Mercyful Fate is the greatest metal band, ever. Melissa and Don't Break the Oath are easily on par with Vol. 4 and Master of Puppets. Shermann and Denner have the most distinctive (and excellent) double-guitar riffing in the genre, and I recently named King Diamond as the greatest metal vocalist of all time. I defy you to find any issue of Decibel or Terrorizer that doesn't mention the glorious MF or KD. Try to argue with me, and you will come up with only four or five other bands that could possibly claim the title: Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Metallica, and maybe Celtic Frost. But each and every one of those bands has bad albums to their name. Not so for the great Danes.
Two bands have recently been recommended as Mercyful Fate sound-alikes: In Solitude and Portrait. They have quite a bit in common with each other besides that comparison. Both are from Sweden. Both are on Metal Blade. Both released their debut albums in 2008. And both released their sophomore albums (with verbose titles) this May.
First, I'll take up In Solitude and The World. The Flesh. The Devil. There are plenty of Fate-isms here. Primarily you'll find it in the work of frontman Pelle Åhman, who, like King, is the only one in his band to wear face paint. The lyrics about evil, demons, and sacrifice could easily have been penned by King, and the vocal phrasing is distinctly similar. In terms of range, Åhman doesn't shoot for the falsettos, but sounds a lot like King's mid-range, and also does the occasional growl.
Musically, however, there's not a lot that sounds like Fate. Some of the riffs do, or the transitions between riffs, but more often than not it's your standard NWOBHM fare. Once I got used to the idea that they're not the greatest band reincarnated, I got into the great hooks (especially "Serpents Are Rising"), riffs (especially "We Were Never Here"), and solos (all over the place). The first three songs are absolutely fantastic.
Then there's the awful "Poisoned, Blessed And Burned", which has nothing going for it, and they seem to have lost their way. "To Her Darkness" is the only great thing on the second half of the album. Other than that, they drag everything out too long, with 7, 8, and 14 minute songs that should be half as long as they are. When Fate penned the 11+ minute "Satan's Fall", they made it a true progressive composition. When In Solitude gets long-winded, they just string solos together over the same riff, or throw in a boring riff to change things up. That's not terribly exciting.
Compare that to Portrait and Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae. Their frontman doesn't wear face paint, but they proudly proclaim their love for King Diamond. And they absolutely sound the part.
Vocalist Per Karlsson doesn't have a voice that naturally sounds like King Diamond, and his phrasing isn't quite as spot-on. But the "praise Satan" lyrics and penchant for hitting a frightening falsetto are there in spades. Even without the natural ability, he properly evokes the King mood. That's the key.
Many of these riffs and leads could have been pulled from Fate songs. Album highlight "Bloodbath" is the perfect example, as it includes the "Desecration of Souls" lead at 0:30 and loads of Fate riffs. In fact, every song down to the instrumental "The Wilderness Beyond" sound like Mercyful Fate songs. And they're good ones. Plus, they know how to write a 9 minute song that works. Their only misstep along the way is an overlong acoustic outro on "Darkness Forever", but that's a small price to pay to hear this fantastic album.
The Verdict: No, they're not Mercyful Fate, but In Solitude are very, very good when they keep it restrained. But when they pass the 6 minute mark, things get dicey. I give The World. The Flesh. The Devil 4 out of 5 stars. On the other hand, Portrait really does sound like Mercyful Fate, and they do an excellent job of it--the first band to pull it off since MF and KD themselves. I give Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae 4.5 out of 5 stars.
I find in favor of Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae.