King Diamond‘s Abigail, which turns 30 on October 21, is one of those records that virtually every metal fan seems to have an opinion about. We’ll get to some of them in a minute. First, though, let’s discuss what I consider to be the two incontrovertible facts about the album.
Fact #1: Abigail marks the point where King Diamond became KING DIAMOND
That statement is meant neither as a criticism of the two full-lengths, Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath, that he recorded with Mercyful Fate (both of which are rightfully considered classics), nor of Fatal Portrait, the (somewhat uneven) first full-length by his eponymously named solo band. However, the King Diamond that fans revere like he’s their favorite spooky uncle was born with Abigail.
What’s the difference? Abigail was the first album where the man his mother (assuming she’s still alive) likely continues to call Kim finally, fully embraced his theatrical side. Yes, there has always been a degree of theatricality to his vocal style and image. And no, it wasn’t the first time he used narrative techniques in his songwriting. “Curse of the Pharaohs,” “Melissa,” and “Come to the Sabbath” all offer more compact examples of that narrative style, and the first five tracks on Fatal Portrait form the ‘short story’ from which the album takes its name.
On Abigail, though, King Diamond goes the full concept route for the first time in his career, and the end results sound like this was the album he had been waiting to make since he first started flirting with a theatrical stage persona with Black Rose in the late 70s/early 80s. With a slightly convoluted story involving Jonathan La’Fey (likely a nod to Church of Satan founder and author of The Satanic Bible Anton LaVey, of whom King Diamond is a well-documented admirer), his wife Miriam, and the ghost of a stillborn child named Abigail (if you don’t know the album’s full narrative and want to, check out its Wikipedia page – it’s a bit too much to try to summarize here), it contains some of the most enduring favorites in all of King Diamond’s discography, including “The Family Ghost,” “Black Horsemen,” “A Mansion in the Darkness,” and “Abigail.”
On a musical front, guitarists Andy LaRocque and Michael Denner shred circles around each other, pushing each other to heights that neither really ever reached again (though LaRocque’s work on Death’s Individual Thought Patterns certainly comes a close second). The same can be said for virtually every aspect of the album – Abigail stands as the undisputed high point of King Diamond’s catalogue, and is inarguably one of (if not THE) greatest concept album in metal history. Realistically, only Queensrÿche’s Operation: Mindcrime deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.
Which leads me to my second incontrovertible fact…
Fact #2: King Diamond has spent the rest of his career attempting to replicate the success of Abigail, with diminishing results.
For all intents and purposes, Abigail is King Diamond’s Citizen Kane. Admittedly, the analogy is slightly imperfect since Citizen Kane was Orson Welles’s first film. Aside from that, though, I think the parallels are striking: both Abigail and Citizen Kane are stone cold classics that set the bar so high for their creators’ future works that everything they did afterwards was doomed to pale in comparison. Welles made a handful of other well-regarded films like Touch of Evil and The Lady From Shanghai, but he never created another masterpiece on par with his debut, which is considered one of the greatest films in cinematic history.
The closest King Diamond came to replicating the success of Abigail was its follow-up, 1988’s “Them.” By then, however, Mercyful Fate holdovers Denner and bassist Timi Hansen had both departed the band. They were replaced by Pete Blakk and Hal Patino respectively, and those changes likely made it a bit more difficult for King Diamond to catch lightning in a bottle a second time. And the rest of his post-Abigail discography has been a series of occasional peaks and a whole lot of valleys. 1995’s The Spider’s Lullabye, another half-concept album, has its moments, as does 2003’s The Puppet Master. There have also been at least a couple songs each of his other releases that come close to capturing the old magic – even 1995’s The Graveyard, which is probably the nadir of his career. But most of the people who sing the praises of those albums are also probably the ones who have been down the King since the beginning, since they’re the ones most inclined to listen to them with sympathetic ears.
On a more personal note, I’m a bit too young to have gotten into King Diamond with Abigail. I was a sheltered 13-year-old Catholic school kid in October of ’87. I distinctly recall seeing ads for Don’t Break the Oath in the pages of the Hit Parader magazines I would read from cover-to-cover every month to keep abreast of the latest news on bands like Mötley Crüe and Dokken, and the cover art scared the shit out of me. Hell, at that point in my life Reign in Blood was a little too intense.
