Prepare yourself for the understatement of the century: Heavy metal wouldn’t be the same without Mercyful Fate. Screaming out of Denmark in the early ’80s, the band delivered a satanized maelstrom of heavy metal, prog, and ’70s hard rock led by the impossibly high-pitched vocals of corpse-painted frontman King Diamond. They helped lay the foundation for black metal with their blasphemous self-titled 1982 EP (also known as Nuns Have No Fun), 1983’s Melissa, and 1984’s Don’t Break The Oath. The Norwegian leaders of black metal’s violent second wave—Mayhem, Darkthrone, Immortal, Emperor, etc.—took part of their sound and most of their look from Mercyful Fate. That, and as a bona fide member of the Church Of Satan and a personal friend of late Church founder Anton LaVey, King Diamond also has the do-what-thou-wilt credentials that those young Nordics aspired to—and still do to this day.
But forget all that for a minute and consider this: King Diamond and his early Fate bandmates—guitarists Hank Shermann and Michael Denner, bassist Timi Hansen, and drummer Kim Ruzz—also inspired two of the biggest bands in metal history. You can draw a straight line from Fate’s first three releases to Slayer and Metallica. Neither band has been shy about Fate’s impact. Slayer guitarist Kerry King has gone on record repeatedly about Mercyful Fate’s influence (satanic themes, dueling guitars, longer, more progressive song) on their 1985 breakout album, Hell Awaits. Metallica went as far as to play a Fate medley on their 1998 covers album, Garage Inc., appropriately titled “Mercyful Fate,” and that was after fellow Dane Lars Ulrich played drums on “Return of the Vampire” from Fate’s 1993 album, In The Shadows.
And yet, Mercyful Fate haven’t released an album since 1999’s appropriately titled 9—and essentially split up shortly thereafter. (Diamond, meanwhile, has been regularly releasing King Diamond records since 1986.) Part of Fate’s classic lineup—King Diamond, Shermann and Hansen—reunited in 2019 to play shows with 9-era members Bjarne T. Holm (drums) and Mike Wead (guitar). Sadly, Hansen succumbed to cancer later that year. King Diamond enlisted Armored Saint and Fates Warning bassist Joey Vera to take up the spot, but then COVID-19 hit and fucked everything up for everyone.
Fast forward to… right about now, and Mercyful Fate are back in action. After demolishing festival stages across Europe with a set of songs from their first three releases plus a new track called “The Jackal Of Salzburg,” they’ll play their first U.S. show in nearly 25 years at Psycho Las Vegas.
CREEM caught up with King Diamond over Skype from his pad in the Dallas suburbs to get an update on everything Mercyful Fate, his eponymous solo band, and beyond.
CREEM: How does it feel to be back on stage with Mercyful Fate?
KING DIAMOND: It's very cool and a lot of fun, but people have misunderstood what we are doing now. This is not a reunion. We are just picking it up again because the stars are aligned correctly now. And that’s been the thing all the time. Before when people asked, “Do you think you’re going to play with Mercy again?” I would never say never. But it’s got to be completely right. I don’t want to go out there and try to milk a cow and do a show with the backdrop and then collect and say, “That was that.” That’s not right. And Hank [Shermann] has the same philosophy. Either we do it 200%, or we don’t do it.
Tell us about the production for the Fate shows you’ve been doing.
It’s very inspired by old Genesis with Peter Gabriel back in the ’70s, when they were doing The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. That was ’74—it started in the U.S., and they didn't get to Europe til ’75, but in early ’75 I saw them in Denmark. Then I saw Alice Cooper for the first time later that year, [the] Welcome to My Nightmare tour. So they were close to each other, same year, and hugely inspirational.
We will go out and do all the real stuff and try to show what Mercyful Fate could have been back then. But there’s been some changes in the sequence of songs. It's a matter of changing the ram’s head I have on in the beginning, and into a crown and from a red coat to a black coat. The girl who made them is in L.A. Her name is Macy, and she makes amazing stuff. The coats are actual patterns from an old 17th century bishop coat. But the ram’s head, I can tell you, is really uncomfortable to wear. It gets so hot, man. I have a cooling cloth on my head when I play live, the kind that workers that build houses use. When I take off that ram’s head after one and a half songs, my head is steaming.
But it's worth it. It looks really menacing… It's a very different impression than when you saw us playing a little club back in the old days, often not even with a backdrop. And now, to come out and give the songs a life that they've never had before is fantastic.