Mercyful Fate interview

Originally published in ‘zine issue #8, 1993

Denmark’s Mercyful Fate is a traditional heavy metal band that has been very influential in the metal music scene for years. After breaking up almost 10 years ago, following the releases of Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath, vocalist King Diamond went on to a successful solo career. Now the legendary band has reformed and released In the Shadows on Metal Blade Records. Here guitarist Michael Denner talks about his bandmates, the music, and other subjects. Thanks to Mike Smith for creating the questions here.

D.U.: Why did you decide to get Mercyful Fate back together?

Michael: Yes, the reason why we decided to start all over is because King, he was at my apartment, and me and Hank [Shermann, guitar] had been doing some tunes in the studio, some demos. And he heard them and thought they sounded very much like Mercyful Fate. So we were talking about, just for fun, y’know, start playing again together. And suddenly the decision was made. [laugh] Because, me, Hank, Timi [Hansen, bass], and King have been seeing each other as friends during the years, even though we haven’t been playing together. And we thought this was the right time to do it, because all these songs we had. King got some songs that sound very much like Mercyful Fate, I had some songs, and Hank. So it was very natural for us to get together and redo it.

Did you try to do that old style specifically, or were you trying to do something more modern?

It came very natural for us, actually. It wasn’t like, uh, I was saying inside, “Now I want to write so it sounds like Mercyful Fate.” And we always compose like that, with the exception when Hank had a band called Fate. I don’t know if you heard about that. Actually, he released some albums and it was more commercial, sort of keyboards and stuff.

Will you still have the Satanic overtones?

No, it’s very naturally we toned down. I don’t know if you’ve seen the lyrics for the new album.

No, I just have the pre-copy, you know.

It’s, um, the Satanic things are covered up better, so it won’t offend. And you will notice when you see the lyrics.

You mean you have to read between the lines.

Yeah, you could say that. And it’s not offensive, you know. It’s more smarter, so much smarter.

Again, did you decide to do this, or did it just come out that way?

No, it just came naturally. Both the music and lyrics, it came very naturally. We didn’t sit down and say, “Hey, we gonna have to do it this style.” It just came totally [laugh] from the heart instead of from the brain.

What ever happened to Kim Ruzz? Do you ever see him?

Uh, he’s the only one from the old band we don’t see in private. He was very different from the rest of us, and even when we played together in the old days, we didn’t see him as a friend. More like a musician in the band. [laugh]

Will Zozer Mez continue?

Yeah! We gonna at least record five albums. This is very serious. And then I know King will continue with his own band alone.

With Zozer Mez, you and Hank were using old equipment like the MXR distortion boxes and the Marshalls and so on. Has this transferred to Mercyful Fate?

We still use some of the stuff, yes, but the idea behind Zozer Mez was, we wanted to sound very ‘70-style old-fashioned hard rock/heavy rock. And this time around, we don’t trying that hard to make it sound like, but play what we feel sounds the best.

Photo of Mercyful Fate

What brought about the deal with Metal Blade Records?

I think Brian Slagel [head of Metal Blade], he heard the rumors about us reforming, so he took contact with King immediately, y’know [laugh] before anyone else will do it. [laughs] It’s on a five-year basis.

Are you going to tour the U.S.?

Yes. I hope it will be as headliners, because then we can have the full show and play double.

Speaking of which, will it be more just a music-based show, or will you make a spectacle out of it like King Diamond does?

No, no, no. It’s gonna be where the music counts more, you know? Not with these characters and stuff like King does, the theater thing. It’s more a rock band go on stage, more like that.

What do you think of the newer guitar players that have come out in the past five years? They sound technically good, but don’t play with the emotion that you guys have.

It’s quite easy to explain, because these guys are so busy trying to do all the difficult things, the technical stuff, so they forget to play with their heart, you know, to gain their very own style. They’re playing fast and flashy and doing all these smart things, [laughs] while me and Hank, we stick to old-fashioned guitaring. Y’know, we listen to all these old guys from the early days, Uli Roth and Jimi Hendrix and guys like that. That makes a difference. The new generation, there’s a lot of brilliant guitarists, they’re so fast and very technically brilliant, but they lack personality, in my opinion.

What are your thoughts on the current metal scene? Is there anyone in particular that you like?

Actually, what I listen a lot to at home is ‘70s stuff. There’s so many bands at the moment. There’s thousands of bands, so it’s impossible for me to figure out who’s who and what’s happening. And what I mean is, this very hard, uh, I dunno what you call that style, where the singer goes “rowr rowr rowr rowr,” y’know, where you can’t hear what he sings.

Yeah, death metal.

Yeah. That’s not my style, really. I like people to sing so you can hear the words clearly. Because I focus a lot on the vocals when I hear a new rock album. The singer has to be good before I can enjoy it.

Do people come up to you and tell you how much of an influence you’ve been over the years?

Oh yeah, yeah! They still do, yes! The funny thing is, is a lot of the bigger names in heavy rock today, they say Mercyful Fate was their inspiration. Some of the biggest heavy bands who’s around today, they say they listen to Mercyful Fate, and they like my playing, and Hank, and Timi’s bass playing, and Kim Ruzz. He still have a lot of supporters, Kim Ruzz, even though he had been away from the business for such a long time.

How disappointed are you all that you didn’t continue back then?

It was a natural, uh, progress at that point, because Hank and King had very different idea of how it should continue. Hank left for the band Fate and King continue on with King Diamond band.

You don’t think this issue will come up again?

No, never. Never, because it was, uh, it was—

That was back then.

That was back then, and it was a thing who later turn on to be good for all of us, because we gained a lot of experience during these years. So now we can use all this experience and even make a better album that we ever done, in my opinion. Have you heard some of the stuff?

Yes, I have. Yeah, I like it. It sounds like you were saying. It sounds like it was recorded back then. It’s good.

Yeah, great.

Of course, that’s what you were shooting for, right?

Yeah. [laugh] I’m very pleased myself. It was kind of surprising because I’ve been away for a while, not playing that serious. We had this Zozer Mez thing, and it was more like a hobby, y’know, a small project. And this is much bigger. [laugh]

I played the new album for a friend of mine, and he said it sounded as if you recorded it right after Don’t Break the Oath back then.

[laughs] Yeah! I kind of had the same feeling, you know. It’s very close to the first two albums. I think that’s great. [laugh] ■

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Photo: Mercyful Fate (by Alex Solca, courtesy Metal Blade)


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