“Them” ended up being my first King Diamond album. I can still remember seeing the video for “Welcome Home” on Headbanger’s Ball for the first time, and how quickly my thinking went from “what the fuck is this?” to “holy shit, this is rad!” Within the week, I had bought “Them” on cassette, and it didn’t take me long to start working my way backwards. And while 14-year-old me may have still been rocking a mullet and hung up on bands like Def Leppard, Whitesnake, and Poison, I was somehow still able to recognize Abigail as a classic.
Fast-forward to the day after Thanksgiving 2015, when I’m standing in the crowd at the Aragon in Chicago, waiting to see King Diamond perform Abigail in its entirety. It was actually my first time seeing the King, and I went mostly because, given his still fairly recent triple-bypass surgery, I didn’t know how many more chances I’d actually get to see him live. Granted, I don’t have a point for comparison, but he didn’t seem like he’d lost a single step – he was in phenomenal voice, and the entire band, especially LaRoque and longtime second guitarist Mike Wead, were absolutely on fire. It’s not even remotely hyperbole when I say that it was one of the best nights of my life. And I like to think that at some point during that show, on some plane of existence where time is indeed a flat circle, 41-year-old me and 14-year-old me looked at each other, threw the horns, and banged our fucking heads until we both had whiplash.
In honor of the 30th anniversary of the release of Abigail, we asked not only our own writers, but people from the metal scene at large to share their feelings about the album. This is what they had to say:
Tiago Alexandre (Instagram music writer – @theghostwritter): Literal nightmares came to life as King Diamond, by candlelight on a dark and eerie night, developed a concept album full of paranormal events, numeric tragedies, and a messed up baby that goes by the name Abigail. A darkened tale surrounding the impending deadly fate of Jonathan and Miriam, wanderers looking for the best of times. Unfortunately, Trivago set them up in the worst place they’d imagine. As their lives get slowly taken away in this haunting tale of horrors, dramatically narrated by the only vocalist fit for the job–the Horror King himself–the couple eventually regret ignoring warnings of those who knew of the dread they would succumb to sooner than later. If this description doesn’t bring you back to this ultimate Halloween Classic, I honestly don’t know what will. Full of charisma and personality, Abigail is a defiant act of metal and music in general. It defined horror as much as movies and shows did for the future. King Diamond’s vocals truly shine as they flow through time, sounding unique and and shockingly perfect still to this day. The man has a true talent in him, not only for the chilling falsettos that rapidly became his signature move, but also for his writing and stor telling talents that are portrayed almost perfectly all throughout Abigail. It’s a timeless record, be it for people that witnessed its release or younglings like Abigail that only listened to it recently. Just don’t forget the nails for Halloween.
Sol Bales (Vocalist – Green Death): “I AM ALIIIIIIIIIIVE inside your wife!” I’m not sure if any line from any other song plays over and over in my head more than this line in Abigail by King Diamond – the title track to his 1987 masterpiece. This may be due to my iPhone auto-playing that track immediately after plugging it into my car (auto-play just happens to go in alphabetical order)…but that’s not the only reason. “Abigail” is easily one of the best songs in King’s catalogue. The entire album is phenomenal storytelling, and a complete show of dominance in musicianship. So many great tracks on this album – “Black Horsemen,” “Omens,” “A Mansion in the Darkness,” …the list goes on.
Abigail and King Diamond in general have had a huge effect on my writing. I try and develop a theme or concept on all our albums, mostly due to his influence. The great thing about his albums is that you are transported into the world he has created. Each one has a vibe in which you can really become immersed. His prowess for accomplishing this was perhaps at its peak on albums like Abigail and “Them.” On each of our own albums, I now strive to have that same effect on the listener, where they can really just sit with the album and soak it all in and shut the outside world off for a little while.
