Friday, October 1, 2021

Mercyful Fate - Time (1994)

While I don't take exception to records like Into the Unknown or 9, which manage to channel most of Mercyful Fate's positive qualities, it's 1994 and Time which delineates the border for me between the Danes' 'timeless' (oh boy, I did not plan that) works, and those that really don't strike much of a chord with me when I'm scanning through the albums I wanna upload to my iPhone or whatnot. While it holds nothing on my unholy trinity of Don't Break the Oath, Melissa and In the Shadows, it is the last album that I can listen to entirely without ever really needing to skip any weaker tracks, the last one chronologically which I feel an urge to actually experience in sum. It just manages to maintain that sinister air of mystery that surrounded the band (and King's solo career) through the 80s, and for all intensive purposes it sounds like a record which belongs to that era...rather than being smack dab in the middle of a decade in which a group like this one only managed to thrive off its legacy rather than any new string of cult classic material.

Structurally, it's not a far cry from In the Shadows, in that it relies so heavily on mid-paced songs and extremely melodic, almost anthemic vocal lines from King, but at the same time it's both smoother and less ambitious. The lyrics still convey the themes of mysticism and horror, from the familiar ground of "Witches' Dance" which wouldn't have felt out of place on King Diamond's The Eye, to "The Mad Arab" which is a direct tribute to H.P. Lovecraft's recurring Abdul Alhazred. Diamond sounds perfect here as he shifts between his ghostly falsettos and impish lower pitches, in fact he throws a lot of the 'character' into his performance that many would probably equate more with his solo band, and I think of the whole Fate canon this is likely the greatest aesthetic 'crossover' between the two. Nary a tune passes without some memorable vocal passage, and it doubles down on how you take a listen to an album like Dead Again, or the pathetic The Graveyard and wonder where all this magic disappeared to in such a short time? Time might not have all the band's hits, but it is surely determined to make itself memorable throughout the 47 minute duration and it largely succeeds.

Another real strength here is how with these largely mid-tempo tunes the Denner/Shermann duo can lay into all manner of their great, groovy riffs, as well as the mildly progressive bent they often take with their riffs, just so that they eclipse the utter simplicity of audience expectations. Lots of great, doomy moments here with the drums shuffling along like graveyard creepers as King emits some exotic and pained vocal narration, and like In the Shadows before it, or the first decade of solo albums, the entire affair seems like its just focused on the listener experiencing this one in some mental moonlight, haunted landscape, tower or manor if the real thing isn't available. The title track with its organs and freakish harmonized lullaby vocals seems like it might have stepped out of a session for Them or Conspiracy, down to how it just sails right into those dreamy guitar melodies and chorus. Synthesizers, wah-wah and other effects are thrown in tastefully, and although I didn't have the same problem with the drums on its predecessor that some seemed to, I think Snow Shaw's beats here might prove a little more durable and evenly mixed to support the guitars and vocals. Sharlee's bass is perfectly supportive and steps away just as often as it needs to, with a great tone that hovers right above the kick.

The contrast between the lucid vocals and dirty riffs of "Mirror", unforgettable anthems like opener "Nightmare Be Thy Name" and "Witches' Dance"...this one just never quits playing to its strengths, and it's still a pleasure to experience 27 years later. Like many of his solo efforts, this one's also a perfect Halloween listen, and was released in that very month upon arrival. It's 'classy' of course, this one isn't about the blood and guts but the evergreen themes of Gothic, occult or even cosmic horror that will still send a chill down your spine at any age, regardless of the melodic breezes on which they are carried. It may not be a masterpiece, but it's great, and it STAYS great. At the risk of broken record status, I have to reiterate how these first four Mercyful Fate full-lengths, along with the first 5-6 King Diamond represent one of the most enduring bodies of work in my whole music collection. Seasonal or otherwise, they don't seem to age a day to when I first came across them from the raw, ripe ages of 10-20 years old. I cannot thank King and both his crews enough for the countless hours of enjoyment and escape they've written. Even my idiosyncratic Country lovin' big city significant other has fallen under these spells.

Verdict: Win [8.75/10] (prayer in unknown tongue)

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