King Diamond is one of the greatest and most important artists in the history of metal music. He is the main man behind two legendary and amazing bands, Mercyful Fate and King Diamond. During the 80s he was as iconic as Eddie or Helloween’s pumpkin. With that face paint and presence, his thing with the occult and the LaVeyan satanism but above all with his vocals that make him the absolute Love/Hate singer. In the 90s, the quality of his releases, whilst not reaching the alien heights of the 80s, remained always very decent (at the very least) to great, despite spending his inspiration between two bands. Today, his influence is finally self-evident since tens of musicians swear by his name and his persona has earned its rightful place in the metal universe but his musical legacy is not as known as it deserves. Of course, a lot of people have listened to many of his classic songs (Metallica certainly helped a lot with the Mercyful Fate medley on Garage Inc.) but this is an artist with one of the longest streaks of perfection in the history of metal (1982-1994, count them).
In today’s age the album format has suffered a massive defeat from the song-oriented model of mp3s and YouTube. No artist suffers a bigger injustice from this than King Diamond, where every release was a most exciting horror story, related through amazing metal, played by brilliant musicians (among the best in the scene, ever) and most importantly narrated in the infinite voices of King. Anyone can appreciate independently gems of gems like the self-titled track of Abigail or the famous hit of Sleepless Nights. But you really don’t know what you’re missing if you haven’t sat down and listen to one of their albums properly, following the lyrics, with concentration. It’s an experience.
Start here and don’t stop. And at some point we might talk about Mercyful Fate too.
Check Also: Voodoo, The Puppet Master
18 is actually 9
His most famous work, the first complete concept and without any hyperbole οr fanboyism, one of the best albums in the history of metal music. Musically it’s the bridge between the more straight heavy/power metal era of King and the following, more technical, more elaborate if you will, era. The beautiful album cover lures you in; atmospheric, image-rich horror. The intro immediately nails you with its cinematic efficiency and from then on the band and King write history. The production is one of those that justifies analog lovers, one of those that “they just don’t do ’em like that anymore”. As for King, he tells his really cool story, using dozens of channels, providing immensely dramatic tones and performances.
Incredible melodies, incredibly worked vocal production, not one vowel is not meticulously placed; just listen to that outro in Family Ghost! The band gives a master class in playing. Also, this is one of the flawless 10s in music. Not one second is unnecessary or flawed. You can find endless musicians talking about this album very fondly and about the impact of their listening experience. An eleven!
Check: With the booklet/insert and taking your time.
I bet you’re dying for a cup of tea
This is the second favorite album of music for this writer. The listening of this record happened ideally, as it should; with the vinyl, following the story (brilliant) as it unraveled through the lyrics, which came to life in a stupefyingly awesome way through this orgy of musical inspiration and technical perfection. Mikkey Dee on the drums goes completely wild, inspiring Mike Portnoy who states that it’s one of the top 5 works of the 80s and a milestone in metal drumming in general.
LaRocque drips incredible solos all over the place and Blakk follows suit as a most worthy companion, filling the huge void left by Denner. We may not have much to say about Hal Patino (bass) but the rest truly claim the gold in the metal universe – yes, they are THAT good. As for King Diamond, his is a different ballgame entirely than anything from that time or anytime really.
There is no other band or artist that even comes close to producing the atmosphere oozing here. And all this in scolding hot METAL, more technical than Abigail, equally PERFECT. An album that has (also) marked lives and listeners. Eleven.
Check: King’s letter before you listen to the album (booklet/insert).
Mercyful Fate on a new level
One step forward from “Don’t Break the Oath”. The album that was supposed to be the third Mercyful Fate release but ended up being the debut of King Diamond. You can draw parallels with the difference between “Number of the Beast” and “Piece of Mind” and in both cases the personalities of the changing drummers and the difference in sound production were equally important catalysts. Here however, Andy LaRocque is also introduced, replacing Hank Shermann, who in pursuit of glam commercial success with (just) Fate disappeared off the map. The leap in quality guitar-wise is spectacular because this is a guitarist the caliber of Criss Oliva or Adrian Smith and personally speaking, my absolute favorite metal guitarist. Along with the old school axeman, the most potent Michael Denner, they form one of the top guitar duos ever. Musically, we have the the album with the strongest King Diamond flavor ever, those unique vocal melodies with the masterpiece themes and an otherworldliness that you will not find anywhere else. Ten.
Check: “The Candle”, “Halloween”, “Dressed in White”.