I must confess that I fell in love with King Diamond much too late in my lifetime. I think I started really getting into him and Mercyful Fate around 2011. For years, I just didn’t “get” the super high falsetto mixed with the Metal riffs. When I was younger, that stuff was just a little too odd for me, and I stuck to more traditional Rock, Metal, and Death Metal. When I was older, something clicked for me, and I suddenly “got” it. I suddenly questioned my entire existence and what the hell took me so long to understand the genius of his work. I had wasted so much of my life not listening to King Diamond, that I now worried there was not enough lifetime left to devote to listening to him. Okay, this is only partially true, but I really do love pretty much everything the man has done, and I’m glad I finally saw the light (or should it be darkness?).
There is no one like the King vocally -he is completely unique. I won’t only give the praise to him, but also to his band. The riffs are always on point, and the lead work is nothing short of legendary. The Abigail line-up was one of the best.
In 2012, we started dedicating each Monday to King Diamond with the creation of “KING DIAMONDAY,” where we basically just posted funny memes involving him on Instagram. The funny thing is, that it has caught on a little over the past five years (We hope he has a sense of humor if he ever sees them). We keep doing the King Diamonday posts to raise more awareness to his music. It’s easy to find some of the over-the-top theatrics and his over-the-top voice humorous, but if you doubt that the music should be taken seriously, I believe you are missing out on some of the best Metal in the past four decades.
Dustin Boltjes (Drummer – Skeletonwitch/Demiricous/The Secrecy, Vocalist – Sacred Leather/Iron Diamond): King Diamond… The man, the legacy. His voice, his theatrics. The embodiment of Heavy Metal and Horror. I’ve been an avid fan of his for quite some time. I can remember seeing his face as a kid and being completely terrified. He is such an incredible inspiration to me vocally, as well as theatrically. He is pretty much the reason I started singing. I wanted my voice to be able to do what he does, and from time to time I get to perform as King Diamond with my tribute band Iron Diamond.
If you love the King, as much as I do, then you should join Iron Diamond at The Hi-Fi on Nov 23rd, as we pay the ultimate homage to the King himself and play the Abigail record in its entirety. ALL HAIL THE KING!!!!
Chuck Brown (Guitarist/Vocalist – Apostle of Solitude): My first introduction to King Diamond was actually “Them,” not the legendary Abigail. And although I came from a Sabbath, Priest, and Maiden upbringing, the falsetto Diamond used took me aback, and it took me a minute to really appreciate what he was doing and had done and the talent it required. And when I dug deeper and realized he wasn’t just creating music, that he was creating whole stories and the music was just one part of it, I was forever a fan. Although Abigail wasn’t my introduction to the King it is none the less a fantastic place to start for any burgeoning metal head.
Nick Burks (Guitarist/Vocalist – Stonecutters): Abigail opened up a lot of doors for me. I grew up listening and learning the riffs and solos to prog rock bands like Rush and Yes. I was really drawn to how their songs were structured. Longer compositions, extended solos, odd time signatures, unique vocals, and lyrical themes interested me way more than what was popular on the radio. When I got into heavy metal, I wanted to find those same qualities I heard in prog rock. It’s funny actually, I was into Death before King Diamond. That’s where I discovered Andy LaRoque. I thought his playing on Death’s Individual Thought Patterns was phenomenal. I became obsessed and wanted to hear everything he’s played. That’s where I found Abigail. That record had all the elements I loved about prog rock but was way heavier. It showed me how to put a record together in way where it wasn’t just songs thrown together but a story through music. It was my first heavy metal concept album. Plus, every time I hear the solos on “The Family Ghost” it’s a reminder I need to practice more!
Reese Burns (IMV Dungeon): I wasn’t around during the 80s. I’m also not a 90s kid (unless being born in ’99 counts). My first taste of metal was Avenged Sevenfold, not Judas Priest or Iron Maiden. I spent my first formative years as a metalhead playing catch up with all the great music that came out this decade and didn’t dive into the wealth of 80s metal until much later. However, there was one name I kept seeing everywhere, usually preceded or followed by glowing praise: King Diamond. When I first listened to Abigail, something clicked. It was brand new to me, yet felt instantly familiar. I credit this to the ridiculous amounts of bands who have all tried so hard to mimic the sound on this album. After unknowingly listening to so many bands who’ve taken inspiration from the King, listening to the real deal was an eye-opener. It made me realize that they call him the King for a reason; no one does King Diamond better than King Diamond.
