of a bitter thrash metal flavor here, a bit of pounding double bass here and there, etc.--but at heart it's just intelligently written classic metal. With 9, the band was certainly trying to show an awareness for the state of modern metal without letting it dictate their sound, and I feel it's a success. Basically, Mercyful Fate never stopped being awesome. You're missing out if you lump this with the band's "later stuff" and only pay attention to the first couple albums.