Into the coven

MERCYFUL FATE: Melissa

Release year: 1983/2020
Label: Roadrunner Records/Metal Blade Records

Released just a year before the previously reviewed Don’t Break The Oath, Melissa was Danish occult metal group Mercyful Fate’s full-length debut. Compared to the self-titled four-track EP preceeding it, and the iconic follow-up, it is obvious that on Melissa the band had already found their own thing, but it hadn’t still fully matured. The arc of development on these three releases, re-released in 2020 by Metal Blade Records in newly remastered versions on both vinyl and CD, is both clear and impressive, considering they were put out in ’82, ’83 and ’84, the interim between releases filled with touring.

It is no mean feat to go from the still quite embryonic sound of the self-titled EP to iconic-from-the-go levels in just three years!

Melissa is, then, the halfway stop between these two. Influences are still somewhat easier to discern, King Diamond’s vocal stylings haven’t reached their peak, and the songwriting – especially the switches between sections – is still a bit rougher around the edges. None of these rock the boat too much, though: Melissa is still through and through a great album, one of those numerous debuts from around the turn of the decade, which showcase a band who already as debutants have their own, strong identity.

In Mercyful Fate’s case, a lot of that identity was of course embodied in King Diamond: not only his appearance, and his operatic, theatralic and – let’s face it – sometimes so over the top falsetto vocals that they went into silly territory, but also the occult, satanic thematics and the way he approached them, which differed greatly from the b-movie approach of, say, Venom. Still, it has to be said: on Melissa, many of the lyrics definitely have a far more b-movie/comic book bent to them than on the following album. Again, this is the reason why Don’t Break The Oath is the iconic all-time classic, and Melissa is “only” a highly solid debut album…

The twin-lead guitar work of duo Hank Shermann and Michael Denner is still also a bit short of their peak. Which – again – was reached on the follow-up album. Though the duo didn’t go in for the fireworks-and-flash style twin leads of Iron Maiden or Thin Lizzy even on Don’t Break The Oath, their interplay seems more seamless on the follow-up.

None of these are, however, flaws as such. They are merely the signs of a group still working up towards their peak, towards the fullest realization of their vision and potential. As such, whilst I find it very easy to rank Don’t Break The Oath over Melissa, it would also be a huge mistake to write off Melissa because of that. Because, in and of itself, Melissa is a fine album of early 80’s heavy metal. It, too, is an essential early 80’s metal album that stands on its own too legs; just not quite as tall as Don’t Break The Oath!

Apparently, many of the re-releases since the 90’s have had flaws in packaging or mastering: either the albums have been mastered according to loudness war standards to an unbreathing pulp, or at the very least the cover art has looked like shite. Compared to such shortcomings, Metal Blade’s 2020 re-releases are exemplary. The artwork is clear and sharp, as is the audio. Apparently these have been re-mastered from original master tapes with emphasis put on carefully cleaning and improving the sound, not modernizing it. I don’t have the original releases as point of reference, but these re-releases do sound – and look – great. So these versions are great ways to fix any Mercufyl Fate -sized holes in your record collection.

4/5

Visit Mercyful Fate on their official websiteBandcamp or Facebook

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