King Diamond - Fatal PortraitDo you ever pop in an album that reminds you of a specific time or place in your life? There’s been a lot of talk of “first times” around here, but this is me with every album I ever buy. I remember where I was when I bought my first album as much as I remember where I was when I bought yesterday’s album. And I especially remember my first King Diamond album. I purchased Abigail one wintery night at a used record store and was immediately sucked in. So much so that I returned to that same record store a week later to buy Fatal Portrait. That cold December night I came across an original pressing of Fatal Portrait and, being the logical purchaser that I am, I bought it. Even though I didn’t own a record player. It was a life-changing moment for me and every time I spin Fatal Portrait on my little “suitcase” player, my mind returns to that magical winter night.

After Mercyful Fate called it quits in 1985, King took his voice, and as many MF members as possible, to start a new band. In a year’s time, they would form King Diamond and release their debut album, Fatal Portrait. But Fatal Portrait was no mere Don’t Break the Oath follow-up. King’s falsettos were there, the guitar duo was there (Denner/LaRocque instead of Denner/Shermann), Timi Hansen’s bass was there, but Mercyful Fate was not. For all involved, Fatal Portrait marked a new beginning. Denner and Hansen modified their MF formula around King’s new horror-show concepts and the careers of guitarist Andy LaRocque and drummer Mikkey Dee had just begun.

Standing at the starting line of this “new beginning,” one can see a decade’s worth of music yet to come. After Fatal Portrait, King would go on to dabble in tales ranging from a cursed fetus, a sinister grandma, witch trials, voodoo, possession, blasphemy, incest, and love unattainable. But, for now, King Diamond would begin their journey with a story about Molly; a girl whose jealous mother murders here and paints her likeness to a canvas. When the portrait begins to speak, her mother traps Molly’s soul in the Candle of Fate. Finally set free by King’s character, she haunts her evil mother and slowly drives her mad. The story is a simple introduction to the King Diamond world. It’s also a “simple” story because it only covers a portion of the album. Half the album represents the Portrait story, while the other half is made up of individual, MF-esque ditties. Something King does only one other time (The Spider’s Lullabye) in their next eleven full-lengths.

King Diamond 1986

The debut also hints at the musical direction that would make King Diamond successful. Short songs, long songs, organ/harpsichord-soaked instrumentals, haunting introductions, and sappy closers, each song has a purpose on its respective album. Like Conspiracy‘s “At the Graves,” the seven-minute opener, “The Candle,” delivers a classic creepy introduction and riff-changes galore. But the riffs don’t stop there. For the next three decades, King and Andy would stuff every song to the brim with Riffs o’ Plenty. “The Jonah” follows the opener with a mid-paced approach and Abigail-like wailing falsettos that are both haunting and beautiful—something we see from King even to this day. “Lurking in the Dark” shares similarities to “The Jonah,” but supplies a chorus as memorable and underrated as its B-side companion, “The Lake.” “Dressed in White” and “Charon” take different routes—the former delivering an upbeat tempo full of old-school heavy metal and the latter showing off the band’s MF roots with a very ”A Dangerous Meeting”-like main riff.

But the classics have to be “The Portrait” and the fan-pleasing “Halloween.” I may know every one of King’s songs backward and forward, and find most of their “obscure” tracks to be their best, but even I can’t resist “Halloween.” And “The Portrait” has a power and passion that would find its way into such classics as “A Mansion in Darkness” and “Welcome Home.” Though I find myself listening to Abigail, “Them”, Conspiracy, and The Eye more than Fatal Portrait, this is where it all began for the band. The vocals are strong, the solos shred, the drums have the perfect driving rhythm, and “Grabber” does nothing less than rock the shit out of his bass. As Molly threatens the destruction of her mother in the closing seconds of “Haunted,”  déjà vu overwhelms me and I find my eyes drawn to those of the album artwork. “Play it again,” she says. “Play it again” [But you told me she keeps saying “Burn it all down!”Steel Druhm].


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  • A photo of King with no makeup! Nice find, Doc!

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      I thought it was only appropriate seeing that this is a bit of a tribute to Portrait. Also, I found it very difficult to find a good photo with all five of these original dudes.

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    Made the mistake of starting my King Diamond journey with “Give Me Your Soul… Please”.

    Hahaha that was a big mistake.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Yikes! So, your soul wasn’t taken?

      • AlphaBetaFoxface

        I politely rebuked, and they went knocking on another door. This newer generation of the church of King Diamond aren’t quite the martyrs of yesteryear.

