As the story goes, former Mercyful Fate guitarists Michael Denner and Hank Shermann got together a few times in the past couple years to record YouTube videos celebrating the thirtieth anniversaries of Mercyful Fate’s first two classic LPs, 1983’s Melissa and 1984’s Don’t Break the Oath. The pair apparently had so much fun playing the old Fate stuff together that they decided to try and recapture some of the old magic with a new band. That band is the fittingly, but not terribly creatively, named Denner / Sherman. Joining the two guitarists are Cage vocalist Sean Peck, former Corruption and Demonica bassist Marc Grabowski, and another Mercyful Fate alumnus in drummer Snowy Shaw. The first fruit of this (re)union is the four song EP, Satan’s Tomb.
Anytime Shermann and Denner collaborate, there will be comparisons to Mercyful Fate, but Denner / Shermann seems to invite those comparisons, even more than the duo’s previous collaboration, Force of Evil. Bringing in Snowy Shaw certainly ups the ante, but it is Satan’s Tomb’s cover art that really drives the point home with a not-at-all-subtle nod to Don’t Break the Oath.
Certainly the band has set a pretty high bar for itself. Can it measure up?
Nope. Mercyful Fate was a different band from a different century, and, as the group’s Nineties reunion albums have already proven, the magic the original lineup created cannot be fully recaptured. Without question, Denner and Shermann have assembled a talented group: Shaw and Grabowski form a tight rhythm section, but they are much stiffer and more mechanical-sounding than the always grooving Kim Ruzz and Timi Hansen. And while Sean Peck is a wildly versatile singer with great range and power, he lacks the charisma of the King. Surprisingly though, a good deal of the lack of Fate-ness on Satan’s Tomb can be laid at the feet of Denner and Shermann themselves. Many of the riffs on the EP have a more modern sound and the arrangements are not quite as adventurous as they were on early Fate songs.
There are definitely glimmers of Mercyful Fate on this EP, however. The melodic lead that opens the title track is reminiscent of “Into the Coven”; there’s a little “Curse of the Pharoahs” in the opening of “New Gods”; and “War Witches” conjures some of the frantic energy of Fate burners like “A Corpse Without Soul”.
Moving beyond Mercyful Fate comparisons, Satan’s Tomb is a vibrant and dynamic batch of modern metal tunes. The performances are energetic across the board. In particular, the solos are spectacular, and the production lets every member’s contribution shine. Taken strictly as a modern metal effort, Satan’s Tomb is solid, if not necessarily exceptional.
Denner / Shermann might not have hit the mark the group seemed to be aiming for, but there is enough good material on this EP that I hope Satan’s Tomb is not the last we will hear from them.