Tuesday, March 11, 2014

King Diamond - Fatal Portrait

My love of King Diamond goes back to the early Mercyful Fate days and I have been a massive King fanboy since I first heard his shrieking falsettos and evil lyrics in 1983. I've run a King Diamond fan site since 1997 and was even a guest in King's home in April of 1999. I do seem to prefer King Diamond's solo material just a bit over the Mercyful Fate material so I think it seems proper for me to now revisit the early days of his solo band and review the albums that so many have enjoyed for decades. I begin with the first full length album Fatal Portrait. Released on February 17, 1986 we see King leaning in a more epic heavy metal direction with a shift in the lyrics from the overtly Satanic to more of a horror story telling direction.

Right from the beginning of this album you can tell that this is a new and fresh King Diamond. Mercyful Fate was a heavy metal band that drew influences from a more earlier generation like Deep Purple or Uriah Heep. With this new band we see King helping to create and define heavy metal as a distinct genre. You can even hear the beginnings of power metal and even symphonic metal with King being one of the first to incorporate keyboards (especially harpsichord) into heavy metal music to create more atmosphere. "The Candle" starts things off with it's eerie intro with it's evil spoken voices and pipe organ sounds. From there it bursts into the riffs and double bass galloping that would have been called power metal if released in the 90s. Although King would go on to create complete concept albums, this album is only a partial concept album and this is the first of five songs that make up a story. Kings uses mostly falsettos on this album and it is here that I think King truly perfected his style.

King brought bassist Timi Hansen and guitarist Michael Denner from Mercyful Fate and with the addition of guitarist Andy La Rocque and drummer Mikkey Dee we see that King will always surround himself with top notch musicians. We all knew Michael Denner's abilities as a melodic soloist but with Andy La Rocque we see a virtuoso in every respect. The two guitarists contrast with each other to create a variety of solos that create another aspect to the music. Drummer Mikkey Dee is one of the best drummers to ever pick up the sticks and with Timi Hansen rounding out the rhythm section what we wind up with what is probably the best line up in heavy metal.

The songs on this album are epic in every way with massive riffs and godly solos that seem to go on forever. Along with "The Candle" we have four more in the "Portrait" story, "The Jonah", "The Portrait", "Dressed in White" and, with a few songs not being part of the story in between, the last song on the album "Haunted". These are the best songs on the album with no shortage of catchy hooks and melodies. Of the songs not part of this story we have "Charon" which is probably the song on here most like something Mercyful Fate would have written. We also have, of course, King's homage to the holiday that is most fitting to King and his image, "Halloween". This is a mid paced rocker that is also a bit reminiscent of Mercyful Fate and is a fitting song for King to memorialize the ghoulish holiday.

This is the beginning of a band that would define heavy metal for generations. Love him or hate him, King Diamond's influence cannot be debated. With this album we see the creation of epic heavy metal. King Diamond made heavy metal music that could not be lumped into the just mindless noise that the parents of my generation thought it was. Instead he made it an art form and he was, and still is, a master of his art. This album is essential for any metal head. If you don't own this album, what the fuck are you waiting for?


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