    • Wilhelm

      The law of classic heavy metal is usually not to start with the latest album lol

      • AlphaBetaFoxface

        Time was of the essence, and my rapid decision making was rewarded as such.

        Never again.

        • [not a Dr]

          Of course time was of the essence!
          You needed to change your status from never-listened-to-King-Diamond to listened-to-King-Diamond ASAP.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            I have to agree that never-listened-to-King-Diamond is an embarrassing status.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    On a semi-tangential note, Mercyful Fate’s Melissa has possibly the best album cover artwork in history.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Bingo. Simple but entrancing.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      My vote for best album cover artwork in history goes for Don’t Break The Oath.

      • [not a Dr]

        One look at that cover, and you don’t feel like breaking oaths.

      • Bryan Stroup

        Whynotboth?

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          I don’t know… The law says you only get one vote? ;)

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      I feel almost obligued to mention that Roadrunner Records messed up the cover on their reissue of Melissa to the point where you can barely tell what’s going on.

      • André Snyde Lopes

        Truly a massive fuck up.

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          To put it bluntly: They ruined the cover on the reissue.

    • Bryan Stroup

      On yet another semi-tangential note; “Crossroads” is probably the best song Mercyful Fate wrote during their 90s output. It kind of reminds me a bit of “Gypsy” + “The Bell Witch” redux.

      • André Snyde Lopes

        I personally enjoy most of Wolf’s discography even though they’re all a bit samey. But yeah, I think The Black Flame is excellent. I mean, you can’t beat Steelwinged Savage Reaper, that song is legendary.

  • Alexandre Barata

    I’m not a huge fan of King Diamond/Mercyful Fate, but that Gipsy song is perfection to my ears!

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Agreed. That is just a damn good album.

  • Reese Burns

    Finally! About time the King got some love in one of these.

    • We all love the King.

      • [not a Dr]

        Except for Dr. Landau. And his grandma. And “Them”. They don’t love him at all.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      I did do another small piece on The Spider’s Lullabye (if you click on the link in the review). It was a different kind of YMIO, but still lots of love for the old banshee.

      • Reese Burns

        Ah, my mistake! Thanks doc!

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          No worries. That was awhile back and it’s not like a dedicated King article anyway.

  • madhare

    This is series is one my favourites on AMG. I hope you’re going to have a busy end of the year with this series. You’ve mentioned earlier (in the Samael YMIO) that 1996 was a weird year in metal, but it was also a totally killer year. I’d expect at least these classics to be examined:
    – Katatonia: Brave Murder Day
    – Moonspell: Irreligious
    – Sentenced: Down
    – Theatre of Tragedy: Velvet Darkness They Fear
    – Therion: Theli
    – Type O Negative: October Rust

    On the quirky side, you could also do Dickinson’s Skunkworks, or Europe’s Final Countdown.

    • [not a Dr]

      Prioritize. start with Theli and Irreligious.

      • madhare

        True! I just listed them alphabetically. But yeah.. Theli, Irreligious, Velvet Darkness… (that could be the first one as well though), October Rust

    • Wilhelm

      The one’s listed above are some of my favorite albums ever.

    • David Christian Dalton

      “Skunkworks” would be a GREAT addition!

      • madhare

        Agreed! Before finding this site, I never knew anyone else who liked Bruce’s solo stuff. It was kind of embarrassing to like it because the music police guys were always dissin’ it. :D

        I still keep spinning Skunkworks, Accident of Birth, and Chemical Wedding regularly. Skunkworks is also notable because it was the first where Bruce really showed he could make good or at least interesting whole albums on his own. The previous ones (Tattooed & Balls) were a bit hotchpotch with some good tunes, but never really coming together.

        • I love all three of those albums dearly. I was actually bummed to hear Bruce was returning to Maiden because his solo career was going so well.

          • madhare

            I had the same reaction! And now in retrospect it’s easy to see that Bruce on his own made so much better music than the endless rehashing and accumulating pension-funds that Maiden has done since.

        • Gloomer88

          Chemical Wedding is a killer of an album, gets played a fair bit still

    • Chigo

      Great list! A few more I would add:
      – Acid Bath: Paegan Terrorism Tactics
      – Eyehategod: Dopesick
      – Neurosis: Through Silver in Blood
      – Tool: AEnima
      ’96 was a good year for sludge, and for words with weird combinations of the letters A and E.

    • A Feed From Cloud Mountain

      “Now it’s dark, and I’m older.”

