If someone were to ask you what the most distinctive part of Mercyful Fate was, what would your answer be? I’m sure the vast majority would answer King Diamond’s falsetto, over-the-top vocals which are impacting for anyone first listening to them. This is a reductive view some people take towards Mercyful Fate’s and KD’s music, which overlooks much of what made the band great in the first place. My colleague Blondie explained it far better than I could in his review of Don’t Break the Oath, but Mercyful Fate’s strength lied not just in KD’s vocal delivery – but in creating dark, occult flavored heavy metal with incredibly adventurous songwriting. It’s one of the many reasons the first two records are among the best works in the genre.
In Solitude is one of those bands from the 00s that managed to tap into the musical DNA of Mercyful Fate. To understand why they deserve this title, it is important to carry a cross-comparison between their beginnings on their debut and their shift with 2011’s The World, The Flesh and the Devil. While 2008’s In Solitude was a great start, their sound was more indebted to bands like Iron Maiden, evident in the dual guitar harmonies present throughout their album – the Mercyful Fate touch was there, but not overbearing. However, the follow-up, The World, The Flesh and the Devil is where they began to capture their essence and it is worth talking about as the album reaches it’s 10th anniversary.
The first noticeable change is with the vocals. Unlike in Mercyful Fate, there is no real use of falsettos at all during the record – but vocalist Pelle has evolved his singing style. The clean, melodic vocals of the debut are substituted for deeper, mid-range wavering howls and the occasional growl that gives his voice a ghostly and mournful feel. The song length has increased considerably too, with the average song lasting roughly 5-6 minutes. Yet more importantly, the biggest change lies in the song structures – which are much more free flowing and audacious. Both guitarists Niklas and Henrik have no problem with losing themselves in long form guitar solos whilst drummer Uno displays a wide array of chops in his drum fills – all to the backdrop of energetic bass lines, courtesy of Gottfrid.
Despite the blueprint of Mercyful Fate being present all throughout the course of the record, they’re hardly the only band represented in the record. The Iron Maiden influence still remains, evident by the use of guitar harmonies in the tracks like the single Serpents are Rising, one of the catchier numbers on the record. Other players of the early NWOBHM are apparent, such as Angel Witch and Hell. There is also an abundance of 70s hard rock which helps make the songs more dynamic. For instance, the title track (and opener) retains a very dark, ominous vibe until ripping through a roaring solo that could easily fit on an UFO album. The band’s ability to draw from these differing pools of influence and embed them into the structure of the songs is what makes the album re-visit; the constant mood changes keep you on your toes and engaged all the time – slower and gloomier numbers like To Her Darkness and Poisoned, Blessed and Burned are contrasted with faster and upbeat numbers like Demons and Dance of the Adversary. The 13 minute closer, On Burning Paths is a great synthesis of all their musical inspirations, featuring a very galloping rhythm section and intricate guitar work that sends off the album perfectly.
The World, The Flesh and The Devil is all in all, a fantastic record that simultaneously feels like a tribute to the dark, magical sounds of early Mercyful Fate, but without being a clone in any shape of form. Instead, the band always proved to be ambitious musicians, always eager to push their sounds to new frontiers. Before breaking up in 2015, they left us with a final record – 2013’s Sister which upped the ante by fusing heavy metal and post-punk, years before this mixture regained some popularity with the success of Unto Others (formerly Idle Hands). While it is sad their career feels like it ended prematurely, they left us with three excellent and unique heavy metal albums – with this one being a must for anyone looking for the more darker side of the genre.