At this point, it’s really is no secret that I’m 100% all about anything that has to do with King Diamond and Mercyful Fate. I’ve chased down Black Rose and Zoser Mez demos, have purchased every original and remastered pressing of every KD and MF album, still listen to both Force of Evil albums every Halloween, and even love the odd Illwill side project. And now that my rubber britches are snuggly secured around my crotchal region [Hostile workplace…again! – Steel Administator], I can finally delve into the new outing of the legendary Mercyful Fate guitar duo, Michael Denner and Hank Shermann. Simply called Denner/Shermann, this band is a basically Force of Evil with a hint of Illwill. The latter’s similarity is not due to the guitarists (King Diamond‘s Andy LaRocque was axeman for Illwill) but, instead, due to the resemblance in vocal styles (both Illwill and Denner/Shermann utilize the Rob Halford/ Tim Owens vocal model) and both share the same goddamn drummer – Snowy Shaw. To round out the band, Mark Grabowski (from the not-at-all-my-favorite Demonica) stands behind his bass and matches wits with these iconic guitarists; proving to be just as capable as Timi Hansen, Hal Patino, and Sharlee D’Angelo.
First off, let’s be honest about Denner/Shermann’s new EP, Satan’s Tomb. It’s very much a re-invention of Force of Evil, except with much better songwriting (most likely due to Snowy Shaw). Though the opener to “New Gods” and the outro of “Satan’s Tomb” feel like FoE leftovers, the vocals by Sean Peck (Cage) and Snowy’s drums give these riffs new life and a new coat of paint. The songs are more rounded than anything on a Force of Evil record and the album flow is more consistent. Denner/Shermann represents a perfect example of how other members of a band can shape the riffs into something unique. We basically get similar material across two different bands that feel unique in different ways. Slap on lyrics about Satan and artwork done by legendary artist Thomas Holm (MF‘s Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath), and it’s starting to feel like Christmas.
The title track kicks off with some “Into the Coven” guitar work before dropping the “Classic ’80s Metal” hammer. Peck’s voKILLS ride high over the riffs and Snowy’s drum attack makes for a heavy, memorable, sing-along chorus. Toward the end, we get a gang shout of “Rise! Rise!” with an almost Annihilator-like usage of low gruffs to emphasize the crushing riffs. “War Witch” follows the title track with an impressive drum intro, some of the tightest guitar work the duo has ever done, and one of the catchiest choruses on the EP. Overlaying high-register wails with low-register growls (that bring to mind the combination used in the chorus to Iced Earth’s “Frankenstein”), this song is sure to be trapped in your skull for days to come. Four minutes in, this monster completely changes gears and Peck’s vocals become an eerie, reverberating mist over some ball-busting riffage. Goddamn, that felt good.
Each song on Satan’s Tomb lays down a foundation of verses and choruses before transforming into a massive headbanger toward the end. For the most part, these transitions work great and the result is simply neck breaking. But it does have that effect (especially in “War Witch”) of feeling like two different songs. The title track and “New Gods” utilize this theme in the best way and I suggest stretches and neck exercises before approaching the 3:08 mark of the latter. Closer “Seven Skulls” is probably the most straightforward in riffs and overall approach. Well, except for the almost Dave Brockie-like alternating highs and lows as Peck’s characters exchange lines audio-book style. Strange, but the variation is greatly appreciated.
If you are looking for something completely original from these axe masters, you ain’t going to find it in Denner/Shermann. What you will find is one hell of a good time and an EP stacked with skill, musicianship, and excellent production. The riffs are typical but exciting, the vocals are familiar but done well, and the end-product is more material than you could ever hope for from an EP. So, for those that didn’t like Force of Evil, crack open Satan’s Tomb and waft in the stench of this mighty devil.