Undertaking the creation of a concept album is an arduous process. Not only does one have to write a coherent narrative that can remain engaging over the course of approximately an hour, but the soundscapes that back that narrative need to be sonically appropriate to intensify the story being told (e.g., elevating somber and climactic moments). It is no coincidence that a band that successfully embarks on and sees a concept album to fruition are often widely praised for having made a masterwork. For example, Queensrÿche’s concept album Operation: Mindcrime is largely regarded as one of their best albums. The same could be said of Edge of Sanity, as their concept album, Crimson, is often celebrated as the best album in their discography. As if telling a story across an album wasn’t a difficult enough venture, a number of bands have attempted to capitalize on the popularity of their concept albums by creating a sequel. Eighteen years after the release of Operation: Mindcrime, Queensrÿche released Operation: Mindcrime II. Similarly, Edge of Sanity released Crimson II seven years after their first crimson endeavor. Neither sequel generally gets the praise of the original. But then that brings us to the topic of today: King Diamond.
Not only has King Diamond and the talented band that shares his moniker created a concept album, they almost exclusively write concept albums. It has become a trademark of the group to create dark and suspenseful horror stories that are engaging, and that are filled with twists and turns. And not only does King Diamond meticulously craft these albums and stories, but they’re all of a very consistent quality. This article focuses on the fourth album that King Diamond released under his solo moniker, which, much like in the cases of Queensrÿche and Edge of Sanity, is part of a story that spans across multiple albums. On August 21st, 1989, King Diamond released the album Conspiracy, which was a direct sequel to their album from the year before, Them. Thirty years later, we can all generally acknowledge that both albums are masterpieces and often listed amongst the greatest albums that King Diamond have released. This was clearly the band at the top of their game, as while the sequel albums mentioned earlier in this article took seven to eighteen years to fully realize, King Diamond continued his story only one year later. And not only do both albums flow well as a story, but they also have songs that stand well on their own, too. For instance, the second track on Conspiracy, Sleepless Nights, has become a live staple. Fans worldwide sing along to this bedtime anthem.
King Diamond has described the underlining theme in the stories of “Them” and Conspiracy as greed. I don’t usually have to include this in articles about metal albums, but…
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR “THEM” and “CONSPIRACY” follow. If you’ve never listened to these albums with the lyrics in hand, then I recommend you do so, as King Diamond albums always have substantial, dark plot twists. You can scroll down to The Music to continue reading without spoilers.
Conspiracy is the second part of a two-part story about the haunted House of Amon, which is owned by the protagonists in the story. “Them” introduces the cast of characters:
King: the boy who is the main protagonist of both stories
Missy: the sister of the boy
Mother and Grandma are self-explanatory.
“Them” are the spirits that haunt the house.
An additional character is later added, the doctor, which treats the boy for mental illness.
“Them” is a dark tale about the boy’s grandmother embracing the spirits of the house which commences the horrifying events that follow. It leads to the possession of the boy after drinking a concoction made from his mother’s blood, while that occurs, Missy breaks a teapot that belonged to “Them” because she was concerned about their mother. As a result, Missy was chopped up with an ax and thrown into the kitchen fireplace. The boy blamed his grandmother for these events once the spell of “Them” had subsided, so he lured the grandmother out of the house where “They” had less power, and then the boy killed the grandmother. The boy is institutionalized, condemned as insane, but the voices of “Them” continued to haunt him.
Conspiracy is the sequel to Them, which details the return of the boy, who is now a man, returning to the House of Amon to reclaim his place as heir to the house. This involves him dealing with questions surrounding his sister’s death (Missy), his mother’s involvement with his evil therapist, and struggling with his own madness. Prior to returning to the house, King lies about his madness dissipating, so his therapist assumed he had returned to good mental health. In King’s pursuit of answers, he makes a pact with “Them,” the antagonist from the previous album, to speak with his dead sister. The sister tries to warn King of the plot against him from his mother and the nefarious doctor through a dream, but King doesn’t understand her message until it is too late. The doctor and the mother kill King by burning him alive in a coffin… but in the closing moments of the story, we find out that King has returned from the grave to haunt his mother for letting these events come to pass.
King Diamond’s music incorporates neoclassical guitar playing, many qualities borrowed from theater and opera, as well as the utilization of synthesizers in a way that pays homage to classic horror soundtracks. And that’s without mentioning King Diamond’s vocals, which are iconic and novel because they are largely sung in falsetto, but other styles are utilized to reflect different characters in the stories too, at times almost going into a guttural growl, as can be heard when “They” speak in Sleepless Nights. Many songs are catchy and feature prominent choruses, such as the crowd-pleasing Sleepless Nights, other songs are ballads like A Visit from the Dead. Many songs include superb traded-off solos by Andy LaRocque and Pete Blakk. This album also drew direct inspiration from other influential metal musicians, as guitarist Andy LaRocque has said that the clean guitar part on Sleepless Nights was influenced by Tony Iommi’s playing on Black Sabbath’s Never Say Die, specifically, the song Air Dance.
Four of the songs on Conspiracy were co-written between Andy LaRocque and King Diamond, five were written solely by King, and the instrumental track Something Weird was written solely by LaRocque. This is the typical writing breakdown of a King Diamond solo album, with writing split between LaRocque and King.
King Diamond’s legacy continues not only through his own resurgence in the scene, but also in bands that emulate and pay homage to him, like the Germanic band Attic that sound so similar to King Diamond that people have put up Attic tracks online masked as new King Diamond tracks, successfully fooling those that didn’t know better. Prominent bands, such as Metallica, continue to pay homage to King Diamond and Mercyful Fate through their playing of covers and medleys. There even exists an all-female King Diamond cover band appropriately called Queen Diamond. Subtler nods to the King exist in other prominent acts as well, as the falsetto vocals that Ihsahn occasionally uses on Emperor and solo releases share more than a little acoustic similarity with King’s distinct vocal style. And all this is without mentioning the countless guitarists that Andy LaRocque has inspired, and all of the bands that continue to make concept albums, following the path led by King Diamond and his cohorts. As if the music wasn’t influential enough, King Diamond also sets a new standard for concert theatrics, as his stage performances of songs from “Them” and Conspiracy frequently feature unique props, actors, and performances that coincide with the song. This makes a King Diamond concert feel like a hybrid between a metal show and a play, with other elements thrown in. For example, when the bands plays the final song from Conspiracy live, Cremation, it can be likened to seeing a magician perform. King Diamond assists an actor into a coffin before lighting it aflame. After a few moments pass, he opens the coffin to reveal a smoldering, skeletal body. It’s still one of the coolest things I’ve seen at a show.
Thirty years later, Conspiracy is still a masterful work. It has classic songs, incredible performances, and it’s only elevated further by the live performances of the songs. I hope you’ll dust off your copy of Conspiracy, sit down with your favorite pair of headphones, pull out the lyrics, and go on this ride with me again.