Amon belongs to “Them”
Trying to submit a serious grading manifesto [in greek] (any references to tens and elevens is based on that article), I committed my biggest blunder as a writer for Metal Hammer. I wrote that this album is a 9. The only thing missing however, compared to previous releases, is the element of surprise and a couple of songs that are, let’s say, 8s. Other than that, the unreal streak of perfection continues. Mikkey Dee for the last time destroys everything, Andy LaRocque is going completely insane and composes micro-masterpieces in every song, the same is true for Pete Blakk (another one of the top duos in history, easily) and King, seemingly effortlessly, continues the story of “Them” and delivers the third consecutive concept masterpiece. Power, heavy, thrash, tech, prog, all of that and none of it at the same time. KING DIAMOND. Ten.
Check: “Sleepless Nights”, “At the Graves”, “A Visit from the Dead”
Another glass of wine to heat the blood of mine
The best metal album with a drum machine (or an electronic drum kit according to the official version), along with Crimson Glory’s Transcendence. What can I say, it’s a major advantage to have Snowy Shaw programming the thing. The last monumental album of the band (as in “Seventh Son…”) is 100% King Diamond and notably different from the previous albums (in terms of sound and composition). At the time, King suffered a major defeat by Roadrunner, who cut his budget considerably, did not really promote the album, there wasn’t even a tour. Going from the top artist of the company and a major factor for the growth of Roadrunner in the 80s, King Diamond saw Annihilator and Sepultura surpassing them in sales and so the label viewed the band as on the decline and not as profitable as to justify big budgets. And so the album was really treated unfairly. I mean it’s a crime against humanity that people have listened more to “The Graveyard” or “The Puppet Master” than epics like Behind These Walls and Eye of the Witch. An album that the worst song (if I had to pick one at gunpoint) is a masterpiece like Father Picard… well, it’s a ten. End of story.
Check: “Behind These Walls”, “Eye of the Witch”, “Insanity”.
Where is the power, where is the glory
What happened? Out goes the incredible drumming (could be a drum machine too although that’s pure speculation from my part). Out goes Pete Blakk, a monster axeman and his replacement Simonsen is just not up to par. It will be years before Mike Wead joins and a worthy guitar duo to the history of the band is formed again. LaRocque, for the first time in his career, is rather out of shape, probably having spent his juice on Death’s Individual Thought Patterns (where he shines). A mediocre production, few channels given to King and the compositions… Actually quite wonderful, the material is perhaps not as spectacular but the problem is it suffers from the lackluster roster and the sense that you are listening to the demo of a great album. Ears that haven’t dwelt upon the preceding discography will surely wonder what my problem is and the same can be said about The Graveyard. Well, they are brilliant albums for the time they were released and compared to works of mere mortals but they are inferior works for the titanic magnitude of King Diamond.
Mercyful Fate are in a much better shape than King Diamond for two albums (“In the Shadows” and “Time”, 1993 and 1994 respectively). I personally love the album but it took me some time to come to terms with it. At the same level (7 that is) are “The Graveyard” and “House of God”. Good albums however that are more than worth your time, while “Voodoo” (1998) and “The Puppet Master” (2003) are essential, in my humble opinion the band’s best albums since the golden era.
“The Complete Roadrunner Collection 1986-1990”
If we’re looking for the worst King Diamond album, then it’s a battle between “rather good” albums, which is a slap-in-the-face description for a band of King Diamond’s caliber, but keeping in mind that these albums floored a lot of people and have a lot to offer to the listener. I’m talking about “Abigail II – The Revenge” and “Give Me Your Soul Please”. I personally vote for Abigail ΙΙ, because it’s an album mediocre for the band’s class (decent though), the story continues with an extremely annoying twist and in any case, THEY JUST SHOULDN’T HAVE. But speaking practically, you should definitely avoid this shameless cash-grab by Roadrunner, no matter how enticing its price. Because to sell THOSE albums without booklets and lyrics means that you are an UTTER IDIOT.
