Monday, March 25, 2019

Tales from Copenhagen - Part 1

Michael Denner on Black Metal and what's needed for a Mercyful Fate reunion.

Beat Bop Records, Copenhagen, Denmark
I walked into Beat Bop Records in Copenhagen not knowing what to expect. I’d heard that owner Michael Denner (former guitarist for Mercyful Fate and King Diamond) was usually there, so  I’d dragged a couple album covers from Des Moines, through Chicago and Iceland, to Denmark hoping I’d catch him and get them signed.

I walked into the small shop and he was standing behind the counter, just like any other record store clerk in any shop around the world, looking over some paperwork, nodding his head along to the Bon Scott-era AC/DC playing over the shop speakers.

I introduced myself, told him I was a fan and all that, and he was as personable, humble, and welcoming as I’d heard. He seemed genuinely interested in where I was from, what I was doing in Copenhagen, what music I liked, and he was happy to chat about (almost) any subject I broached.

Just hanging with a metal legend, no big deal...
He signed my copies of Melissa, a Live From the Depths of Hell Mercyful Fate bootleg, and my original pressing cover of Abigail — probably my favorite record of all time.

As he looked over the copy he said it was his favorite King Diamond record as well, although he admitted to being blown away by “Them,” the first King Diamond album after his departure from the band.

“I was jealous when ‘Them’ came out and I first heard it,” he said. “It was such a powerful album.”

I asked him about any local black metal that he might have in the shop and he deferred to his son, Sylvester. “That’s his music,” he said. “I don’t know about Black Metal.”

Melissa, Mercyful Fate
Surprised, I mentioned that Mercyful Fate is considered one of the pioneers of the genre; one of the first wave of Black Metal bands in the 1980s that helped launch the genre. He knew this, of course, but he wasn’t interested in taking credit for it.

“People say we started black metal, that we were the first black metal band,” he said. “We liked heavy music, but killing people and burning churches? That was not something I wanted and I wasn’t about that. We didn’t cause those terrible things.”

Still, the shop had a few nice reissues from Mayhem, Bathory, and Dark Throne among rows of doom, death, speed, and thrash metal. I grabbed a couple heavier things that he suggested – a Metal Blade release from Danish band Artillery that he and fellow Mercyful Fate guitarist Hank Shermann provided solos on, and a beautiful original pressing of Dissection’s “Final Genocide.” But the real gems in his shop were the many reissues of scarce and rare older psychedelic and garage rock – the things Denner said were a reflection of his own tastes. There is also a small back room filled with jazz that I didn't even get a chance to look over.

Masters of Evil, Denner/Shermann
While digging through the crates and trying to figure out how much money I could spend, I asked him about the future or Mercyful Fate. Is there a possibility of a reunion like we always hear rumors of?

He told me he still talked to Shermann every day, and that Timi Hansen still lived nearby. (Actually, Shermann might have stopped in the shop while I was there, but I wasn’t sure it was him and didn’t say anything for fear of showing my stupidity).

“I’m open to it, of course” he said without hesitation, though I sensed a “but” coming on…

The "but" was this: When he and Shermann formed the band Denner/Shermann in 2015 they had the same artist who did the classic Mercyful Fate covers do the cover of their album. The similarity is apparent, and in my mind is an appropriate nod to the past work of both guitarists as founding members of Mercyful Fate.

Abigail, King Diamond
According to Denner, King Diamond saw things differently and took action to stop the release of the album because of the artwork. He was unsuccessful, but did manage to stop the sale of T-shirts in the U.S. with the image on it.

“He tried to stop the record then asked me to play with him when he came to Copenhagen just a couple months later and I told him no.” he said. “I’m always open to playing again, but he will have to apologize.”

He said it wasn’t something he talked about in the press and didn’t want the situation blown up as a big deal, but it was clear he felt personally hurt by King's effort, as if dissed by a family member. I'm sure I don't know the entire story, but I'd hope King would make amends and help make a Mercyful Fate reunion at least possible.

Live From the Depths of Hell, Mercyful Fate bootleg
I walked out of Beat Bop that day into a cold and rainy Copenhagen afternoon blown away by Denner's kindness – and also with a big portion of my vacation budget blown. I returned a couple days later and found more things I couldn’t live without and mentioned my appreciation of weird, experimental, and off-the-wall stuff. He had some ideas for me, but I had to go at the time. So he asked me to try to clear an hour out of my vacation to come back and listen to some stuff with him.

