It’s strange that we often hold artists’ achievements against them. If it hadn’t been for “Melissa” and “Don’t Break The Oath,” two albums infinitely hailed by many Metalheads, MERCYFUL FATE’s releases in the 90s would probably have been considered among the best work by any band in the decade. As it is, many FATE fans denounce the later releases since, quite frankly, they aren’t “Melissa” or “Don’t Break The Oath.” Notice, though, that I said “aren’t,” and I did not say “aren’t as good as…”
With the release of “In The Shadows,” MERCYFUL FATE returned with the original line-up almost entirely intact, with the exception of Snowy Shaw filling in for Kim Ruzz on drums. The ingredients that made the early work so incredible are definitely present here – blistering riffs, awesome leads, King Diamond’s unique vocals and lyrics, a dark and sinister atmosphere and the forward-thinking attitude. On top of that, the band sounds tighter, streamlined and more focused, complimented by a modern production. Sure, the Satanic lyrics have been toned down considerably, but if you were listening to early FATE for the Satanic lyrics alone then you’re pretty lame. If you absolutely need to find things to complain about, you might cite the obvious influence King Diamond’s solo work has had on this release, or the fact that His Majesty is a lot more restrained in his falsetto, relying mainly on his low/mid-range singing voice and using the wail mainly for backing vocals and musical accents. Of course, neither of these “problems” are things that everyone is necessarily going to complain about.
I can just imagine fans on the day of this album’s release, popping it in for the first time and salivating at the thought of being beaten over the head by a riff like on those kicking off “Evil” or “A Dangerous Meeting.” Instead, they get a soft acoustic introduction with some light cymbal work. It doesn’t last long, though, as soon the King sears in and the riffage starts, followed quickly by an incredible opening solo. A very strong track, but sadly it’s followed by two lackluster offerings, “The Bell Witch” and “The Old Oak.” “In The Shadows” picks things back up with a chunky riff, anthemic lyrics and a chorus very unusual for the band, almost dabbling in Dark New Wave territory, but infectious nonetheless! The feeling of the song is continued and developed in “A Gruesome Time,” a lighter but standout track. One of the highlights of the album is “Thirteen Invitations,” a dynamic track going through heavier and lighter moments and telling a great story about immortality. Afterwards we get a nice but ultimately forgettable instrumental called “Room Of Golden Air,” but this is quickly made up for with the lengthy epic “Legend Of The Headless Rider.”
None of those tracks, however, to the power of “Is That You, Melissa.” Starting out with harpsichord and King Diamond lamenting over the familiar name, the song quickly picks up and doesn’t stop with the ass-kickery until the very final notes. It’s not ass-kickery in the sense of speed or heaviness, but in sheer musical beauty, making “Is That You, Melissa” a great ending to the album. Well, it doesn’t actually end there, but just pretend that “Return Of The Vampire…1993” doesn’t exist, since it’s just a re-recording of the song featuring Lars Ulrich from METALLICA. Easy enough to ignore…since it’s the last song, just hit stop.
Is this as good as “Melissa” or “Don’t Break The Oath”? Maybe, maybe not - I guess it depends on what you’re looking for. In the end, I guess I’ll go ahead and say that it isn’t. Does it matter? Nope, because compared to a lot of other alternatives, “In The Shadows” is a fine release. (Online October 23, 2005)