Enter The Inferno: An Interview w/ Michael Denner
We were fortunate enough to sit down with Michael Denner (Mercyful Fate, Denner’s Inferno, Brats) to discuss his 40+ year career as one of metal’s most legendary guitarists.
BW: Did you ever expect back in the Brats days that you’d be a household name for heavy metal maniacs decades later?
Michael Denner: I had hopes and I had a feeling that we had something special going on, cause there were not one single band in Denmark who played the music we did back then and got it released on a big label (CBS).
How important were the bands you played in (Lucifers Airship, Iron Space, Starchaser) during the pre-Brats years to the development of your signature guitar assault?
In the first years I had no idea who I was as a guitar player, the catch was to play loud music and to be the lead guitarist no matter what, I had my heroes back then, Page, Blackmore etc. but the first time I wanted to develop a style was when Schenker, Frehley and Uli Roth got my attention, around 1975, so it started to take form from Starchaser and forward.
When did you start to realize how much of an influence your guitarwork was on the genre?
Very late in my career actually, when many people started to question my absense in Mercyful Fate and how they missed me, that gave me the will to return, I did not play seriously for five years 97-02 and sold or gave away a lot of my equipment, but my status as an influential guitarist have increased during the last ten years, mainly cause I’ve been very active involved in many many releases.
As a follow-up to the previous question, do you ever listen to a new band and hear yourself in it?
For the last year or something I’ve been listening a lot to Swedish hard rock and metal releases from new bands, and there are some of them I would love to jam with.
Has any newer metal or rock influenced your music at all?
I do listen to new metal and hard rock every day, as you know I run a record shop in Copenhagen, and of course there will be something here and there that will inspire me to do my own stuff, but I never sit with my guitar ad try to copy anyone anymore, I did that in the 70’s.
What is it about heavy metal that keeps you coming back for more, even as you explore other genres in your various projects?
Heavy Metal is like medicine for me, the feeling in your heart and soul when you hear a great riff, a drum beat, a good vocalist and a beautiful guitar solo is priceless, and for me a life-long love affair to a genre that gave me everything.
The new material is much more hard rocking than most of your more metal-rooted fans would expect—though of course, this wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with your wider discography, or Denner’s Trickbag, which came before Denner’s Inferno. What led to the inspiration to explore rocking roots these last few years?
The main reason, is simply my taste in music, the bulk of my record collection is heavy rock from the 70’s, so this time I gave this important version of music I love a go, but of course with a twist of my past to go along with it.
Are there any rock bands you would recommend to metal fans that have never got into anything softer than Black Sabbath or Judas Priest?
Oh yes many bands, Led Zeppelin,Uriah Heep, Trapeze, Captain Beyond, Deep Purple, Boston, Kansas, The Sweet, Nazareth etc. etc.
You have a very distinctive style of guitar playing in everything I’ve heard you in, right from the early Mercyful Fate days. Is this intentional or something that seeps through regardless of what you’re writing? How does one maintain and develop a personal sound?
You maintain a style if you play long enough and stay true and satisfied with what you do, I know I developed my style cause this is what I like to hear from a guitarist, and I’m able to play it, I play with legato and bend the strings to give it a bluesy tone, during the years it has been a trademark for me.
How did you first meet Chandler and end up getting him involved in Denner’s Inferno?
I searched for the right singer for a long time, one day Michael A from my record company told me about a singer he heard on the net that would fit perfectly for my songs, I heard him and knew in a second that this was the one, I contacted Chandler, and we clicked right there, Chandler is professional and very easy to work with, he has a broad range of vocals and an ear for melody, and as a bonus a true gentleman.
Chandler has been involved in projects on both coasts of the United States, Greece, and now with you in Denmark. Did he relocate closer to you, or is some aspect of the band a long-distance project?
Well New York is only six hours away, so it’s not a big difference for us to run it, and the fact that it’s part of his job as a full time singer to travel.
