Inspirations (3)

(3) The Sherman-Denner guitar duo

It was back in ’87, when I first heard about King Diamond’s music. There was a radio broadcast, where full albums of famous heavy metal artists were streamed (strictly once in a month – as I said earlier, commies didn’t really like rock/metal music…). And… I must admit that listening to Fatal Portrait, the first solo release of King Diamond (1986) simply re-wired everything in my mind that I’d thought of music before. It was complex, dark and haunting – still, immensely beautiful and touching at the same time. The two pillars of this music was King’s extremely unique falsetto voice, and the tight and imaginative guitar work by the Andy LaRocque – Michael Denner duo. I recorded Fatal Portrait on a cassette and I listened to it so many times in a row that I went completely crazy and started to learn the riffs. At the same time, I tried to dig myself into the musical legacy of King Diamond, and it took only a couple of weeks to find out from the Metal Hammer Magazine (there was only an Austrian edition back in ’87, because in Hungary this magazine was released only from 1989) that King Diamond was previously the singer of a band called Mercyful Fate, where Michael Denner was working together with another guitar genius, Hank Shermann.

First I received Melissa (1983), the first Mercyful Fate album from a friend, and soon learned to play the guitar tracks of songs like Evil, Curse of the Pharaohs, Satan’s Fall or Melissa. The Shermann-Denner duo put so many riffs into a single musical entity that they resembled more to themes from a classical music masterpiece than to traditional rock songs. Satan’s Fall with its more than 11 minutes of playing time was the most complex musical construct of all their songs in their first release, fully packed with surprising and exciting tempo changes and harmonies. The tracks from their second release (Don’t Break the Oath, 1984) were slightly different but even more catchy: songs like The Oath or Nightmare were similarly complex as the tracks from the first album with their more than 7 or 6 minutes of playing times, respectively. The perfect cooperation between the two guitarists was also impressive, especially that they always brought up constant and unexpected guitar harmonies that simply blew the listeners’ minds. After the split between Sherman and Diamond eventually causing the end of the band’s first line-up in 1985, Fatal Portrait elegantly continued this original direction (however, without Hank Shermann, who was replaced by another guitar genius, Andy LaRocque in King’s solo band). This album still seems to me the more logical continuation of the music of Don’t Break the Oath rather than any of the Mercyful Fate releases in the 90’s.

Regardless how many hours I praise the legacy of the Shermann-Denner guitar duo, I probably won’t be able to stress enough their inestimable effect on the development of rock/metal music. The fact that I learned from them the method of building up song structures clearly determined the way of how I look on my songwriting process. I’m in love with unconventional song structures and frequent tempo changes: in this regard, the Shermann-Denner duo brought refreshing progressivity into metal music. Also, I love the harmony world of their complex dual riffs: I never stopped admiring the fascinating time signature in A Dangerous Meeting or the wicked harmony world of Black Funeral – in these regards, Fatal Portrait clearly builds on these noble traditions in songs like Lurking in the Dark, The Candle or Haunted. Although I never saw the Shermann-Denner duo live (Mercyful Fate is touring now with Hank Shermann and Mike Weed on the guitars), but I will never deny the substantial effect that they exerted on the concept of the “ideal music” in my mind.

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