Here was a living legend — a guy who played on some of the most amazing and influential metal albums of all time, asking me to come back and dig through records with him. Even my 22-year-old daughter who loves John Mayer and Taylor Swift knew how cool this was and told me I had to come back. I ran out of time before this could happen though, so I guess another trip to Copenhagen is in order.

Friday, March 8, 2019

The Most Brutal Song Ever Recorded

It’s a topic that’s been debated and discussed by dickheads and bros everywhere for all time: What is the most brutal song ever?

As self-proclaimed King of the Dickheads today, I have the final answer.

It’s not some machismo-fueled crap from Disturbed, Shinedown, Five Finger Death Punch or some other butt-rock band favored by energy drink-swilling former Juggalos. It’s not from an emo-infused, screamo, metlacore bullshit band. It’s not from some obscure grindcore band or corpse-painted, church-burning black metal band from Norway. It’s not even a song from some legitimately badass bands — Slayer, Cannibal Corpse, Celtic Frost — known for their brutality.

It’s not about corpses or demons or plague or genocide or raping dead puppies or any of the bullshit topics that so many bands beat to death trying to prove how hard they are. 

It’s a song about the real fucking world and how it can beat you the fuck down.
Bill Withers: Sexy, Funky, and Brutal As Fuck

And it’s from Bill Fucking Withers.

Yes, that Bill Withers. The funky soul master responsible for songs like “Use Me,” “Grandma’s Hands,” and everyone’s favorite, “Lean on Me.”

Bill is a badass to be sure. An incredible musician and songwriter. And if you don’t have room in your cold, dark heart for Bill, there’s just no way we can be friends.

But brutal? Fuck Yeah.

Before you listen to the song I’m talking about, consider it’s context.

 “Lean on Me” was released in 1972, reached No. 1 on both the Soul Singles and Billboard charts and was named one of the top 500 songs of all time by Rolling Stone. It’s an uplifting song of friendship, hope, compassion, and brotherhood (or sisterhood).

The opening lines for example:

Sometimes in our lives
We all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there's always tomorrow
Lean on me!
when you're not strong
and I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on…

Its good stuff. Have a quick listen.

Sweet, right? Of course. That’s why it was a smash fucking hit. This line, however, was a hint of darker things to come:

… for it won't be long
'till I'm gonna need
somebody to lean on.

If you owned this single on 45 you might have ended the song feeling uplifted and hopeful for mankind. You might have expected that you could flip the record over to the B Side for some more heart-warming, life-affirming cheeriness.

You’d be wrong.

Bill apparently had other ideas in mind and created “Better Off Dead” — the B-Side that should define what it means to be a B-Side. Where “Lean on Me” is uplifting, hopeful, and inspiring, “Better Off Dead” is dark, hopeless, and utterly despondent. That it’s also funky and swampy and rhythmic and catchy as hell makes it all the more brutal.

Where “Lean on Me” provides hope. “Better Off Dead” tells us that, sometimes, there is just no hope to be found. It’s a hard look at real life, depression, despondency, and consequences, which is harsh enough in itself. When placed directly opposite “Lean on Me,” it’s just, well, fucking brutal.

It’s not just brutal, though. It’s a great damn song. Listen through to the very end and you’ll see how desperate and harsh it truly is.


She couldn't stand me anymore
so she just took the kids and went.
You see, I've got a drinkin' problem,
all the money that we had I spent.
Now I must die by my own hand
'cause I'm not man enough to live alone.
Hey, hey, she's better off without me
and I'm better off dead now that she's gone.

Ah, she gave the most, took the least,
she even had the priest come to our home.
And I cried and prayed and promised
that I'd leave the stuff alone.
Now I must leave what I can't face,
I hope she finds the kids a happy home.
Hey, hey she's better off without me
and I'm better off dead now that she's gone.

She used to call her friend and cry,
then the man cut off the telephone.
She'd sit and cry while I went out
and pawned the things we owned.
Now I must die by my own hand
'cause I'm not man enough to live alone.
Hey, hey she's better off without
me and I'm better off dead..