At what point did you start to get an inkling of the power that the internet gives to musicians? Did you ever imagine that something like that would be possible before it actually happened?
No it took me a while to get used to and digest, there are pros and cons here, the net is overflooded with people who makes a small fart and expect to become superstars in a week or so, but on the other hand; a platform for real talent to get recognition, and for artist to share thoughts and their music big scale.
You’ve mentioned that the first Brats record had a lot of punk influence partially because of CBS insisting on it. Did you ever again after that take guidance from labels on what to write?
No never, I’ve always been open for suggestions concerning art work and sequence of album tracks, but complete artist control is the only way for me.
What distinction is there between Denner’s Inferno and Denner’s Trickbag? Aside from Flemming and yourself the lineup and the name are now different.
Trickbag was a band I did for fun with old friends from my neighborhood, to play old obscure cover songs, we played some small live jobs, a record company came to one of these gigs and signed us to do an album, and we did and folded shortly after cause the guys were not into the business part. So I gave it some thoughts, and continued with Flemming and made a new band with original songs to go with it.
When did you first meet Bjarne? You worked together as early as the ’80s with Zoser Mez, and have been doing stuff with him off and on ever since.
The first time I met Bjarne was in the late 70’s, He played in a symphonic prog rock band called Spectrum, and someone invited me to their rehearsal room, as far back as 1982, I tried to hire him for Mercyful Fate but he was busy with his own band, we had a beef with Kim Ruzz at that point, but we solved it afterwards, but yes I’ve done many things with Bjarne, he has the gift and works fast, effective, with a wonderful spirit.
Speaking of Zoser Mez, do you think that Vizier of Wasteland will ever get reissued properly on vinyl? Do you have anything you’d like to say about the band in retrospect?
Zoser Mez was very much Hank’s return to Heavy metal and directly the reason why we reformed Mercyful Fate, it was re-released some years ago with bonus tracks, but only on CD, I hope some company will release it on vinyl soon.
Will there ever be another Zoser Mez show?
No, it’s history, but great fun when we had it.
Do you still write lyrics at all like you did for some of the early Mercyful Fate stuff?
No I have a good friend who help me with much deeper lyrics these days, my poet Jesper Harrits.
You gave a public statement that you would need a good explanation from long time co-conspirator Hank Shermann to consider being a part of any future Mercyful Fate activity; does this similarly affect Denner / Shermann, your most recent collaboration with him?
First of all they would not even consider to ask me, that would make them look foolish, and no there will be no more Denner/Shermann.
Why did you decide to do a physical-only release of a couple of the songs from the upcoming Denner’s Inferno debut as an EP just a few months before the album release?
The wait was unbearable, so i needed to release the video and EP sooner,and to give something extra for the fans.
What are some of your favorite classic heavy metal releases that you found crate digging back in the day? I imagine with running the record store you had more opportunities than most at the time to hear new stuff!
I found many great records during my time as a seller, everybody wanted CD’s in the 90’s, so i kept on buying vinyl collections for small money, many people thought I was crazy, but who’s laughing now, the vinyl boom is explosive these days. Some of my greatest findings are original pressings of labels like; Vertigo and Harvest etc.etc. Progressive and heavy stuff from 70’s in general are always on my want list.
How did your guest appearance on Artillery’s “Penalty By Perception” come about?
The Stutzer Brothers are old and dear friends of mine, Michael and I have almost the exact taste in music, and we have close contact on a weekly basis so when Artillery asked me it only took a split second to say yes, and I really enjoyed to play on their album.
Do you follow modern heavy metal at all still?
Oh yes I follow heavy metal closely and order many new releases for my shop, my son is into black and death metal so he plays stuff to me I would never had heard if not for him, very educational I must add.
Do you have anything else you’d like to talk about or promote?
I’m planning a European tour for Inferno in spring 2020, hope to see you along the way.