Mercyful Fate: Backwards Tapes, Human Skulls...And Table Football!

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Let's set the scene. I had championed Mercyful Fate in print for a year when offered the chance to go out to Copenhagen and meet the band, for a feature in Kerrang!. This was to coincide with their first ever UK gig, in London at the Clarendon Hotel on March 19, 1983, as well as the imminent release of debut album Melissa. About five years later, I recounted the night's events for a Metal Hammer satanic special and...well, it's all here.

It was early 1983 when I flew to Copenhagen to discover the truth behind the public face of King Diamond. The Mercyful Fate frontman showed up to meet myself and photographer Ray Palmer at a coffee shop in Central Copenhagen without his trademark make-up, but was sporting earrings shaped like inverted crosses. Ray and I were to spend the night with King at his flat, and bassist Timi Grabber (now known by his real name, Timi Hansen) asked me if I was freaked out by spirit. Because if I was King’s place was not going to be fun for me. It was then I realised he wasn’t talking abouit an endless supply of vodka or bourbon, but those otherworldly spooks.

When we arrived the first thing I noticed was that there were no light bulbs in the place, none at all. We were feeling our way by candlelight (t was already dark by the time we got to the flat). King explained, “I don’t like electrical lighting as it drives away the spirits, and I love to have them near me”.

So we sat in the half light, half shadow chatting away for hours, as the King talked openly about his devotion to the Church Of Satan led by Anton LaVey, and how he regularly reads The Satanic Bible which was resting on his Satanic Altar in the darkest corner of his living room. His copy of The Satanic Bible even had burnt edges from being used in satanic rituals -this was authentic devilry. Also on the altar was a black altar cloth, two black candles, a human skull called Melissa (permanently borrowed from a local hospital) and an inverted cross that King had stolen from a church. Also in the room was a pencil drawing of a nun masturbating with a crucifix. King was very proud of this, and had it fixed to the door leading to his bedroom. Who said nuns had no fun?

As the evening progressed, lubricated by the wafting sounds of various underground metal albums, King decided to play a tape, backwards version of Stairway to Heaven. Now, many people believe that you can hear Robert Plant chanting ‘My sweet Satan‘ when you spin the song backwards at a specific speed. King is one of these believers. But all I could hear was… nonsense! It all sounded like Danish spoken by drunk Welshmen. King followed this by playing a tape of an infamous Girlschool concert in Copenhagen, where the band’s Kim McAuliffe almost died onstage after being electrocuted.

“Mercyful Fate opened for them that night,” recalled King, “and I said at one point, ‘Lets bring Satan into the house tonight’. I felt something weird happening. I knew I had invoked a spirit and that it was negative, Satan really did come into the house and the girl almost died because of this.” There again, maybe the microphone Kim grabbed when she got the shock wasn’t earthed. Incompetent roadie, or mischievous spirit…who knows!

He then went on to explain that being a Satanist does not mean that he goes around killing babies or animals. “Satanism simply means that I understand the powers of the Unknown”.

King then made a place for us to sleep on his living room floor, in front of his Satanic Altar. The next day before leaving I spoke to MF guitarist Hank Sherman who told me that he and the other members are really worried about what forces King may unleash without meaning to do so, as he is clearly very serious about his religion.

I left there convinced that King Diamond was not a man who dabbled in the Dark Arts simply to gain publicity, he was the genuine article. I have met him many times since then over the years, and he has never changed his beliefs. He is one of the most hospitable guys you could ever meet, but I will never forget that first meeting!

I should add a little more to the above which appeared in Metal Hammer. A record label budgetry restriction was the reason Ray and I both had to stay at King’s flat. Contrary to what has been reported elsewhere, Ray wasn’t at all freaked out by sleeping there, and didn’t dash out the next morning. The ‘nun’ brought in for a photo shoot with King did sit on my lap, but nothing further happened… well, not a lot. King and Timi thrashed Ray and me at table football (I recall the score was 6-1), but we got our revenge with a triumphant darts display. Ray and I learnt one Danish word while we were there: piszflap (you can work that one out for yourself!).

FIVE FACTS ABOUT MERCYFUL FATE

* King Diamond’s real name is Kim Bendix Petersen. He took the name King Diamond while in Brainstorm, his first band. But now can’t actually remember why he chose it!

* The band’s name was originally going to be Back To Hell. Then their manager’s girlfriend suggested Merciful Fate. This was subsequently altered to Mercyful Fate

* The band’s first release was a self-titled EP in September, 1982, on Dutch label Rave On. It’s sometimes called Nuns Have No Fun, after the song that inspired the cover illustration

* Mercyful Fate covered The Immigrant Song for 1983 debut album Melissa, but this was dropped from the final track listing

* Don’t Break The Oath was the last album to feature what many consider the band’s classic line-up. Shortly after its release, they broke up. Although King Diamond, Hansen and guitarist Michael Denner stayed together under the band name of King Diamond. Sherman formed Fate, a more melodic hard rock band. Drummer Kim Ruzz briefly worked as a postman, and was most recently in a band called MetalRuzz.