MERCYFUL FATE are Heavy Metal, nothing less, nothing more, standing together for quite a long time and this wedding caused an ever-lasting love to most of the Snakepit readers, I am sure. Guitarist Hank Sherman told us his views how it all started, why King left for some years and why they are still here - stronger than ever.|
What's the response to your new album "9" so far?
"It has been incredible. People are really surprised how heavy and aggressive it is, that's good to hear from our side. It's nice to get some positive feedback when you go out of the studio."
It's better than the last one, "Dead Again", there the vocal performance of King was not very melodic.
"Right, you are probably one of the first who analyse what was happening there. That's the same how I feel, on "Dead Again" there was too little melody into the vocals and it was also a little difficult to get into the songs."
You wrote many songs on "9".
"Well, it's different from time to time but this time I just had five songs and of course King does all the lyrics, on the Japanese version there will be a bonus track, a little instrumental I did, means only guitars and Mike Wead does a nice guitar solo. But that's not available in Europe. King did four songs and Mike Wide wrote one."
Mike Wead brings a fresh sound into the band.
"Definitely. He has been in the band for almost three years, he joined in October 1996, especially on this album he is really contributing a lot and he has a special style and sound. It's nice to add fresh blood to the FATE's sound and also to wide up the sound spectrum."
Does he has a more neo-classical background whereas you are more the traditional player in the Michael Schenker vein?
"A good combination, isn't it? We are different concerning our playing but Mike is not too neo-classical inspired."
You play the big festivals in Europe this year.
"We have about fifteen festivals throughout Europe, that's going to be very interesting. We play during the day when the sun shines, a little challenge for us. We can hopefully deliver a power performance, maybe we do a little jam with METALLICA. A great summer for Heavy Metal this year."
You headlined the Dynamo in 1993, now you played there again, but as the first band on Sunday, quite odd.
"The Dynamo stuff decided it how it should be. First of all, they didn't want us to play there and then the METALLICA management said to them that they liked to see us on the bill as well because we tour with them. Then they put us on and we got this time. It's better to open the package on Sunday than being in the middle somewhere."
But your status as a band is not that of an opener.
"That's depending, maybe because we are an old band, we exist for almost twenty years but in terms of sells we are not the biggest ones. (nevertheless, Dynamo, where are you going? - Heinz). Maybe some people don't like us because of King. But a lot of bands have a satanic image and Death Metal is quite popular as well, so we are not a very shocking band nowadays."
You are one of the originators when it comes to the term Black Metal.
"Yes, especially in combination with the lyrics and King's kind of appearance. Music wise it's more traditional Heavy Metal, with some progressive elements in it, some complex riffing. So, all that combined was something new at that time we started, that was the reason why a lot of people got into the band. It's good to hear when someone is inspired by the band. We were also inspired by other bands and started playing guitar."
MERCYFUL FATE started in 1981, before you played in another band called the BRATS, right?
"It started of in 1978 as a four piece Punk band, it was raw Punk music, then we kind of split and then I continued with the BRATS and found some new members, Michael Denner also joined this band, this was the pre-MERCYFUL FATE band, we got a good recording contract on CBS in Denmark and at that time we were more into the melodic punky Metal, we did one album in 1980. In late 1980 we decided to get another singer, we were recommended this guy called King Diamond who was playing in a band called BLACK ROSE, we went to see a concert of them which was amazing. They did a lot of covers of RAINBOW, PURPLE, we asked him and he seemed to be friendly and nice, we agreed to get together and then it started. The first three months we still were called BRATS and did three or four concerts under this name. Suddenly we called ourselves MERCYFUL FATE, there was a lot of line-up changes, in spring of 1981 we seriously began to write songs. King had not developed his high pitched singing, doing the covers it sounded pretty normal, then he got into the high screams, we were very excited about that reminding us of JUDAS PRIEST. The first song I did together with King was "Into The Coven" in 1981.
Your real name is Renč Krolmark, isn't it?
"That might be right, haha. In my Punk days I called myself Hank The Wank, a punk name. Then we got the contract with CBS and on the BRATS album I was only called Hank and then founding a new band I needed to have a full name, not only Hank. So, then I came up with Sherman for some reasons I can't remember right now and that name was born and put on the first FATE album. Now my real name is Hank Sherman, everyone calls me this way. In the 70's and 80's it was normal to have an artist name. Suddenly this guy called Yngwie Malmsteen appeared on the scene, having his own name and that changed totally."
Were you ever into the satanic lyrics King came up with?
"No, I was very focused on the music and still I don't care much about the lyrics. I hear music, listen to the sound, the vocal lines, to the voice but don't think about what they mean. My brain is not analysing the lyrics when I hear music. I just want to hear the mood of the songs. Of course, I read our lyrics but that's not my field."
Releasing the soon-to-be classics "Melissa" and "Don't Break The Oath", you were on a good way to achieve major success, when did the problems in the band begin as the band disbanded in 1985?
"Well, I think King wanted it to take a step further in aspects of show production, he wanted to do this in the Alice Cooper way and he could easily see that the rest of the band didn't fit into that picture and in April 1985 he split from the band, started his own King Diamond band because he could do everything he wanted to do then, for him that was the main reason to leave the band. There weren't any bad feelings, basically we disbanded of silly things, sometimes such things just happen. I started the band FATE when he started his own band, so that was nothing sad for us."
So it was your decision as well?
"No, not at all. No one expected that MERCYFUL FATE split at that time, that was a plan King had, strategically, in order to get a step higher with the show production. Especially me, I didn't feel that I wanted to go in this direction, wearing leather, pyros, and focusing more on the show than on the music. King's band was kind of glam if you look at the pictures of the band, the differences were not because of the music."