Abigail was his first concept album, and boy, what an introduction to the weird, wonderful world of the King Diamond mythos. By now, any metalhead worth their salt can tell you the story of Jonathan and Miriam by heart, but I remember pouring over the lyrics, scouring message boards for interpretations, reading poorly translated interviews, and, of course, jamming the fuck out of the album nonstop just to get myself just *that* much more immersed into Abigail‘s lore. While I don’t consider Abigail to be King’s crowning achievement (that honour goes to the mind-bogglingly excellent “Them”), it was my first dip into King Diamond’s twisted imagination, and it’s a landmark for musical storytelling. There’s so much about this album to love that you could pick any one of the songs on this album and write a 500 word essay about it. So much has been said about Abigail not only by myself and the others taking part in this massive retrospective piece, but by thousands and thousands of metalheads all over the world for the past thirty years. So by now, I don’t suppose there’s anything left for me to do but jam “A Mansion in Darkness” for the 1777th time…
Sam Coons (Contributing Editor): Let me tell you about the first time I heard King Diamond. Before giving his music a first listen, I had only heard low murmurs about his name. A King Diamond comparison would pop up in a review here, a metal artist would mention his name in an interview there. Before long, these mentions had stacked up into an undeniable reverence that I could no longer avoid. So I gave 1987’s Abigail a listen, and it was so lovely. Warm, summer vibes washed over my body, and I smiled with a positive glow as each and every song reminded me of my happiest childhood memories and brought me further into a sense of loving calm…
I’m kidding. That shit pummeled my fucking socks off! It was a full-throttle, hellish assault of shredding riffs, spooky atmosphere, and of course, absolutely unparalleled vocals. I’d never heard anything quite like it before, and it knocked me on my ass. It was one of the most enthralling concept albums I had ever heard, mixing badass, heavy metal energy with genuine moments of fright. King Diamond’s vocal range caused me to look up just how many lead singers were in the group (it’s just the one guy?!?!), and the overall aesthetic he injects into the album makes it one of the more perfect Halloween staples.
I had to delve much deeper into the metal scene, past Ozzy, Hetfield, and Van Halen, deeper even past Schuldiner, Townsend, Pike, Swano, and Ihsahn, to discover King Diamond I don’t know why this is. Maybe I’m more stubborn about trying something new than I thought I was, or maybe King Diamond, like it or not, rules from behind a curtain. All I know is if he hadn’t named himself King, it would have been done for him.
Dylan DiLella (Guitarist – Pyrrhon): I saw King Diamond a couple years ago when they were performing Abigail in its entirety, and that was the moment when I realized that it is hands down one of my favorite metal albums. I said after the show that The King’s voice was even more powerful and expressive at that show than it is on the recording. And that’s a testament to King Diamond’s commitment to his singular artistic vision. If you really think closely about exactly what King Diamond is doing with his voice, and the way that he can tear through an hour and a half set without missing a beat (especially at the age of 60???), it’s mind blowing. And you can truly feel the energy of his performance in the room. There’s just a gut feeling that you get when you see something truly inimitable like that live. Also seeing Andy Laroque play all of those solos that I loved as a teenager was something special. The way that Abigail fuses pop-metal mechanics, technical virtuosity and a dark, epic atmosphere makes it an album that I really cherish.
Dre Duarte (Drummer – Archarus): King Diamond’s Abigail is simply one of the best written, composed, and well put together albums in heavy metal. Not only is it one of my favorite albums, but it also has one of my all time favorite drummers – “The best drummer in the world….. Mikkey Dee” -Lemmy. To this day, I listen to the album from beginning to end on a regular basis, and it has inspired me every time to be the best musician I can be. I know King Diamond’s voice is not for everyone, but if you love the art of music, you would appreciate the amount of talent this album has, from legendary riffs to memorable bass lines and thunderous beats . All in all this album has become a staple in my life and will forever be. Cheers to 30 years of Satanic heavy metal!
