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Features Rank and File

Rank and File: King Diamond

Nobody does theatrics in metal quite like King Diamond. He certainly wasn’t the first in the genre to craft elaborate stage productions and occult concept albums, but he pushed those elements to heights beyond his Alice Cooper and Arthur Brown inspirations. His storytelling immerses listeners in developed narratives with macabre touches that are incredibly influential yet all his own. You can always tell when you’re listening to the King himself or someone trying to imitate him. Not to mention the intensely proficient musicianship that greatly enhances the overall package.

King Diamond’s body of work has maintained a certain consistency over the years, and with recent shows being hailed by many (Including yours truly) as some of his strongest performances in decades, the future is looking bright. In anticipation of the album he’s planning to release later this year, I’d like to take a look at his solo discography to see how just far he has come.

12) The Graveyard
Everything about The Graveyard is seemingly designed to make the listener feel as uncomfortable as possible. The themes of child abuse and insanity-fueled vengeance are more visceral than the usual ghost story, and a combination of uncanny musical motifs and lo-fi production makes it even more of a challenge to digest. “Waiting” is the most orthodox track of the lot, while others like “Digging Graves” and “Sleep Tight Little Baby” sprinkle some awkward charm into the pervasive discomfort. Meanwhile, songs like “I’m Not A Stranger” and “Up from the Grave” are considerably harder to listen to. It is easily the King’s most polarizing, unnerving album to date but might also be one of the most interesting.
Final Grade: C

11) Abigail II: The Revenge
Releasing a sequel to a beloved concept album is always precarious territory, and Abigail II is certainly no exception. However, this continuation isn’t an offensive desecration so much as enjoyably forgettable. The upgraded production is certainly a bonus, and the musicians are as rock tight as ever, but the songwriting doesn’t offer any staples, and the story is more peculiar than egregious. It’s not worthy of damnatio memoriae, but I also tend to forget that it even exists. At least it’s better than Operation: Mindcrime II, amirite?
Final Grade: C+

10) Give Your Soul… Please
While Give Me Your Soul isn’t the King’s weakest album, it might be his most underwhelming. The songwriting is rather pedestrian, offering sufficient atmosphere but not delivering on stirring hooks beyond the title track or “The Floating Head.” The story doesn’t leave the impact it should as the child abuse angle feels bowdlerized by the spooky elements. It also doesn’t help that the pacing is too methodical for its own good as what should be a slow, suspenseful story just doesn’t have enough things actually happening. It’s not a bad album, but it might’ve been better as another half-concept.
Final Grade: B-

9) House of God
Religious matters are nothing new in the world of King Diamond, but they’ve never been covered so esoterically as on House of God. Going beyond The Eye’s critiques of the clergy, this album tackles the very notion of divinity itself with its protagonist going through an existential nightmare in the process. Fittingly, tracks like “Help!!!” and “Catacomb” match beefy riffs with urgent vocals and a distraught yet disorienting mood. It’s a little more bogged down by interludes than usual but holds together quite nicely.
Final Grade: B

8) Voodoo
Of all the albums released during King Diamond’s more obscure 90s run, Voodoo is probably the most conventional. While it isn’t a ‘back to the roots’ effort in the purest sense, the music checks the band’s signature tropes, and the plot feels like a reskin of Abigail with a few extra characters and motifs. Thankfully the album still feels inspired as the Louisiana aesthetic gives the album a distinctly summery atmosphere. It’s another album that’s somewhat easy to overlook but makes for another satisfying display of the King’s talents.
Final Grade: B+

7) “Them”
The King Diamond aesthetic has always had a silly edge to it, but “Them” might be the campiest effort they’ve ever put out. Some of this could be attributed to Clerks II, and other pop culture co-opts, but there is no denying the cheese in lines like those on “A Broken Spell.” Fortunately, “Welcome Home” and “The Invisible Guests” are fantastic tracks regardless of their memetic status, and there is enough atmosphere and top tier musicianship to sell the B-movie flair. It may be my least favorite of the classic era, but that’s hardly a dealbreaker.
Final Grade: B+

6) The Spider’s Lullabye
With its half-concept framing and raw production job, The Spider’s Lullabye is a very stripped-down affair. While these elements make the album feel rather removed from the previous albums’ polish, the signature King Diamond tropes are well secured with plenty of great tracks to work with. Songs like “From the Other Side” and “Dreams” are fun straightforward rockers, and the hint of doom on “To the Morgue” is cool to see. The template was better executed on Fatal Portrait, but this is an underrated effort that diehard fans should appreciate.
Final Grade: A-

5) The Eye
Released on the cusp of a musical paradigm shift and overshadowed by the first Mercyful Fate reunion, The Eye is one of King Diamond’s most overlooked albums. It is one of their most atmospheric albums, as the more prominent keyboards and reverb-drenched production makes for a churchy vibe that perfectly suits the religious corruption narrative. Thankfully, “Eye of the Witch” and “Burn” are rightfully hailed as a couple of the band’s best songs. I don’t know if it qualifies for full-on lost classic status, but it certainly deserves more attention.
Final Grade: A-

4) The Puppet Master
In light of Abigail II’s desperation, The Puppet Master ends up feeling like the real comeback album. The presentation is incredibly purposeful, featuring a story that revels in romance and body horror along with some surprisingly strong songwriting. The King’s diminishing range elicits some concern, but the addition of Livia Zita greatly enhances the dynamics and fleshes out the love story quite nicely, especially on tracks like “Blue Eyes.” The extra power metal tinges on tracks like “Magic” and “The Ritual” is fun, and the wintery atmosphere throughout is great for the holidays. I used to consider this album to be my overall favorite and still think it’s the benchmark to meet as far as his later era is concerned.
Final Grade: A-

3) Conspiracy
Conspiracy may be a sequel to “Them,” but I’ve always considered it musically superior. “At the Graves” may be the band’s greatest opener despite also being their longest song to date, “Sleepless Nights” and “A Visit from the Dead” feature some of their most sweeping dynamics, and “Cremation” is a fantastic shredding exercise that manages to work with the haunting atmosphere. There are a couple silly lines, but the scope is broader all around. My only critique is that the album’s disjointed plotline makes it feel less like a “Them” sequel and more like the third part of an unfinished trilogy. Perhaps there is still time for that void to be filled?
Final Grade: A-

2) Fatal Portrait
Fatal Portrait is an album transitioning between two worlds. It hasn’t fully committed to the King Diamond concept mold, with only half the songs telling a shared story, and the music compositions aren’t too far off from what Mercyful Fate was doing just two years before. Fortunately, said compositions end up being fantastic in their own right and the performances by guitarist Andy LaRocque and drummer Mikkey Dee help give them a more unique edge. This album could’ve been redundant or underdeveloped, but it ends up being one of the King’s best to date.
Final Grade: A

1) Abigail
As much as I love Fatal Portrait, Abigail is King Diamond’s true debut. The group truly came into its own as LaRocque’s classical phrasing rises to greater prominence while a full-fledged narrative is delivered with multi-faceted characterization and a wider vocal range. The songs are also some of the best they’ve ever penned as “Funeral” serves up the creepiest atmosphere, “Arrival” and “A Mansion in Darkness” put in catchy speed metal, and “Black Horsemen” is an epic of the highest order. The story also holds up surprisingly well, lending itself to broader interpretation than its straightforward ‘haunted house’ premise would suggest. As much as I like to reserve my top spots for contrarian picks, there’s a reason why Abigail is so universally hailed.
Final Grade: A

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