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.

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