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Welcome to Versus, our recurring column where we look at two popular or iconic heavy metal releases and put them up against each other in the ring and see which one was the better album.
In this edition, we are getting spooky and theatrical with two heavy metal bands with the same iconic frontman, and with one of the most legendary and recognizable vocal ranges in heavy metal history, I am speaking of the great King Diamond. With this edition, we are going to decide which one of King’s records was better, and with what band, in a battle I’m calling “The Decider of King’s Muse”.
In this corner, we have Mercyful Fate and their 1983 debut Melissa. What many critics and musicians have cited as one of the first records to start to develop a “extreme metal” sound. With dark lyrics, guitar solos prevalent throughout the record, fast paced and double bass drums throughout, and satanic imagery in the visuals, it was an inspiration and influenced many popular metal bands like Metallica, Exodus, Slayer and countless others. With elements of thrash metal, musical traits you would hear in black metal and death metal along with progressive metal, Melissa was a groundbreaker in heavy metal history for multiple reasons.
The album starts off with “Evil”, starting the album off strong with a great hard-hitting opening guitar riff. King’s famous falsetto sets the atmosphere coinciding with the riff, to set the tone of the album. Drums hit hard in the mix, adding punch and dynamics to the guitar before going into the first of 3 guitar solos. Melissa is what I would call a “guitarists” record where there is an abundance of guitar solos and complex guitar playing throughout the whole record. Diamond’s vocals become more theatrical as the song goes on, with falsettos, gravely talking parts, to a normal singing voice throughout the song. While listening to the song, you almost get lost in the music, and so much diversity and complex musicianship and then when the song ends, you are like “that was just the FIRST TRACK?!” and you become curious on where they go from there.
The next song “Curse of The Pharaohs” starts off with a guitar section that almost sounds like it would have been off of Iron Maiden’s Powerslave record. With a Heart “Barracuda”-esque guitar part on the verses section, is just another strong fist-pounding track. The vocals are drenched in reverb, adding more accents to the theatrics of King’s vocals. “Into The Coven” gives the listener a subtle break with a nice acoustic passage with electric leads accenting the acoustic piece, almost creating a neo-classical sound to it before returning to the heavy metal sound Mercyful Fate would make famous.
The song “Satan’s Fall” is an eleven-minute journey that’s drenched in progressive rock with over sixteen types of riffs played throughout the track along with tempo changes, guitar playing all over the place both in solos and rhythm & leads, showing the pure skill and musicianship the band can bring. The album’s closer and title track is a slower, mid-tempo song. Picking up near the halfway point, the record shows off King’s vocal range from belting his iconic falsettos to a more somber and saddened voice that brings a sorrowful, but well done close to what some call the band’s magnum opus.
In the opposite corner, we have King Diamond and his second solo album, 1987’s Abigail. After the success of his debut record Fatal Portrait, and the addition of Andy LaRocque to the band, King developed a concept album based on loss, death, betrayal and revenge. King Diamond would continue the theme of concept albums with each release after this record. With this record, King Diamond, both the band and the singer, would make themselves known and define their sound with this record which the band has said this is their favorite.
The album opens with an intro piece “Funeral”, which shows the band's theatrics have gone to a grander scale and want the listener to know they are going on a heavy metal audio journey with this release. Opening song “Arrival” starts off with chugging guitars with beautiful leads in the background. Drums are more present than in the previous record, with a well-added punch in the snare. The song picks up with galloping guitars and a nice lead guitar solo over the rhythm guitars and pounding double bass. King’s vocals are soaked in reverb and echo to make his vocals more operatic and grandiose. The song has a nice 80’s style breakdown section at the three quarters mark with an awesome drum fill addition to it before segueing back into the breakdown. Great opening track for the album and ends with another great guitar solo, which solos are definitely on this record, but not as prevalent as Mercyful Fate’s Melissa.
Another great song “The Family Ghost” starts with a grittier, overdriven guitar tone on the opening guitar part. Piercing, wailing guitars and a solo added to it set the atmosphere in the track, until vocals kick in. There are also great vocal stereo effects used on this track. I experienced it with headphones where at certain parts the vocals would headphone juggle from ear to ear and a great addition to the theatrics and story telling of the album’s story. The album’s title track has King’s vocal range showcased on this track with wailing ah’s and sorrowful oh’s when the vocals kick in. His falsetto is prominent and pronounced on this song, making it almost his legendary trademark. Drums are also higher in the mix and adding to the bass and rhythm guitars, creating a more bass heavy and driving sound in the production. There is also another great guitar solo with fast-paced double bass at the half way mark as a nice addition to it. The album’s closer “Black Horsemen” starts with another acoustic intro part with an ominous and brooding spoken word delivery. The song is a strong closer with a nice headbanging riff and escalated in the musicianship and instrumentation, which bring this theatrical journey to a nice close.
After weighing both options and both performances by King, I would declare Melissa the winner of this battle. Both records showcase the prominent vocalist’s range and style very well, and musically they are similar in certain parts, but it all boils down to what record would I go back to and listen again. Abigail was the record that got me into King Diamond’s famous vocals, but I love it more on Melissa, along with the uniqueness of the musical style that Mercyful Fate were doing with the record. They weren’t afraid to try new things and do a song like “Satan’s Fall” and pull it off successfully. Both bands are great, and staples in heavy metal, and have great records with both bands currently working on new music in 2023. So it is an exciting time to be a fan of both bands and it’ll be interesting to see where each band goes with their direction, and where their leader King Diamond will go with them.
Do you agree with my decision? Who do you think should have won this battle? Leave your comments in the comments section below and your suggestions on who you think should step in the ring next. I’m Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal and this was Versus.
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