Hank Shermann Talks About Early Mercyful Fate Days, Reunion Hopes + Guitar Influences
We had the chance to talk with the legendary Hank Shermann, half of the namesake of his new band Denner / Shermann with Michael Denner, both of whom enjoyed massive success in Mercyful Fate. In the first part of our interview, Shermann discussed his new EP, Satan's Tomb, and the writing process for the debut record. Here, the guitarist took the time to talk about the early days of Mercyful Fate, the possibility of the band reuniting and his biggest guitar influences.
Mercyful Fate are still under contract with Metal Blade for one more album. King Diamond has been busy on the road, but there's talk of a new album. Back in July of last year Metal Blade founder Brian Slagel and King were on Eddie Trunk's podcast and Brian said he will make sure that there will be Mercyful Fate stuff - more specifically Mercyful Fate shows. Since then, has there been any discussion between everyone about anything like that?
Not anything like concrete in thought at all. Since Mercyful Fate has a legendary status, because we created something new at the time, of course there are a lot of fans that want to experience the band live or at least hear a new full length album. It is right that we have a contract with Metal Blade and still have one album left, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it will be executed.
I can only hope that one day it will happen at least for the fans' sake because we have a strong following and they're really loyal to the band. We have fans that have been there since the early '80s, when we started, and still to this day.
Me and Michael have Denner / Shermann, our first priority. King is like, having a real cool comeback after his trouble, so he's really doing a fantastic job right now going out with the Abigail concert tour. Now they're going to work on a full length King Diamond LP. So let's see what happens after all of that. Maybe there's a timeframe opening up or maybe it feels right. If it doesn't maybe next year it might be interesting. It could be, let's say, a special event concert or what not. But like I told others before you, I cross my fingers that one day it will happen, at least for the fans' sake.
Your playing style is instantly identifiable across everything you've done over the years, which brings us back to why you named the band Denner / Shermann; it's your brand. What about those first two Mercyful Fate albums that were so influential? What do you think makes them so untouchable across all the metal albums?
I remember we started, King joined the band in very late 1980. We were still named Brats at that time. We had a show in Sweden on March 7, 1981, where we were called Brats. Shortly after there we changed the name, we changed the members so me and King went out alone and hooked up with Michael and Timi [Hansen, bass] and all that, then eventually we were called Mercyful Fate. That happened towards the end of March in 1981.
I was doing all the music at that time, so I just kept composing, kept composing because I loved to compose. Get up in the middle of the night. I remember when I did “Satan’s Fall” that was maybe within a week or two. Every night until 3AM, I was sitting with my guitar and then taking, finding the next part. Back to bed and up again. That was cool.
I think since there are no filters, there was no restrictions, I didn't think into anything ‘wow this is too melodic, this is too heavy, too pop-like.’ I think that's part of the recipe as well because when I compose now, when we do Denner / Shermann, I think too much into everything. If anything tends to get too melodic, that's not good, but when you hear old Mercyful Fate songs, some of the parts are so melodic and so Americanized, AOR types of chord progressions, that I'm sometimes pretty surprised when I listen back to it. But I think that's also part of the charm, we had a lot of evil parts then suddenly very melodic then of course King's unique vocal arranged and singing style. Then you have Michael Denner, a unique drummer that blended all different types of drumming techniques from different genres. Anything from bossa nova, Jazz, disco, heavy metal, rock, everything.
Then you have a crazy bass player with Timi Hanson. One of his idols is Steve Harris of Iron Maiden. So to bring all these people in the same room, that's what happened, what you hear on Mercyful Fate albums there. I think King's signature vocals is a big part of it, but also the song structures because that was not heard at that time.
Who are your three biggest guitar influences?
My goodness. I divide them into… you have composers, guitar composers and then the lead guitar players like the really cool ones. But mainly, Michael Schenker from all the UFO from the ‘70s is like, fantastic. Uli Jon Roth — it’s like over-godly with all the Scorpions stuff especially Virgin Killer from 1976. Also, his electrics on … because Uli is very serious, every note he plays is fantastic. He's not just jamming. He's fantastic. Then Ritchie Blackmore and all those guys, Yngwie Malmsteen when he first launched himself, that was pretty impressive. The first Van Halen album, I really like Eddie's playing there. I would say that Michael Schenker and Uli Roth, Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore are probably my four lead guitar player favorites. As for composers, I really like Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest. He has done so many cool riffs. I think I was slightly inspired from [that], especially ‘70s Judas Priest.
Our thanks to Hank Shermann for the interview. Pick up Denner / Shermann’s ‘Satan’s Tomb’ EP at iTunes.
Listen to Denner / Shermann, "Satan's Tomb"
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