The last time Mercyful Fate were in the studio, it was to re-record a couple of songs from their groundbreaking debut Melissa, as a tie-in with Guitar Hero: Metallica in 2009. Even that was a decade from their previous gathering, for 1999’s 9, after which no one was sure the band would ever raise its head again. For his part, the band’s enigmatic leader King Diamond has always claimed that Mercyful Fate would one day rise once more.
“Well you know after 99, King did a few (solo) albums and he had some heart issues,” explains guitarist and principal composer Hank Shermann. I was busy with a few other bands, so I wasn’t really thinking about Mercyful Fate all that much.”
Now two decades since their last album, it seems the stars are in alignment for that reunion to occur, although the process has taken some time.
“Around 2012 I started talking to King quite frequently because we still had business about royalties from old records and things. We talked about it and we decided that if we did Mercyful Fate again it would have to be with a masterpiece of an album,” Shermann says confidently. “That was about 2012, and then it took all the way up to about 2018 before everything seemed to be right. It was the right time for King, and I had the time to do it because Denner/Shermann [his project with former Mercyful Fate guitarist Michael Denner] kind of faded out, so everything fell in place. That’s why it was set for 2020. Two years ago we knew it, and we’ve been working on it behind the scenes until it was announced last year.”
Songs are well underway, with Shermann doing most of the composing at home in Copenhagen and recording tracks with drummer Bjarne T Holme. Once King evaluates them and he and Shermann do any necessary rearranging, the songs are sent off to the rest of the band to add their parts.
“Everyone can still work on the songs, and everyone played on the new song. I sent the files to the bass player [Joey Vera] and he added the bass, then I sent them to Stockholm and Mike Wead added the guitar solos, so in that respect, that can work well. As long as I’m here with the drummer.”
The guitarist explains that he prefers to work directly with Holme in a studio rather than just writing and recording with a drum machine or a click track.
“That’s very important,” he says. “And now that all shows for 2020 have been cancelled, everything will be concentrated on producing new songs for the new album that will eventually be the first new album in a long time – 20 years or so! The only challenge will be when recording the drums, because that will be the only thing we will be recording in a traditional recording studio. All the recording will take place at our home studios. We all have fully equipped home studios these days.”
When the band reconvened to begin recording, original bass player Timi “Grabber” Hansen was invited to take part. Hansen, who had played on all of Mercyful Fate’s albums until being replaced by Sharlee D’Angelo in the mid-90s, also worked with King Diamond on his first two solo albums. Tragically, as work ramped up on the new album, he was taken by cancer in November last year.
“At one point Timi told King that he was having troubles with his health but it was being taken care of,” Shermann recalls. “Before that we invited him to be part of the new line-up in 2020 and he was excited about that and looking forward to it. Then things started to go the wrong way and he said, At the moment I can’t play and that’s when King and I said we should get in another bass player. Timi was OK with that and we spoke to Joey Vera, and then [Hansen] eventually passed away.”
He admits that Hansen’s death still came as a shock.
“It was a shock to me because I wasn’t aware that it was that bad,” he says. “All the headlines were that someone from Mercyful Fate had died, and suddenly that put it in a new perspective. I went to his funeral and spoke to his family. At the church he had organised for the Whitesnake song Here I Go Again to be played, it was very emotional.”
The band has moved on from mourning their lost friend now. Their next album is well underway, and planning has already begun for the comeback tour and the stage show. Shermann promises that it will be something very special.
“King has all these cool ideas about a completely new stage design that would surprise a lot of people. All those ideas went into a 3D program and to a professional company so we could envision it almost from a real perspective. It’s really cool and a lot of people will probably not expect this direction, but that’s all I can tell.”
When Mercyful Fate first reunited in 1993, many fans were critical of the sound and conceptual direction as they moved away from the straight-up Satanic themes of their first two albums. Just as many, however, embraced the newer material. In the intervening years, all of Mercyful Fate’s albums are held in high regard, although Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath are particularly revered for their impact on the 80s metal scene. Hank Shermann is at pains to point out that he and the band want to stay as true to their original design as they can, given Melissa was released thirty seven years ago.
“The spirit and vibe of what we had back then is what we are trying to recreate,” he says, with confidence. “I’m pretty confident we can come up with something that is not an imitation of those songs, but we want to go back to the unique songwriting that we had on those early albums.”
“The sound we’re working off is basically an exact duplicate of what we were working with back in the 80s,” he continues. “Still the same guitar, same pick-up as back then. With the new technology we have the option to pull the sound in a new direction, but I’m not sure that’s what we want because then we would start sounding like everyone else! It’s really important to keep that really unique sound that we had back then.”
There will be some concessions to the modern era, however: “Of course the production will be better so it doesn’t sound like 1982 or something!” he says with a chuckle.