DENNER’S INFERNO – “This Is The Price That KING DIAMOND And I Have To Pay”
November 17, 2019, a month ago
Yes, so let’s get that out of the way first, shall we?
Michael Denner is of course one half of the legendary guitar team that fuelled the immense Mercyful Fate, from the classic early albums Melissa and Don’t Break The Oath to the reunion in the ‘90s—at least the first half of it. And there’s the rub, sort of, why we aren’t seeing Denner as part of the Mercyful Fate reunion set to slay 2020.
I mention that Michael was half of it, appearing on the first three Mercyful albums of the ‘90s but not the latter two. In his stead King Diamond had at his side Mike Wead, who Michael endorses fully as a great player and worthy. But with Wead as part of the reunion (the other guitarist is Hank Shermann, who is on every album), King is calling this more of a continuation than a reunion.
In any event, there’s more to the story, says Denner. “Yes, well, King and I lost contact some years ago now. Hank and I did the Denner Sherman record. We had got this artist who did the original covers for Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath, and we did a cover for the new stuff, the two albums. We did Denner Sherman and King saw them and got upset about it because they were too close to the originals. And somehow I understand. I can understand, but there’s no need to make a big issue out of it. And I said, ‘Hey, relax, man,’ and he got very upset after that and we lost contact. So this is the price that he and I have to pay now for that small argument.”
Seems like a pretty minor quibble, to cause such a big rift. “Yeah, it’s a really, sad, sad thing. The first two weeks after I got the news, I was in shock. I was sitting in my sofa just looking out… yeah (laughs). And it was really tough. Because I didn’t expect it. It came as a shock for me. But I got used to the thing, and now it’s just time to move on. I have a great album out very soon, and a good band, and feel good about myself, and I’m in touch to be able to do touring and I’ve already started writing songs for the next album, the next Inferno album. So I’m quite happy where I am, and I just wish the guys the best of luck with what they’re going to do. I mean, cool.”
What Michael is referring to is In Amber, the first record from his new configuration, Denner’s Inferno. The band consists of Denner, bassist Flemming Muus, Mercyful drummer Bjarne T. Holm and one Chandler Mogel in the all-important vocal slot.
Explains Michael on finding Chandler, “The thing is, I started doing all the basic stuff for the new album, and I started with different singers. I tried Danish singers. I tried to get a hold of some big Swedish singers who were in bigger bands and they were too busy. They said, ‘Thanks, Michael; it’s an honour, but I’m busy doing my own stuff.’ So I sat down and said what the hell am I going to do now? Because I could sing it. I could try sing the songs myself, but it doesn’t sound that great.”
“So what I did was, I got the guy from the record company, Michael, who runs the record company, and he said, ‘Mike, I found the right singer for you.’ He found him on the Internet, and he played me some of the pieces and I said, wow, this is the guy. Even though he is some years younger than me, he had the feeling for the ‘70s vibe that I really appreciated a lot. So I talked to the guy, and he told me his big heroes were the guys from Deep Purple and Uriah Heep and so on, David Byron, Glenn Hughes, Coverdale and so on, so I said, wow, he fits perfect, like a hand in glove. So I sent him the stuff I sang on my songs, and he copied the things I had done, but he made it so much better than I would have ever done it. So it worked out perfectly. He was a very, very easy guy to work with; it went so smooth.”
As for the general vibe of the In Amber record, its motivations and inspirations, well, the clue can be found in the three covers on the album: “Matriarch” by Montrose, “Loser” by Trapeze and “Taxman, Mr. Thief” by Cheap Trick (the other seven are groovy, retro originals, with some of it leaning prog). Denner comes by all those more than honestly. After all, how many people quit being a musician because their real dream is to run a record store?
“I’ve always been a fan of the obscure ‘70s hard rock, these bands, and I have a huge collection of records,” says Michael. “These obscure cover songs are more or less… I did my own versions and put some heavy riffing below some parts. I stretched the lead guitar pieces and added to some themes and added my own signatures guitar parts. It’s also as a tribute to these more or less unknown bands, to say thank you for inspiring me doing my time as a guitarist.”
