I had the greatest Halloween night in 2014, at The Wiltern in Los Angeles, bearing witness to an event I’d feared I would never see again. King Diamond, the ghoulish metal demon who has fronted his own eponymous act for over three decades, was playing his first SoCal date in almost a decade after suffering a series of heart attacks in 2010. As a die-hard Diamond fan, I couldn’t have asked for a better return of the reigning King of horror-fied heavy metal than having him usher in my All Hallows’ Eve. It was a spectacular set, full of his trademark screeching falsettos and terrifying tales of the supernatural set to epic metal, with a stage design that started with massive glowing pentagrams and then got more devilish from there.
As a kid fascinated by heavy metal and horror, I was primed to be a King Diamond fan from the minute I heard him. But it didn’t start that way. When one of my hesher buddies tried to play me MELISSA, the debut release by King’s first band Mercyful Fate, I just couldn’t get into it.
I was way more into a cleaner, meatier thrash metal at the time and, to be blunt, King’s voice just didn’t sit right with me at first. It was a couple of years later, when I started to hear his solo work on THEM, that it started to click. “This guy is fucking scary and that’s the point.” I was already familiar with classic shock rockers like Alice Cooper, as well as the work Glenn Danzig had done in The Misfits, Samhain, et al, but nobody had really hit me as hard in the horror department as King Diamond and Mercyful Fate.
Being a King Diamond fan for so long, I am always game to proselytize on his behalf to all fans of horror and heavy metal. (With the oft-spoken caveat that it may take people some time to get into his voice.) The best part about King’s greatest work is that each album is its own novel, a tale of terror laid out in one magnificent metal concept record. Below I have listed what I think are his 5 most essential albums for any fan of the supernatural that also like to bang their heads to the music in their life. I’ve included choice tracks from each, as well as a couple of bonus tracks: a cut from Mercyful Fate’s debut and a track that he sang on Dave Grohl’s heavy metal side project PROBOT.
Though the rest of the entries flow in chronological order, I am starting with my favorite of his albums, THEM. The King’s third solo outing, released in 1988, it is the first of two albums about King (yeah, he’s a character in his albums) dealing with his disturbed grandmother and the hauntings in the ancestral home, known as the House of Amon. As a young boy, King, his mother, and sister welcome his grandmother back from a mental asylum. Almost as soon as she shows up, strange voices can be heard, things begin flying around the house, and Grandma is holding tea parties for “someone” no one can see…
What starts as simple spooky fodder quickly devolves into something far more sinister and disturbing, as the boy must contend with the titular THEM, the voices who control the House of Amon.
Just to give you a sense of how effective the second album by King Diamond is, Blumhouse’s own David Ian McKendry penned an article for the site called The Scariest Heavy Metal Album Ever Made! Seriously, I don’t even need to write anything else after the extensive coverage he gave the record.
In brief, ABIGAIL takes place in 1845 and it tells the tale of a young couple, named Miriam and Jonathan, who move into a mansion Jonathan has inherited. Their first night in the house, Jonathan is visited by the spirit of a deceased relative, who informs Jonathan that Miriam is carrying the spirit of the titular ABIGAIL, a stillborn infant whose death was caused during a fit of rage perpetrated by Jonathan’s ancestor. Possession, infanticide, madness…this is par for the course for the King.
Jumping ahead over a decade, 1998’s VOODOO is the King’s eighth album and, despite some initial financial success, has become one of the more underappreciated albums in his catalog. While the story isn’t as satisfying as those found on other King Diamond albums, it is one of his hardest and heaviest albums and deserves some recognition for wringing some scares out of its well-worn premise.
Only as problematic as you’d expect an album about voodoo culture to be from a Danish dude, VOODOO is about a family that moves to a house on the Mississippi River in 1932. The house resides next to a voodoo graveyard, where the house’s servant Salem takes part in rituals conducted by a sorcerer named Doctor le Croix. When the new residents learn of the happenings adjacent to the house, they conspire to destroy the burial ground and put an end to it all. It doesn’t take a dyed-in-the-wool horror fan to realize that it doesn’t turn out well for all involved.
THE PUPPET MASTER
Five years later, King released his eleventh album THE PUPPET MASTER and found himself with a new generation of fans enraptured by his macabre metal machinations. On this album, King is back as a character, except now he is contending with the nominal showman, whose perverse predilections lead him to cast his shows with the undead.
One of the great things about this album is that it highlights King’s weird affinity for Christmas, and how he twists the holiday’s iconography to suit his dark, slightly bent take on the world (see also his absolutely hilarious one-off single “No Presents for Christmas”). In fact, because the holiday comes up thrice throughout the album, this would make for a great Christmas alternative. King meets a woman after a Christmas show put on by The Puppet Master, only for both to wind up kidnapped by the man and his wife. What happens after that is a haunting and horrifying holiday experience for the lovers.
GIVE ME YOUR SOUL… PLEASE
It’s been over a decade since King Diamond released what is, to-date, the last of his albums, GIVE ME YOUR SOUL…PLEASE. Again, King is the main character in, what I consider to be, the most effective and entertaining of his albums next to the aforementioned THEM.
In this story, King (and his black cat, Magic!) is living in a mansion on Never Ending Hill, where he is being haunted by the spirit of a little girl on the hunt for a sin-free soul. Tormented by visions of disembodied heads and little girls in bloody dresses, he tries to use black magic to contact the spirit. It seems that the girl and her brother were murdered by their suicidal father. While she and her brother were awaiting judgment in the afterlife, her brother was mistakenly accused of committing suicide as well, therefore damning him for eternity. Now she must procure a clean soul before it is too late. Of course, the King ain’t no saint, so she must stoop to even more devious levels.