      Fantastic album, hope to see it get a feature on here. The rest of the list is great as well. I love “And When He Falleth” from ToT, intertwining the scenes from The Masque of the Red Death with the rest of the song.

  • ferrousbeuller

    Jumping Grandma on a stick, I fucking love King Diamond. The first 5 albums has to be one of the most intense power-runs of quality in all metaldom. Having said that, I’m also very fond of A Spider’s Lullaby; To the Morgue crunches like a motherfucker… whom, I assume, are crunchy.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Agreed. And yeah, To the Morgue is fucking awesome.

      • ferrousbeuller

        I could never understand some of the panning that album got, but I’m 30 so I guess, had I experienced the actual release schedule of the albums, maybe the dip in quality from The Eye would have been a but clearer. It’s got some great riffs.

        • [not a Dr]

          The 5 years in coming implicitly promised more from The King. It was still better than no King at all. Also, I remember feeling like the songwriting had been altered as a result of Andy Laroque’s playing for Death (Individual Thought Patterns). Like King was trying to add cleaner technicality and more growlish lyrics to show that he could keep up with the trends.

          • ferrousbeuller

            This is true. Listening to Laroque shred on Individual Thought Patterns many moons ago was directly responsible for me checking out King and Mercyful Fate. What a champ.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            Andy LaRocque playing on Individual Thought Patterns is one of the best things to ever happen in Metal.

          • Dr. A.N. Grier

            That was super cool. I also really love the one-off, oddball album from Illwill. I think Andy, Snowy, and Sharlee are on that thing.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            I just bought that Illwill CD (yeah, I still buy CDs) a few weeks ago. It’s very inspired by Fight (Rob Halford ‘s band), which I like. And yes, Andy, Snowy and Sharlee and in the band as well as a singer from a Judas Priest tribute band. By the way, Andy’s soloing is very subdued for this album when compared to his usual standards.

          • Dr. A.N. Grier

            Nice!! Yes, very Halford-inspired. I feel like the whole band holds back and let’s the vocals rise to the top. Very interesting album and vocalist. I love that “365 Ways to Commit Suicide” song.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            I also get that “whole band holding back” feeling and I think it’s because they thought that’s what the stye calls for, so they decided not to overplay it.

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          I agree. I do think the production hurt it.

    • [not a Dr]

      And this intense power-run of quality is from the guy who launched his new band with a Christmas single.

      • Dr. A.N. Grier

        That is played every Christmas morning in the Grier household.

    • Wilhelm

      Spider’s Lullaby is one of my personal favs, and underrated…that came out around the same time as MF’s “Time” (another favorite) and has a similar vibe. It wasn’t until House of God (still not bad) and Abigail II that I saw a diminishing in songwriting. I’ll have to go back and listen to Voodoo. Fatal Portrait is a classic and all that, cool album!

      • Dr. A.N. Grier

        I agree. House of God and Abigail II felt forced. Voodoo is solid.

      • ferrousbeuller

        I think The Graveyard was the first time, for me, that I could clearly see a decline I songwriting and quality. It’s got some absolutely killer tracks, but it also has some serious filler. Voodoo is stronger, though.

        • Wilhelm

          agreed, I think starting with The Graveyard, King started to use his deeper register more often, which I’m not too fond of.

          • Dr. A.N. Grier

            Basically because he was pulling double-duty at that time. Singing for both King and Mercy. Pretty sure he was straining his voice at that time.

      • Jonathan LaFey

        Time is a fuckn awesome album…

  • David Christian Dalton

    I passed on this when it came out, Summer of ’86. I was so annoyed that Sherman and Ruzz weren’t in the band that I couldn’t even. Add to that, the first live review of the band that I read in Kerrang! painted an underwhelming “portrait” of the group. Such a dismissive idiot, I was.

    The following year, of course “Abigail” shredded my mind and stolen my pride…er…soul and I was blown away. I was so in love with the second album and went back, borrowed my friend’s LP copy and dubbed it. It still just didn’t do it for me. It seemed to lack the songs. Although at this point, “Dressed In White” and “Haunted” had sunk their fangs deep into me and I adored them.

    Around 2000, I got a pristine vinyl copy, once again, hoping it would click. It still didn’t but I was glad to have a my own LP.

    A few years ago, I finally came around. Like “The Spectre Within” and “Seventh Son of A Seventh Son,” whatever that missing piece was between my brain and the art was filled in and I submitted to its will. This album is almost always on my iPod these days and has stayed there for the past four or five years.

  • Daneel Olivaw

    ahh…my beloved King!!ohh that voice..!!i was a huge fan i bought also this LP back in the 80’s.