“Cheap Trick… it might be a bit odd compared to the rest of the songs on the album, because Cheap Trick connects more with pop radio-oriented hits and so on like ‘Surrender.’ But for me, the very first Cheap Trick album is produced by Jack Douglas, and it’s deeper and a bit more heavy compared to what came afterwards. Plus before Cheap Trick, they had a band called Fuse. I don’t know if you know that, but it’s one of my favourite albums. I really love that. It’s more Deep Purple/Uriah Heep type of music. So I’ve been a fan of Cheap Trick from the very beginning. And so I feel it was in its place to find a more obscure song by them, and put it on the record as a tribute, with my own version, my own signature stuff to make it more like mine.”
This philosophy extends to the classy cover art and the intriguing title of the record. “The thing is, sometimes you can find amber on the beach with preserved insects a million years old. So it’s kind of like a valuable piece with something hidden from the past, visible inside of it. It’s also a small tribute to Deep Purple In Rock (laughs), because for me, that’s the blueprint for heavy rock. I mean, I don’t want any comparisons with a legendary album like that, but I couldn’t help it. In Rock/In Amber… it’s a bit funny to call it that.”
“So again, I’m channelling my own personal taste. I have tons of bands who have inspired me from the early ‘70s. I mean, Blue Öyster Cult, Axis, Captain Beyond—which is my all-time favourite album, the first one by them—Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Uriah Heep with David Byron, Three Man Army. I could go on and on.”
Asked to point out a song he’s particularly proud of on the record, Michael says, “I’m very proud, actually, of all the songs, but ‘Fountain of Grace’ for me comes to mind, because I did the song way back in 1999. It’s been in my drawer for some time. We tried to do a version of it with the band Force of Evil, but Martin (Steene), the singer, he insisted on doing his own melody line on it, and I was quite disappointed when I heard the final results. So I kept it in my drawer, and so to be able one fine day to use it in the original version was very satisfying. Finally I was able to have a singer sing it the way it was supposed to be. No disrespect to Martin—he’s a great singer—but I preferred the old version, and this is what I did with it now. So I feel very happy about that.”
“But the other songs I got on the album, they show clearly what I’m about, my taste in music. And I do believe I’ve been on between 40 and 50 albums during my time, all kinds of different stuff, as a guest and as a performer. But this time around I really feel… Of course, many artists say, ‘This is the best one,’ but the new album is the best I’ve ever done (laughs). But for me it’s even more personal because it’s the closest to my own taste in music, what I like to listen to and hear when I’m at home relaxing, going through my old ‘70s rare obscure vinyl albums. This is very much in the vein of these albums. But I also add in Mercyful Fate, Force of Evil, Zoser Mez, whatever, inspiration from my own records, to spice it up with my own history.”
Crazy story on the lyrics though. “Yes, the lyrics on the new album are mainly made by Jesper Harrits, this guy who is a poet. But what he did, sometimes he goes so deep, I find it hard to understand what the deeper meaning is with some of his lyrics. But of course, I gave them to Chandler to sing and he cleared them. He said, ‘This makes perfect sense.’ So I feel quite confident that the lyrics are good.”
Denner’s talked about the bands that have inspired In Amber, but I wondered who got him and his Mercyful fate compatriots on the path toward making Melissa one of the most shockingly accomplished heavy metal debut albums of all time.
“The main thing was Judas Priest,” answers Denner. “I mean, Judas Priest were like our gods at that point. But it was with Les Binks—Killing Machine, Stained Class, these records. Also Sin After Sin, although the drummer was Simon Phillips, who did a fantastic job of the drums on that. But of course, we liked bands like Accept, and Overdrive from Sweden. And we knew these guys; some of these Swedish bands and so on. So we grew some kind of relationship. Also Evil from Denmark, with Evil’s Message. These guys… we were close to these guys. They lived just in the next neighbourhood. And also bands like Pretty Maids, even though they were from Jutland, the other part of Denmark, the west side of Denmark. We connected with these guys because there were so few people who were into that kind of music and played that style of music. There was a close friendship. And even to this day. Artillery are very close friends of ours. So we stayed in touch with the guys from the old days.”
Responding to the idea that Melissa just might have been the first huge record in terms of professionalism and the advancement of traditional metal since Sad Wings of Destiny—something I’ve always had stuck in my head since I first heard it back in 1983—Michael stammers, “Well, that’s… I’m very honoured that you say that (laughs), because Judas Priest for us were our gods at that time. They were so far ahead of anything else at that point. The closest you would get is maybe the Scorpions with Uli Roth at that point; they also did some excellent records. But Priest, I mean, from Sad Wings of Destiny upwards, up until British Steel, they made some brilliant albums. They were far ahead of the rest of us.”