Mercyful Fate is a Danish heavy metal band from Copenhagen, formed in 1981 by vocalist King Diamond and guitarist Hank Shermann. Influenced by progressive rock and hard rock, with lyrics dealing with Satan and the occult, they were part of the first wave of black metal in the early to mid-1980s. Many of the bands from this movement went on to influence later black metal musicians in the 1990s, particularly in Norway. Since the band’s inception in 1981, Mercyful Fate have released seven studio albums, two extended plays and four compilations.
Mercyful Fate was originally formed in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1981, following the dissolution of the band Brats. Brats had been a punk/metal band, featuring future Mercyful Fate members, vocalist King Diamond, and guitarists Hank Shermann and Michael Denner. After two studio albums and several line-up changes (including the addition of Diamond and the departure of Denner), Diamond and Shermann began writing new material that was much heavier than any of Brats’ previous work.
The band’s record label CBS was not pleased with the material, and demanded they stop singing in English and become more commercial. As a result, Diamond and Shermann quit the group and went on to form Mercyful Fate. After several line-up changes and semi-professional demo tapes, the band released their self-titled EP in 1982. This line-up, consisting of King Diamond, Hank Shermann, bassist Timi Hansen, drummer Kim Ruzz and guitarist Michael Denner, would go on to record the group’s first two studio albums.
In July, 1983, Mercyful Fate recorded their debut album at Easy Sound Recording, in Copenhagen, Denmark. Titled Melissa, the album was produced by Henrik Lund and released on October 30, 1983 on Roadrunner Records. After a number of concerts around Denmark, the band entered the studio in May 1984 to record their second studio album Don’t Break the Oath, which was released on September 7, 1984. During the album’s supporting tour, the band played the US for two months and made festival appearances in Germany. Despite winning a cult following around the world, Mercyful Fate broke up in April, 1985, due to musical differences. Guitarist Hank Shermann wanted the band to move to a more commercial sound, to which King Diamond refused and announced his departure from Mercyful Fate, which led to the band breaking-up.
After Mercyful Fate broke up in 1985, King Diamond, along with Michael Denner and Timi Hansen, formed the eponymous King Diamond band. Both Denner and Hansen stayed with the group until 1987’s Abigail, after which both left King Diamond. They were replaced by Mike Moon and Hal Patino, respectively, and King Diamond continued releasing albums even after Mercyful Fate had reformed.
During the time Mercyful Fate were disbanded, Roadrunner Records released three compilation albums. The Beginning was released on June 24, 1987, and featured material from the band’s 1982 self-titled EP, as well as rare live and studio recordings. On May 12, 1992, Return of the Vampire was released, which was another compilation of rare studio recordings. On October 6, 1992, Roadrunner released A Dangerous Meeting; a split-release featuring material from both Mercyful Fate and King Diamond.
In 1993, King Diamond, Hank Shermann, Michael Denner and Timi Hansen reunited to reform Mercyful Fate (drummer Kim Ruzz was replaced by Morten Nielsen). The result was the album In the Shadows, which was released on June 22, 1993, through Metal Blade Records. The album also featured a guest appearance by Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich (a fellow Dane), on the track “Return of the Vampire”. On June 27, 1994, the band released The Bell Witch, an EP of live tracks, as well as studio recordings from In the Shadows.
On September 25, 1994, Mercyful Fate released the album Time, which was recorded and mixed at the Dallas Sound Lab during May–August 1994. After the album’s release drummer Snowy Shaw was replaced by Bjarne T. Holm for the Time Tour. Holm had originally been asked to join Mercyful Fate back in 1981, but had declined due to prior commitments. The band spent January through February 1996 recording and mixing the album Into the Unknown, which was released on August 20, 1996. After the album’s release, guitarist Michael Denner left the band and was replaced by Mike Wead. In October 1997, Mercyful Fate began recording the album Dead Again at the Nomad Recording Studio in Carrollton, Texas. Dead Again was released on June 9, 1998. In February 1999, Mercyful Fate began recording the album 9, which was released on May 15, 1999.
After the supporting tour for 9, Mercyful Fate was put on hiatus. King Diamond focused on his eponymous band, along with guitarist Mike Wead, who joined the group during the European House of God tour. When asked about the current state of the band in 2008, King Diamond stated that Mercyful Fate is currently “hibernating”, and that “it’s definitely not finished, at least in my book.” On December 7, 2011, King Diamond, Hank Shermann, Michael Denner and Timi Hansen reunited onstage at Metallica’s 30th Anniversary concert, at the Fillmore in San Francisco, California, where they, alongside Metallica, performed Metallica’s “Mercyful Fate” medley from Garage Inc.
Style and Legacy
Mercyful Fate were a part of the first wave of black metal, along with other groups, such as Venom, Bathory and Hellhammer. Many of these groups helped establish the style upon which future black metal artists would later build. Unlike the other first wave bands, typical elements of Mercyful Fate’s style are influences from progressive rock, epic 1970s hard rock and traditional heavy metal. As many of the band’s songs featured lyrics about Satanism and the occult and King Diamond was among the first black metal musicians to use the now famous corpse paint, Mercyful Fate was a pioneer in developing black metal, although their musical style was not as much an influence as that of other first wave bands.
Various musicians have cited Mercyful Fate as an influence. Kerry King, the guitarist for the thrash metal band Slayer, has stated, that he and Jeff Hanneman were big fans of Mercyful Fate when Slayer recorded the album Hell Awaits, so much so that the album was very influenced by them. Fellow thrash metal band Metallica recorded a medley of Mercyful Fate songs on their 1998 Garage Inc. cover album. Since then, the band has performed the song various times live with several members of Mercyful Fate.