  • AngryMetalBird

    I don’t remember when I bought this but I do remember when I heard this for the first time. At a bus stop with some older metal head next to me blasting this on his boom box… I remember thinking “whoa what is this?? I WANT IT!!”

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Hahahaha oh the boom box…

  • RobbinBri

    I discovered King with “Them”. I went back and discovered the back catalog. I really think Them was his Reign in Blood, Master of Puppets. Even Conspiracy was a letdown somewhat after the front to back awesomeness of Them. The Eye had some good songs and so did Spider and Voodoo but King had an awesome run from Fatal – Conspiracy.

  • Jonathan LaFey

    The 1st 5 King records are nothing short of masterpieces. Most bands don’t out out 1 album as good of those 5. I miss the Roberto Falco production.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Me too!

  • Brother Ben

    King Diamong also ties directly to my “first time” story- as a big fan of Avenged Sevenfold, Trivium, and As I Lay Dying (and obviously 14 years old), I was just beginning my metal fandom. I decided to watch Headbangers Ball, and was terrified to behold a black clad, corpse painted man screeching “The Family Ghost” at the top of his register. The whole vibe of the song gave me a dark and eerie feeling that no other band had provided to me before. I was honestly freaked out and vowed I would not listen to King Diamond again. Of course, by the time I was 16, he was my favorite vocalist, and my love for classic metal (and glorious falsetto shrieks) skyrocketed. Hails, to the most theatric vocalist in metal!!

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      I have a feeling you might like 3 Inches Of Blood. Check them out if you haven’t yet.

      • Brother Ben

        I checked them out years ago, but I should do it again. Any song suggestions? Whichever ones I tried before didn’t stick, but don’t remember the names

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          For individual songs, try “Revenge is a Vulture” or “Night Marauders”.
          They stick to a very uniform style much of the time (which is my way of saying if you like one song, you’ll like most of them).
          Their 2nd and 3rd albums (“Advance and Vanquish” and “Fire Up the Blades”) are pretty good.

    • Bryan Stroup

      My first time hearing King Diamond was during my junior year in high school, where someone wanted me to hear something in their car. They started playing a song from The Eye, and I thought it was the most ridiculous sounding shit I’d ever heard up to that point. Four years and *many* albums later, and another friend had me listen to a Don’t Break The Oath cassette. Hooked for life!

      True story: “The Oath” is the best metal song ever written.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Fantastic work Dr!
    I would have to say my favourite King album is Abigail but out of all those amazing early albums I probably come back to this one more than the others.
    I’m going to make a readers request… How about doing a bigger 30yr 1986 retrospective? Just go and have a look at some of the albums that came out that year! It’s a veritable roll call of all time greats and the list of long lost or forgotten treasures is impressive too!

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Thank you very much. Great idea actually. Will see what I can do. Also, look out for Abigail’s YMIO next year ;)

  • Bryan Stroup

    Totally agree with you in regards to being able to remember exactly when and what you were doing whenever you got a specific album. Each time I listen to Mercyful Fate/King Diamond, I kind of just get flooded with memories, since I’ve been listening to both since the early 90s.

    Abigail is also my favorite, although Them, Conspiracy and The Eye are all a very close second. I just wish Them didn’t have such an awful production. It’s like one of the worst mixes of any King Diamond album and everything sounds ultra trebly an anemic.

    Also, yeah…”Halloween” is pretty much the ultimate King Diamond anthem, and so easy to get into.

    So, anyone else thrilled that King’s health seemed to have recovered, and due to him no longer drinking, and being in better shape, his voice seems to have returned to what it was twenty some years ago? He’s been saying now for a few years that their next album will be their best yet (what artist ever says anything but that though?). I am looking forward to a new album by him finally, but I won’t be holding my breath that it will be anywhere comparable to his late 80s output. Just no.

    Although if Hell can release two phenomenal albums back to back in the NWOBHM/Trad vein (with a modern production!) that puts pretty much everyone else to shame, who knows?

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      I am stoked about his health and his voice. And for a potential new album. Give Me Your Soul… Please wasn’t my favorite, but he sounded fucking fantastic on it.

  • Pulsating Steel

    King Diamond is just the best. Abigail for sure is amazing, but I love seeing The Spider’s Lullaby getting some props here as well. Check out “Room 17”. I just wish they’d put out a remaster… the drum sound is “clicky” to me.

    The Puppet Master is awesome as well.

    Long live KD!!!

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Yeah, “Room 17” is my second favorite on Spider’s to “To the Morgue.”