Before King Diamond
was screaming horror stories about demon embryos and haunted houses, he was the frontman of an influential band called Mercyful Fate
. Mercyful Fate was a big part of what would come to be known as the First Wave of Black Metal
, along with Celtic Frost
among others. Their best known album came out in 1984, and was called Don't Break The Oath.
Though completely unknown to the average music fan and even the average metal fan, Don't Break The Oath has proved to be a very enduring album. The website Rate Your Music, has a feature that allows visitors and users to see the most highly-rated albums on the site of any given year. The list for 1984 has Iron Maiden's Powerslave at number ten, and Metallica's Ride The Lightning at number five. When discussing either metal band, those two albums are often suggested to be their best works, respectively. Don't Break The Oath is third.
First Wave Black Metal is a self-explanatory term. King Diamond was one of the earliest users of facepaint in black metal, though bands like KISS and Alice Cooper had been doing it for years. Don't Break The Oath had all the trappings of black metal: relatively cheap, wall-of-sound production; fast, chugging, distorted guitars; high, shrieking vocals; Satanic themes. In the 80s, King Diamond aligned himself with LaVeyan Satanism, which is not devil worship, but is certainly anti-Christian. The song "The Oath" holds the words "I deny Jesus Christ, the deceiver," and while King wasn't speaking for himself during the album, there can be no argument that it is anti-Christian.
Like most of King Diamond's later solo work, Don't Break The Oath is a concept album dealing with the occult and paranormal. However, unlike "Them" or Abigail, this one doesn't tell a concrete story, or if it does, it's terribly convoluted and difficult to follow. Images usually associated with Satan and witches abound. Trying to unearth a narrative from the songs, similarly themed as they may be, is probably futile. Of course, straightforward stories are not the only way to communicate truth or entertainment. The songs work perfectly well on their own. The first and last tracks do an adequate job of summing up the sound and tone of the album, and are both classic songs for Mercyful Fate and early black metal.
Don't Break The Oath is lying in one of those nooks of overlooked music history, and any black metal fan who doesn't at least know about it is woefully uninformed. Light some black candles, carve a pentagram in your forehead, and listen to this.
1. A Dangerous Meeting (5:10)
2. Nightmare (6:19)
3. Desecration of Souls (4:54)
4. Night of the Unborn (4:59)
5. The Oath (7:31)
6. Gypsy (3:08)
7. Welcome Princes of Hell (4:03)
8. To One Far Away (1:31)
9. Come to the Sabbath (5:19)
Don't Break The Oath - Mercyful Fate - 1984 - Roadrunner Records