He's been mocked to within an inch of his dignity down the years, but one thing that King Diamond has is presence — loads of it, from his window-shattering, off-the-scale vocals, to that fucking big crucifix of bones that seems to travel everywhere with him. What's more, for as many as there that scoff at him, there are equally as many who regard him as a living legend.
And oh how MERCYFUL FATE man Hank Shermann and former MF guitar partner Michael Denner could do with a dose of the Diamond factor now as they shamble ahead with this band and self-titled album, their new full-time concern while King decides what he wants to do next. The man-who-would-be-king, so to speak, in the FOE ranks is Martin Steene (formerly vocalist with Danish metallers IRONFIRE), and quite frankly he's not up to the task as his characterless voice flat-lines across the tracks with very little in the way of atmospheric shifts.
But it's not as if he's the only glaring aberration here. Where once an earful of the twin Denner/Shermann axe attack could floor you with its darkly melodic brilliance, now you're left to listen carefully so you don't miss the good bits — the weeping Eastern-style harmonies towards the end of "Eye Of The Storm", the stylishly spiteful sprawl of riffing in "Samhain" that evokes memories of the "Melissa" era, the baroque bluster of "Under The Blade" somewhere around its mid-point. To reiterate, we're not talking about the merits of entire songs here, but literally a passage that might stretch out for a minute at the most. Yes, large portions of "FOE" do bear the stylistic hallmarks of the FATE, but there are great swathes of below par dross here within that remit.
As much as it's this reviewer's policy not to dismiss music as dated just because it might be rooted in the traditions of the past, "Force Of Evil" does a really good job of sounding old and tired. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the production does not have to be this flat and meek in the name of clarity, or for whatever reason. Punchy? The mix on "Force of Evil" barely possesses the power to tickle. And secondly, many of the songs are just too generic and bland, surely, to be associated with the hands of Denner and Hermann. Take plain old power-thrashers "Hell On Earth" and "Mindbreaker" as perfect examples. That they actually open the album is probably not the best creative decision these guys have ever made.
Nevertheless, Shermann has clearly indicted that if and when King calls to do another FATE album, the frontman will have to work around the guitarist's schedule. Given the gulf in quality between the two bands, he may wish to have a re-think.