Mercyful Fate - Return Of The Vampire
Metal Blade
Traditional Heavy Metal
9 songs (49:21)
Release year: 1992
Mercyful Fate, Metal Blade
Reviewed by Ben
Archive review

Since no one reading this here review of a twenty year old reissue compilation of forty year old demos is new to Mercyful Fate, I'm gonna swing into story time real quick. The past couple of weeks had me bemoaning the current state of Power Metal. As in, it's straight ass water. Luckily, I stumbled into the meaty riffs and ultra aggressive attitude of Jag Panzer's Ample Destruction album and its masculine overdriven metallic force had me wanting more. So much more. Well, Mercyful Fate came to mind and in the personal life of yours truly, Return Of The Vampire has a bit of special meaning to me. My first Mercyful Fate album was the then current Into The Unknown way back in 1997-ish. My metal comrade in arms lucked out and found Return Of The Vampire and Don't Break The Oath. These three albums were the soundtrack to many a gaming session. Even though Return Of The Vampire is an "odds and sods" type of collection release, this has definite sentimental value. I think it's probably the only type of collection like this in my massive (oh yea) library that has these types of feels associated with it. The only thing to kind of come close is Stratovarius' first Intermission album.

Demos, demos, demos! Return Of The Vampire is a nice collection of demos that predate the infamous self titled EP. Since the EP is well loved amongst the hardcore fans, these demos are more music in that early, raw format. All of these songs are from sessions in 1981, except for Death Kiss, the demo to A Dangerous Meeting which was done in 1982. Still, these are all early recordings from the beginning of the band. I must point out that while my complete disgust with the current state of Power Metal led me back to my roots, these demos here (as well as the EP) really show how Mercyful Fate influenced early black metal. These demos are, for lack of a better term, RAW AS FUCK. Guitars, bass, and drums are all live. Vocals and solos are overdubbed, but very minimally. You can really only tell on the vocals and at most there's a few vocal tracks in choruses. This is a far cry from Jari Maenpap unnecessarily ejaculating all over his console in Studio Sauna and having five million vocal tracks be birthed. Anyways, this type of extremely raw and abrasive production mixed with the occult themes and lyrics provide a truly authentic horror type of vibe.

Most of this album is previously released material. However, the introductory track is an eight minute mini epic that was previously unreleased, the unfortunately titled Burning The Cross. Thankfully, this has nothing to do with hooded shenanigans but instead, actual Pagans burning religious crosses to piss off the Christian God. Musically, this is amazing. There's a killer riff that makes me think of the vidya game Contra ever so briefly. It begins at the thirty five second mark and continues through the verses. Burning The Cross has many moving parts and ends on a really cool double guitar harmony solo spot. And when I say solo, I mean two harmonized guitars without any bass or drums to back them up. Return Of The Vampire would be revisited in the nineties when Mercyful Fate would reform with the largely "classic" lineup, but this is the earliest incarnation of the tune. The first half of the track sounds like a demonic bar band not too far removed from the undead mariachi group in the movie From Dusk To Dawn. There's a slow, slithery crawl with almost painfully simple drums but with a slight tinge of drunken swagger to give off that bar band vibe. The first guitar solo just reeks of weed smoke and I can see the goddamn coiled wires from the guitars to the amps ala old school Cream. Then, the group kicks into the next gear and the last half is a sweet and vicious give and take of loud shrieks, discordant solos for tension, and then ripping classic metal leads that invoke Judas Priest. Primitive, yet focused, this really sounds like a band in the studio for the first time. On A Night Of Full Moon is a lyrically different version of Desecration Of Souls. This is where the early black metal influences come into play. Here, the atmosphere generated by the haunting guitar, the bellows of King Diamond and his wolf howls are genuinely creepy. Now, when I say "haunting guitars" I mean Hank (or Michael) does this weird bendy thing to his string and it creates an otherworldly, theremin type effect. It can be the howls of a ghoul, or a summoning call to another plane, but one man, one guitar, and his amp create sounds that can be illustrated in the mind. When that raw and rough guitar riff kicks in, this just feels like something cool and scary could actually happen.

The rest of the tracks on this compilation are fairly competent and they all flow well together. Depending on what version of Don't Break The Oath you have, Death Kiss isn't that new to you, but I don't have the bonus track reissue so I'm glad to have it here. While the lyrics are completely different, there's still the prerequisite, "HUAGH," moment in the intro once the main riff kicks in. M.D.A. and You Asked For It make for a hard hitting one two outro of wailing traditional metal. I get slight Skull Fist vibes from the latter.

The main selling point of this compilation would be the unreleased epic, Burning The Cross, and to have more music that captures the feel of that first EP release. Since this Return Of The Vampire has quite a bit of sentimentality attached to it, this is definitely something to turn to when one needs an uncompromising fix of metal. When one finds themself under assault from shitty, plastic, non aggressive, overproduced buttmetal, refuge in the infernal embrace of Mercyful Fate is only a short spin away.

Killing Songs :
Burning The Cross, On A Night Of Full Moon, Death Kiss, You Asked For It, A Corpse Without A Soul
Ben quoted no quote
Other albums by Mercyful Fate that we have reviewed:
Mercyful Fate - Melissa reviewed by Adam and quoted CLASSIC
Mercyful Fate - In The Shadows reviewed by Shane and quoted 76 / 100
Mercyful Fate - Don't Break The Oath reviewed by Jeff and quoted CLASSIC
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