Do 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.
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].