Neill Jameson (Vocalist/Various Instruments – Krieg/Poison Blood/Lithotome/Le Chant Funèbre, ex-Twilight): If I’m being honest, I don’t really listen to King Diamond much anymore. I can’t tell you why, I just don’t. But anytime someone puts him on I’m transported back to the late 90’s when he was a fixture on my radio show. I remember even then, when Abigail was only a decade and change old, thinking how it still felt fresh, a certain vitality that just was undefinable. Listening to it today, twenty years later, and that freshness still lingers. King Diamond manages to harness the true spirit of heavy metal while retaining the storytelling narrative that so many of today’s bands (and fans) either lack or just don’t appreciate. A more refined gentleman from a more civilized age.
Steve Jansson (Guitarist – Crypt Sermon/Daeva): So, before I proceed and talk about how Godlike this record is, I have a dirty confession to make: I am a latecomer to most solo King Diamond stuff and really hadn’t spent much time with it until over the last year and a half. I got a copy of “Them” when I was a really young teenager and liked it but it sort of slipped through the cracks as I was already starting to spiral down into the black/death metal hell, something that typically happens for any young metal kid. Anyway, I did a few gigs on bass with the Horrendous guys and on the way back from a gig they put on Abigail. After confessing my crime of never properly delving into King D’s solo material and giving it the attention it deserved, they perceived it as “Steve hates King Diamond” AKA “Steve is a giant poser.” It is a running joke with no end in sight. Better late than never, eh?
Anyway, after listening very intently to Abigail on that van ride, I couldn’t believe it had taken me that long to finally hear it because it has become a desert island album at this point. The song structures are exciting, unpredictable while still managing to be extremely catchy, listenable without being unnatural or clunky in any way. The guitar work of both Michael Denner and Andy LaRocque screams on this record. The riffing has the perfect balance between melody and power and it’s all topped off by some very serious, ripping leads/solos. Mikkey Dee’s drumming on this album is fucking Godlike and one of the first things I actually really started to notice and pay attention to a lot as I got more and more into this record. It is extremely flashy but still subtle enough to the point where it isn’t completely distracting or taking away from his extremely heavy and powerful feel. Anytime I drive with this on in the car, I completely crush my steering wheel from drumming on it so hard. Timi Hansen’s bass lines lock in perfectly and naturally, King is on fire. If I had to pick a favorite track from the album, it would be “A Mansion in Darkness.” The energy and urgency of it often has me having to listen to it twice before moving forward. The stompy rhythm over the big open chords during the chorus kills me every single time I hear it.
I could say that I sort of regret not hearing this album sooner in my life, but in all honesty, the fact that I connected with this album so much at a period in my life where it can admittedly be hard not to be jaded from time to time really speaks volumes about its greatness and how timeless it truly is. Writing and recording an album is not an easy thing to do. It requires a ton of time, patience and dedication. This is one of those albums that everyone hopes or wishes they could write. It is complete magic and will stand the test of time.
Christine Kelly (Owner – Tridroid Records): The first time I heard King Diamond was at Hippie’s house when I was 17. His name was actually Adam, but nobody called him that because all he ever wore were tie-dye shirts and bell bottoms. For kids in suburban East Tennessee, it was the most ‘hippie’ anything they’d ever seen. Funny thing was, he listened to the most extreme music of anybody I knew. His parents were super Christian, so he had me hold onto the more ‘Satanic’ pieces of his music collection because he was afraid they’d take them away. And that’s how I heard Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath.
I wasn’t sure what to make of the vocals; it took me years to wrap my brain around all of it, but once I did I was obsessed. When I met my wife years later, we only had a few musical tastes in common – mostly old goth, post-punk, or synthpop stuff. She was an opera singer; I was a metalhead. Of course, no opera singer can resist the King’s soaring vocals. Someday I’ll convince her to do “A Dangerous Meeting” for karaoke because it would be killer as hell!
