Event: Mercyful Fate – Nort America Tour 2022
Venue: Masonic Temple – Detroit, Michigan
Date: November 5, 2022
Artists Performed: Midnight, Kreator, Mercyful Fate
“I hereby respectfully invite you to Come To The Sabbath by which you may free your soul and feast with us in the dark of Night. Witches and Demons, you may come as you are! Satanic Regards – King Diamond 666.”
For their first Detroit show in over twenty years, Mercyful Fate picked a perfect venue. The Masonic Temple is immaculate and mysterious, located in the heart of downtown. Between sets I overheard a couple photographers talking about having taken a tour earlier that day. One of them said they used to bury bodies under where the stage is now, which is almost certainly bullshit but, built in the 1920s by and for Freemasons, I’m quite sure crazier things have been said of the place. Though the last time Mercyful Fate was in Detroit was Harpo’s in 1998 and Harpo’s is definitely haunted as fuck.
Horror stories, no doubt, follow King Diamond and company to every city they play and leave lasting impressions on each audience perhaps more so now – in a metal climate that hasn’t seen or heard the likes of Mercyful Fate in a very long time. Revered by generations of fans and across multiple heavy metal subgenres, Mercyful Fate is one hell of a legendary band.
Both opening acts, Midnight and Kreator, were excellent choices for the bill, injecting blackened speed metal and thrash into the veins of the evening, which was an all-out celebration of heavy music marked by a seemingly unusual amount of high-spirited camaraderie in what many would consider corners too dark to spend much time with honest smiles on their faces.
This darkness was not expected in excess from either of the opening acts, or even the two together, but rather in combination with Mercyful Fate. I had never seen the band before, or King Diamond at any point, so all of my expectations were based on King Diamond’s reputation as… well, King Diamond. When I was a youngster in the early 1980s – coming from a religious background and all wound up about bands like Van Halen, Def Leppard, and Whitesnake – King Diamond was way off the reservation. I grew into the sounds of Mercyful Fate as a reaction to hearing Metallica and Megadeth around 1986, and I didn’t look for heavy metal too far beyond Somewhere In Time/Seventh Son-era Iron Maiden, and Painkiller-era Judas Priest at the time. By the time my tastes developed enough to appreciate any of his music, there was sort of a foreboding anticipation that built up around the idea of seeing King Diamond perform.
Mercyful Fate had the sort of stage show I imagined they’d have. There were two winding staircases, each with 666-emblazoned arches, with the drums set atop, towering probably twenty feet above the stage. A giant pentagram hung above the drum set, smoke fogged up the auditorium, and when King Diamond finally appeared, he was wearing red and black papal vestments and holding his signature “cross-bone” microphone. It was like a horror film – less like The Exorcist or Amityville Horror and more like Nosferatu or Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. Classic creepy as opposed to Satanic creepy, despite all of the pseudo-blasphemous imagery. A stark contrast to a band like Dark Funeral, for example, where the lines between image and musicality become blurry and off-balance. There is, of course, room for all shades of darkness in metal, no matter how lopsided. I’m just saying King Diamond is more colorful in black and white than all five members of Dark Funeral would be on fire ten feet from your face.
The set kicked off with “The Oath” followed by a reasonable mixture of Don’t Break the Oath and Melissa, which wasn’t unexpected and certainly not disappointing. “A Dangerous Meeting,” “Curse of the Pharaohs,” and “Evil” were stand-outs, with “A Corpse Without Soul,” “Doomed by the Living Dead,” and a brand new track called “The Jackal of Salzburg” peppered brilliantly throughout. They saved “Satan’s Fall” for an absolutely perfect encore.
It was not a long set, which may have disappointed some, but Mercyful Fate has always been best for me in medium-sized doses. The older I get the more convinced I am that King Diamond has always known exactly what size a single dose of King Diamond should be – for the safety of everyone involved, but also very much so as not to disrupt the absolute brilliance of guitarists Michael Denner and Hank Shermann.
This show was far more spectacular than I expected it would be, and I had more fun than I had any right to have. It seemed to me the space I took up that night might have been more appropriate for a bigger fan. Perhaps someone who got through some tough shit with the help of this band, you know? So, for a little while, I felt like an imposter almost. I literally did not feel worthy, and it’s a beautiful fucking thing when that happens!
I remember well some of the first concerts that helped change the way I experienced the world – shows that kicked me in the chest with a reason to celebrate being alive. The first time that happened to me was at a Metallica show in 1988. I was fifteen years old. Mercyful Fate did this for me less than a month ago and I’m closing in on fifty, so I can’t tell you how great it feels knowing that some things remain constant. If you’re lucky enough to spend any time at all in a room with an energy that makes you the kind of happy you were… before and after, basking in the glow of a new thing, do what you can to remember you can get through all the dark shit ahead. Those moments of going from one thing to another with absolutely no preparation for what was on the way – a little freaked out, but fuck it. I got this. Those moments stick to your bones. And some of us go on to use those bones as microphone stands.