Don’t Break The Oath, by Mercyful Fate
Suggested by Dan Jenkins
You shouldn’t meet your heroes.
If your only interaction with a person is through the filter of their art, your image of the artist is likely askance with the reality. You may think you know Stephen King because you’ve read all his books, or Tom Hanks because you’ve seen Forrest Gump fifty times, but you’re wrong.
Happily, in our technological oasis, there’s an equaliser: Social Media. While, in the past, your favourite artist was likely ineffable, kept from scrutiny by dint of celebrity, nowadays all you need is an internet connection and a chocolate hobnob and you can interact directly while eating a biscuit. There are caveats, but nowadays there is worth in artists contacting fans, even if for every Taylor Swift you’ll find five R Kellys.
Things are ostensibly closer still with musicians, as there’s no overt filter-fiction through which they operate. You can feel closer to a musical hero in this regard, so it’s a shame when you discover, say, Lars Ulrich is dick, or that Robbie Williams is an appalling person. Celebrities revealing that they’re actual bellends is called “doing a Hucknall.” There’s also another level of intrigue, that of their heroes, their influences. When the bands you love all owe a fealty to bands that came before, checking those bands out can find you new favourites.
Or, in the case of Mercyful Fate, they can make you shake your head in disbelief.
Mercyful Fate are a seminal influence on my historically favourite Heavy Metal bands, such as Slayer and Metallica. They’re a Danish band, formed in 1981, by Satan’s Face-Painted Choirboy himself, King Diamond. They released seven albums in a stuttering career, each full of dark lyrics and crashing riffs. Don’t Break the Oath is their second, and my first foray into their world.
It starts well. The opener is my standout, the driving proto-thrashing A Dangerous Meeting. It offers a frenetic intro before settling down into an almost gothic rock sound. King Diamond’s voice is high and assured, slightly treated with echo but never out of place. The song feels a touch meandering, but overall it’s a rocker. And the second song, Nightmare, starts well, with roiling drums and wailing guitars.
Then King Diamond tries something different, and my goodwill is smashed with a hammer.
It’s clear that this album is The King Diamond Show. Vocally, he takes us through the wringer with a selection of styles, from a nascent gurning growl to a trilling wail that’s so high pitched it can only be truly heard by dogs and the clinically insane. In some, such as Nightmare, the vocals are so thrashed with effects they are begging for mercy, and in others, like Night of the Unborn, they are presented clean and naked, and as such they come over as laughably bewildering. I feel for the musicians in this band, because despite their fine playing they are all second fiddlers to the central ego of The King. I suppose the signs are there: you don’t call yourself King Diamond and paint your face like a Gothic Krusty the Clown if you’re a happy little wallflower.
Don’t Break the Oath gets 4/10. I love the cover, and I can stand the music, but the vocal flatulence of a gilded buffoon does not a classic album make.