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Released: 1999, Metal Blade
Since reforming in 1992, Mercyful Fate, the "Lords of Darkness", have released an impressive number of five albums in just six years with almost as many member changes during that time. The release of 1993's "In the Shadows" saw drummer Morton Nielson (who had already replaced original drummer Kim Ruzz) replaced by then-King Diamond drummer Snowy Shaw due to a recurring knee injury. 1994's "Time" saw the departure of original bassist Timi Hansen, who was replaced by Sharlee D'Angelo . In 1996, the face behind the kit changed once again when Snowy Shaw said good-bye and made way for Bjarne T. Holme prior to the recording of "Into the Unknown". And sadly, last year's "Dead Again" saw original guitarist Michael Denner replaced by Memento Mori axeman Mike Wead, leaving vocalist King Diamond and guitarist Hank Shermann as the last remaining members of the original line-up.
Which brings us now to "9", Mercyful Fate's latest and... Surprise!... ninth studio release. King and Hank (MF's main songwriters) sound as though they were much more inspired while writing this album than the previous two (Into the Unknown and Dead Again). The black quest begins with "Last Rites", a multi-tempo song powered by Holme's driving double-bass and King's wailing cries which is then followed by the Black Sabbath-ish "Church of Saint Anne". "House on the Hill", "Burn in Hell", and "Insane" are other fine examples of "hellish" power metal performed in the manner only Mercyful Fate is capable of.
I was surprised (and momentarily concerned) upon hearing the sludgy and somewhat Korn-y opening riff to "The Grave". My fears were quickly laid to rest once the song reached the first bridge... Classic Fate. I'm sure Munky and Head constantly wish they could play this well. (Munky and Head... Munky... Head... Munkyhead!!! Get it? Heeheehee...) Despite that one riff, "The Grave" is a rather good song. The weaker tracks on the disc would have to be "Kiss the Demon" and the title track ("9" almost sounds like a weird experiment in creating aural atmospheres).
Lyrically, the band has yet to stray from its campy horror-based roots. All penned by Diamond, the subjects include the haunting of a church, selling your soul, the torment of mental illness, dying from the point of view of an atheist, eternal damnation, etc... Standard MF fare. But really, who else but King Diamond can deliver a line like "I slammed the shovel straight between his eyes, ‘Stay down!' I screamed, ‘You're here to die!'" (from "Buried Alive") with any sense of conviction? Sure, these subjects have been done to death by numerous bands over the years, but Mercyful Fate always were (and continue to be) the masters of the macabre.
While this isn't the Mercyful Fate of old, the material on this CD is definitely worthy of the MF label. Potential nay-sayers (and I'm sure there's a few) must bear in mind that with nearly an eight year period between the band's initial break up and subsequent reunion, a few things were bound to change, especially now that Michael Denner is gone. Granted, Mike Wead is an excellent guitarist and suitable replacement, but I'll always miss Denner's distinct style of song writing and soloing. Oh well... Sometimes there's no stopping "The Ghost of Change."
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