But today is about the King himself and his opus Abigail. Far better writers than me have described it, so I’ll say this: it was the most fun at a show my wife and I have ever had. We saw the Abigail Tour here in NYC at the Playstation Theater near Times Square (a place nobody goes if you live here), and getting in had been a complete nightmare. Lines around the block, getting patted down by countless security people, and we ended up missing Exodus entirely. My wife was dressed to the nines: a 50s style skull-print dress, hair up, jewelry on, nice purse – the whole thing. It’s her way of showing respect to musicians and performers she’s excited to see. And she doesn’t want to sit in the chairs in the back or be in the balcony away from the crowd – she wants to be right in the middle of the pit where she can get the full King experience. Several times throughout the set I ask ‘are you ok? Do you want to move?’ and she refused. She got run into, kicked in the head by a crowd surfer, all the stuff that happens when you’re in the center of the action at a show. She absolutely LOVED it. It’s her favorite show of all time (and between growing up in Memphis and being with me for 11 years she’s been to A LOT of shows). My wife is fucking rad and we both love King Diamond. Long Live the King!
P.S. – I also dressed up as Queen Diamond for Halloween several years ago and my wife Melissa did my make-up.
Chris Latta (Bassist/Vocalist – Spirit Division, Contributing Editor): Fatal Portrait is an excellent album, but I consider Abigail to be King Diamond’s true debut. It may be the King’s first album to feature a full-length storyline, but it is also the album where the band was no longer just an awesome Mercyful Fate spinoff. Andy LaRocque let his distinct guitar tone and phrasing shine, drummer Mikkey Dee’s performance is elevating, and the King somehow shows off even more vocal acrobatics than before. The songwriting defies classification as traditional metal is accentuated with prog structures and black metal aesthetics. There are subsequent albums that I personally think are just as good, if not better, but Abigail deserves its status as an unholy icon.
Dustin Lightle (Host – Music the Lifeblood podcast/YouTube Channel): Abigail should be made mandatory listening in our Nation’s public and private schools. If this is not done, we’re failing our children on a deep, potentially traumatic level. Because, realistically, every child is going to need to know how to kill a Hell-spawned Little Girl at some point in their lives.
Ari Miller (Owner – Red River Family Records): Abigail is, without a doubt, one of the greatest concept albums. I spent many candlelit evenings with my best friend listening to and dissecting potential hidden meanings within. Noting each time the number nine came up hidden or sometimes not so hidden in the lyrics. Was baby Abigail eating her own mother? Each time I listen, I find something new to appreciate. To this day, it never fails to give me goosebumps. There aren’t many albums that continue to captivate me as King Diamond’s Abigail has.
Lee Nordland (Drummer – Begrime Exemeous): About Abigail? All I can say is: you might fall and break your neck! Still better than everything 30 years later. I could go on, but won’t. Buy a record ya pirate. If you don’t like King Diamond, we can’t be friends.
Alex Poole (Guitarist/Vocalist – Chaos Moon/Krieg/Skáphe/Esoterica/Lithotome, Vocalist – Entheogen): Abigail‘s theatrics and progression are easily some of the best in metal, or in music in general. It’s nearly impossible to just listen to one track and move on. I need to sit through all of it to get my fill, otherwise it’s like watching a few scenes of a great movie. Supremely captivating and catchy without being obvious, not to mention its amazing consistency. Everything flows together, nothing stands out as filler or out of place. There’s a lot to be taken away from Abigail as a songwriter, even if don’t play this style of music. It certainly made an impact on me and how I approach songwriting.
Kyle Shaw (Vocalist – Obscene): Hail to the King, baby! Abigail is not only King’s peak in regards to his solo career, it’s also the best record he’s ever been a part of. That might be blasphemy to some (I love MF as much as the next guy), but nothing compares to the bombast, poetry, vision, and lineup he had on this record. While the concept of a ‘rock opera’ had been around for years prior, King amplified the Alice Cooper template by 10, and curated a genuinely frightening tale, along with true anthems that are mandatory listening for any metal fan. Abigail, don’t you think I know what you’ve done?