Denner’s Inferno – In Amber (Album Review)

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Retro is definitely the way to go.

For those well versed in the mythos of early 80s heavy metal, the name Michael Denner will be inevitably tied to the legacy of Mercyful Fate and the early, highly consequential studio offers of said band’s iconic front man King Diamond in a solo artist capacity. What is perhaps not is well known is that there is a fairly extensive that predates the release of the iconic debut dubbed “Melissa”, one that is heavily steeped in that mixed up era of sonic experimentation in the late 70s where punk, hard rock and heavy metal often converged. Of particular note was the short-lived predecessor to Denmark’s most forbidding musical export known as Brats, a band that was born out of the punk rock revolution of the 70s, yet found itself straddling a number of stylistic fences by the time of its 1980 debut, named after the same year no less, providing a sort of foundational wellspring from which the game-changing music of Mercyful Fate would ultimately flow.

Whether it is the result of a spontaneous moment of nostalgia during his golden years, this heavy metal guitar veteran has taken the opportunity to revisit the distant past that birthed his career, thus founding the fittingly named Denner’s Inferno. The resulting debut LP “In Amber” is a correspondingly intricate exercise in heavy metal primitivism, incorporating a smooth, hard rocking vibe that recalls the grooving swagger of a number of early players in the NWOBHM and beyond, with a particular tendency towards the methodical riffing character of Diamond Head, the harmonized lead guitar brilliance of Thin Lizzy, and even a mild psychedelic remnant imported from the mid-70s offerings of Black Sabbath and Rainbow. The music tends to have sort of a looser, jamming character to it relative to the somewhat more tight and disciplined metallic character of Mercyful Fate, but the greatest contrast comes with the vocal work of Chandler Mogel, who has more of a straightforward soaring tenor sound, being about as far from the flamboyant operatic persona of King Diamond as one could get.

Built upon a production style and general aesthetic that matches the popular retro feel of a growing number of early 80s epic metal and earlier 70s and 80s doom and psychedelic outfits following a similar mode as that of The Lord Weird Slough Feg, this album could almost be dubbed the right music at the right time for an old school elite looking to introduce the classic sound to a new generation. The presentation is a methodical one, but also highly organic, and emphasizes a sense of brevity and accessibility, rather than the drawn out epic songwriting character of a fantasy based outing by Rainbow or a number of similar minded outfits that came a bit later. Truth be told, there is a sort of mundane charm to many of these songs, embodied in such driving rock anthems like “Matriarch”, “Sometimes” and even the more drawn out “Run For Cover” that recaptures that middle ground between the aggression of metal and the more easy going, life fast and party hard vibe more ready exemplified in the rock genre.

“In Amber” Album Artwork

Then again, there is an eclectic character to how this album is structured as a whole that makes it feel more like a historian retracing a broader picture of metal’s past rather than a revival artist trying to recreate one isolated part of the old scene. The slow trudge and occasionally dissonant feel of “Fountain Of Grace” definitely has a doom metal with slight stoner tendencies sound to it, coming arguably a tad closer to that original sense of rocking despair that Black Sabbath first stumbled up on with “Hand Of Doom” and “Into The Void”, painted over with a slightly later lead guitar sound closer to later 70s Thin Lizzy. This same sense of haunting melancholy comes in at a slightly swifter tempo on “Veins Of The Night” and has a bit more flash to the guitars, but it ultimately exudes that same sort of doom demeanor. Perhaps the lone outlier that sort of wanders away from the doom vs. heavy metal dichotomy is the earlier rock infused, overt nod to The Beatles “Taxman (Mr. Thief)”, which almost sounds like it could have been written by Ethel The Frog as a b-side to their 1980 rendition of “Eleanor Rigby”.

Arguably the only real strike against this album other than it being a bit on the stripped down side is that it will likely run contrary to a number of expectations that some fans of Denner’s better known 80s work might be harboring. Anyone currently immersed in the present early 80s metal revival will more likely associate an album like this with the recent outings of bands like Eternal Champion, Tanith and Wytch Hazel than the sort of occult speed metal and crunchy metallic thunder of “Don’t Break The Oath” or “Abigail”. It sets out to establish something that is very much a relevant part of today’s metal scene, namely a back to basics approach to heavy metal rooted in traditions that might be considered either old fashioned or even passé in modern metal circles, but one that Denner himself had a very prominent role in pioneering about four decades ago. All the same, while playing and writing in a style that is generally considered old, he doesn’t sound a day over 25 while doing so.

Released by: SPV / Mighty Music
Released Date: November 15th, 2019
Genre: Heavy Metal

Musicians:

  • Michael Denner / Guitars
  • Flemming Muus / Bass
  • Bjarne Holm / Drums
  • Chandler Mogel / Vocals

“In Amber” Track-listing:

  1. Matriarch
  2. Fountain of Grace
  3. Up and On
  4. Sometimes
  5. Taxman (Mr. Theif)
  6. Veins of The Night
  7. Run for Cover
  8. Pearls on A String
  9. Loser
  10. Castrum Doloris
8.0 Very good

The slightly more reserved half of the famed Mercyful Fate guitar duo opts to go it alone with a more rustic, old school rocking metal vibe that reminisces upon the days before Melissa warned us not to break the oath

  • Songwriting 8
  • Musicianship 8
  • Originality 8
  • Production 8
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