You changed your musical direction with FATE, sounding more commercial.
"Yes, it was more melodic. American Heavy Rock, it was a nice, fresh challenge for me and it was not of the big difference for me as I played the same guitar, same amplifier. I like heavy moods in music, I really enjoyed that time. After this experience I started to compose heavier material again, I have to had a kick, haha. I slowly crawled back to my roots, I found a new band with Michael Denner in 1988, we recorded an album with different singers, released 3.000 copies of it through Semaphore in Holland. Paul DiAnno is playing on that album, we still have 65 copies left in Michael Denner's shop. I think this album sounds killer, it's heavy and has lots of guitar solos, we might re-release it again. THE BRATS albums are as well going to be re-released on one cd, officially. For our die hard fans it is a possibility to hear our history in music."
With "Melissa" and "Don't Break The Oath" you released two Metal killer albums which are still well-known and kind of cult records.
"People are still talking about these two albums, that's the same like IRON MAIDEN's first three records, even if you release good albums afterwards. Look at JUDAS PRIEST, they recorded as well great album in the 80's as in the 90's."
The new one "9" reminds me a lot of your early stuff.
"There are pieces that have the mood of the early recordings but that's not something I discover myself, on the song "The Grave" the vocals are old-school, yes, probably you're right, it's kind of the same area, we didn't change our style, only the production is more powerful. We still have progressive parts, not that complicated this time, but our main aspects lies in the groove and the straight riffing."
Your comeback in 1993 with "In The Shadows" surprised me positively.
"Yeah, you could hear that we had to prove that we were still able to write great songs. Everyone really did his best, many good songs are on that album, very hard to compete with when we had to do the second one. We experienced a lot on "Time", maybe that was a mistake." The production is weak on "Time".
"We had a lot of problems with that, it's not one of my favourites. Nevertheless it's not a bad album in my opinion, kind of weird maybe."
I heard from many people that they don't like "Into The Unknown" but for me this is better than the before released "Time".
"Definitely. That was the outcome of doing the "Time" album. We triggered the songs on "Into The Unknown", that was the first attempt to get back to more serious Heavy Metal. We were not very satisfied with the "Time" album and we were aware that we need to go back to the more Metal sides of the band to keep the band alive."
You toured a lot in the States the last years.
"Mostly, yes. We toured there with MERCYFUL FATE last year and also KING DIAMOND toured overseas, but separately."
What about the European market?
"We went there in 1997, a double bill with the KING DIAMOND band, and that was the first real European tour ever with MERCYFUL FATE. That was something special but there were still some countries that we didn't visit. So this time in 1999, this will be our biggest tour here we've ever in our career. We decided not to do an European tour on the "Dead Again" album, instead going to the studio, do this release before summer and then do a strong tour, get to the festivals and that plan seems to really be the right choice. A perfect timing for us. In particular on festivals we can show that we are still a good live band. I like club shows in front of 500 people much better, but you have to promote the new album and we try to reach as many people as possible this time."
A club show with all your classics in front of your die-hard fans can catch the magic of Metal far better in my opinion.
"Yeah, in between the festivals we are doing like fifteen shows in small clubs, so that will become very interesting."
Your status in the States remained strong in the last weak years concerning Metal?
"Maybe the European impact will have some effects going there. We didn't have problems to tour there but the club owners are not familiar with the Metal scene anymore, they want more Industrial or they want to take their club into a techno club or shit like that. But lesser and lesser people come the concerts, that's the fact. We are not giving up, we are still there and we try to make better records, satisfy ourselves. With the new album "9", we are definitely on the right way, a step that we wanted to take, everything from the cover to the new logo."
The cover is excellent, looking old school.
"It's the same artist that did "Melissa" and "Don't Break The Oath"."
Why did you call the album "9"?
"Simply because that's our ninth album release."
Official releases? I count only eight releases.
"Depending of course which ones you're counting. It could also be number ten. You can have "The Return Of The Vampire" or the first two mini LP's. Besides that there's "The Beginning" which is our official release of the mini album on cd plus some recordings of a BBC session. It could be our ninth album, yes. And it's a good number as well, a little magic."
Plenty of bootlegs exist from MERCYFUL FATE, is this a problem for you or a compliment to be so popular?
"You can not prevent that. At least someone might to make money out of it, so I don't like it. You can do nothing against that and nowadays the bootlegs look more professional than the real cds. So, it's pretty easy to make it and recording bootlegs." You will celebrate your twentieth band anniversary in two years, I think. Will there happen something special?
"That depends also when you start, it would be next year, we got together basically in 1980, the band name was born in spring 1981, a couple of years. We are talking about doing a cd-rom, we will release a special box then."
The band had many line-up changes through the years, you and King are the only founding members now.
"We are the grandfathers, haha. We have a very constant line-up right now, I don't see any line-up changes the near future. But you never know what other people think, it feels very strong now."
Do you listen to other Metal bands?
"Yes, but I don't listen to too much music at home. I prefer to compose and play my guitar and stuff like that. I am not aware too much of all the new bands, I know the names and how they look like but haven't heard most of them. When I come here into the office in Metal Blade, I hear bands as RIOT, that's cool."
We have not covered the METALLICA theme, I guess everyone is asking you about them, right?
"I like their cover album, really strong covers of our songs and they did a good job, very respectful of our music that were made in the 80's. That's something that might help the band and when they sell six millions copies that means a lot of people will see the name MERCYFUL FATE and can hear our songs, maybe that will have an impact, spread Heavy Metal, you know."