When news emerged that old Mercyful Fate axemen Michael Denner and Hank Shermann would be reuniting for a new band, lots of old guard metalheads were understandably stoked. The inclusion of Cage wailer Sean Peck and well-traveled drummer Snowy Shaw (himself of Fate, solo King Diamond, and about a dozen other acts) only added to the anticipation. So when last year’s debut EP, Satan’s Tomb, ended up being merely pretty good, it felt like a bit of a letdown.
Masters of Evil, the Denner / Shermann full length debut, maintains the general style of the EP: a heavy dose of Fate, the Cage-y feel courtesy of Peck, a pinch of Painkiller, and even nods to things such as solo Ozzy (listen for Peck’s vocal chameleon work in “The Wolf Feeds at Night”). Add in some slick leads courtesy of the band’s namesakes, Shaw’s typically tasteful drumming, and a hefty dose of quality choruses and you’ve got the picture.
However, despite being an overall improvement on the EP, the album still can’t help but also feel like a bit of a letdown. This isn’t due to the performances or the typically infectious songwriting, but rather, the end product just doesn’t feel ridiculous enough. “Ridiculous” is obviously meant as the highest form of flattery here, considering the musicians involved. Mercyful Fate is among the most gloriously and wondrously ridiculous bands in the history of rock’s great pantheon. Cage, at their best, is similarly over-the-top and nutty. Not heard Hell Destroyer? Go listen. Now. It is concentrated and charismatic goofery at almost unthinkable levels.
By comparison, the Denner / Shermann material feels a mite tame. As much as I hate to say it, the album might be a tad under-produced. Certain passages, such as the pre-chorus of “Servants of Dagon,” beg for a huge amount of Don’t Break the Oath atmosphere. Furthermore, Peck’s vocals are rarely produced with the glorious multi-tracking and layering of effects that make his work in Cage so irresistible. Some trad metal purists may applaud the fairly natural production, but for this group, diving completely into the nutto pool may have reaped the most benefits. All of the sleekness certainly works for Hell (UK), the current kings of Silly Old Guy Heavy Metal.
That being said, there’s still a whole lot to like about Masters of Evil, and many listeners are less likely to have such gripes about the studio treatment. From a strictly songwriting standpoint, the album is at worst decent and at best absolutely banging, with the Peck-driven “Son of Satan” taking the cake for instant earworms. Plus, it’s hard to ignore how much the pedigree of the band members shines throughout, and let’s not kid ourselves, this is still plenty silly, it’s just that it doesn’t quite maximize its potential absurdity.
In the end, Masters of Evil is a fun and very respectable offering from some true legends of the metal world. It is certainly not as good as it could be, but it’s also far from a smudge on the legacies of anyone involved. Still, there’s that little nagging thing in the back of my mind that wishes this transcended being merely “damn solid heavy metal” and ascended to the heights of Ridiculous Heavy Metal’s all time greats. I am quite confident that such a blessing upon mankind is within this very group of musicians, so maybe they just need a bit more time to get there.