“In Concert ’87: Abigail”
Best cash-grab ever
King left Roadrunner for the reasons mentioned. So the label begun releasing cash-grabs to fulfill contracts, because the brand name, although not as hot as Sepultura, could still produce some dough out of nothing, starting with this live and finishing with the utterly useless (except for the beautiful Andreas Marschall drawn cover) best-of compilation, “A Dangerous Meeting”. So, a cash-grab; a completely raw live, an official bootleg to be exact, which without any processing and a quick cover thrown in, is the band’s first official live release. The 1997 version (from the “gold editions”) is the superior one, since there was a rudimentary mastering done and some of the muddiness of the original was cleaned. King condemned the released and rather harshly too. The rest of us however bowed in reverence. 100% genuine and 100% astounding. Enormous class, flawless setlist (inevitable; was there a bad song in his career at that point?) and while you may hear some mistakes, some struggling and some hoarseness in King’s voice from time to time, he more than makes up for it with his infectious presence as a frontman and with his overall performance really, which is impressive at the very least. Real stuff and one of the best metal lives ever. A ten. A fanboy’s ten though.
2004’s Deadly Lullabyes is really good and very rich in material but in 1987, as we said, the band was among the crème de la crème of metal. It is also the only release that you can hear Michael Moon on the guitar, who had replaced the giant Michael Denner on tour.
“Abigail – 25th Anniversary”
The most special
There is no way I would recommend one of the box sets. They are all worthless and a disgrace for the record labels releasing them. Decade of Horror contains the 4 albums King Diamond released on Massacre records (“Spider’s…” to “House of God”) on picture discs. Plain, without the lyrics. Congratulations Massacre, you’ve also outdone yourself. Roadrunner’s criminal shame can be seen in the “AVOID” section because it is the same crime committed upon pinnacles of the human civilization.
Personally I would recommend the “gold editions” of the Roadrunner era masterpieces, as they have bonus tracks (the best can be found on “Fatal Portrait”; The Lake and No Presents for Christmas, both amazing). Other than those however, I have chosen the special edition of “Abigail” for its 25th anniversary. Along with the gold edition bonus tracks, it also includes a DVD with the 3 (uber-cult) official videos of the time (Family Ghost, Welcome Home, Sleepless Nights) as well as a concert from 1987. Now that is a package that is not insulting to the fan.
“Songs for the Dead”
(Metal Blade, 2019)
King Diamond returned to action with two live appearances in 2012 and slowly increased the number of concerts until 2015, when he embarked on a tour for the next 2 years, playing an infernal setlist that included not only some choice cuts from his entire career but also the entire Abigail album. From that tour came the only official DVD of the band until this day, Songs for the Dead. It’s a double DVD, featuring two complete concerts with an identical setlist; one from the Graspop Metal Meeting in Belgium and one from Philadelphia, USA, which is the better of the two and the one that is on the accompanying CD and the double vinyl. I don’t see any particular reason to give the same setlist twice, I would much more prefer a DVD with the goodies from the abandoned (?) “At the Graves” but I can’t say that I’m frustrated over it either.
The sound is exceptional, the band above reproach and the vocal performance is unreal. And I literally mean unreal because I suspect some studio magic on some of the vocals, apart from the support provided by his wife Livia. But since we are talking about the King here, we can easily overlook this because the final result is truly magnificent, including the whole setup of the stage.
Bonus from the original text: A video that was never (or yet?) released
“At the Graves” (?)
(No idea, ?)
For many years we were waiting for a DVD by the band (and another by Mercyful Fate) but until now we haven’t been graced with them [note: this was written in 2013], despite the many promises. We came close once, Massacre had given a date of release (March 2009), a title (“At the Graves”) and information: Triple(!), with three concerts (1987, 1990, 1997), backstage stuff…. 10 years (at least) since it was first talked about, we are still waiting. Much of the material was old and needed to be cleaned up and processed. Then, a better way to process was found and they started over. In the meantime, King’s back problems knocked him out of action and when that got better, the heart surgery happened. Now, that he has finally returned, the whole thing must start over but “after the new album”
Note on the text:
This article was originally written for the Greek Metal Hammer, in 2013. It was meant for the Sign of the Hammer column, where selected cuts from a band’s discography are presented as a buying guide, divided into the essential masterpieces, the recommended, the alarming/ones to avoid and the special editions. For various reasons, mainly my inability to follow deadlines, the publication got postponed until I finally left the magazine due to lack of time and the load of normal work, so the article was left in the drawer. Metal Hammer published a lovely guide by my esteemed colleague Panos Faropoulos, so I left the article to rot as unnecessary. 7 years later, after meeting with director Alex, under the general euphoria of discussing metal and the bliss of a wonderful Beer o’ Clock burger, I could not refuse the request, so I hand it to the public slightly retouched and enhanced but keeping the basic stucture of the original.