Wednesday, January 17, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1093: King Diamond

Odyssey Rule #5 allows me to choose a “new to me” disc into the reviews without a random roll. Since I have a considerable backlog, I’ve been alternating a random roll out of the “new to me” section. This time I rolled an album by King Diamond from 2002 called “Abigail II: The Revenge”.

It just seemed wrong to review the sequel first, and since “Abigail” the original album was also in the “new to me” I switched to that album, which I now present for your reading pleasure.

Disc 1093 is…Abigail
Artist: King Diamond

Year of Release: 1987

What’s up with the Cover? If you were to ever buy an album just for the cover this would be it. A horse-drawn hearse careening down some road in the dark of night. Yeah! That’s metal, baby!

How I Came To Know It: This album was listed as the best album from 1987 from a list of “top metal albums of the last 50 years” I read recently in an article. I liked it enough to start exploring King Diamond.

How It Stacks Up:  I went a little overboard exploring King Diamond, buying eight of his 12 studio albums in the space of about four months. This is a lot more than I need and way too many for me to accurately rank them at this early stage of our relationship but since we’re here and I can always change my mind later I’ll say…third or fourth best.

Ratings: 3 stars

King Diamond is an acquired taste and despite the eight albums and multiple listens to “Abigail” I’m not sure I’ve fully acquired it. If you’re looking to give it a try “Abigail” is one of their more famous albums but it is also very much a dive into the deep end of what these guys do.

“These guys” are a Danish heavy metal band named after their lead singer, King Diamond, who is a crazy face-painting screecher who models himself after the bizarreness of Alice Cooper and the operatic singer-storyteller of Bruce Dickinson. Is he as good as either of them? No, but some people go for it with such gusto they draw you in for the ride against your better judgment. King Diamond is one of those.

It helps that the band plays fast, furious and crisp which are key to this style of galloping eighties metal. They lay down powerful riffs that make you bob your head creepily on the bus (sorry fellow riders) although they are often a little eager to move on to the next riff before you’re finished enjoying the last one. All that shifting around isn’t a prog situation so much as they are just excited. And by excited, I mean really excited.

As a result the album is a frantic blend of brilliant and overblown struggling for supremacy. There is a campiness to the overblown parts that make them kind of fun as well. Not exactly radio friendly, or lending themselves to a quiet evening of reading or sitting on the deck at the lake house, but undeniably entertaining.

Like most King Diamond albums, this one is heavily thematic, playing out more like a horror story than a metal album. The basic story of “Abigail” is that a young couple move into a haunted house belonging to the husband’s family, only to have the wife possessed by the spirit of a stillborn child whose corpse is in the basement. There are good ghosts, guardian ghosts, evil ghosts. There are prophecies, portents and flashbacks and a lot of people getting pushed down the stairs to their deaths. Hilarity ensures. In the end there is a possessed baby that eats its former body.

There are a lot of characters in this music and most of them have speaking parts, so you might expect multiple vocalists, but no! King Diamond takes on all the roles, his high theatrical vocals ranging from creepy Alice Cooper through to the shriek of a terrified girl. I imagine on stage he just sings in one direction in one voice and then sings in the other direction to respond. He’s a one man dramatis personae, with a metal band providing the soundtrack.

Fortunately there are a few moments here that are just too great to deny. The title track is a powerful riff-driven piece of fury, with a strange organ solo thrown into the middle of it, and King Diamond himself singing a duet between the husband and the ghost of the baby. It should not work but…it kinda does.

Lyrically all is sacrificed in service to the above noted story. This music could have used a bit more metaphor, or maybe just more chorus, but instead they go all in for narrative. Consider this section from “the Family Ghost

"Beware of the slippery stairs
You could easily fall and break your neck
Hand me that torch and I will lead the way
To the secret in the dark
Take a look into the vault, the Vault
The sarcophagus...of a child
Abigail has been in here for years and years
stillborn", Born...Born...Born”

It’s an imaginative tale, but not an imaginative telling of it.

Yet for all this batshit craziness, King Diamond draws you in. The lead singer just won’t be denied and seems completely unaware of how nuts it all is. As a result, he gives the whole thing a weird internal logic. This record is overblown, excessive, darkly hilarious and desperately in need of a more disciplined producer, but damn it if it isn’t also a whole lot of fun.

Best tracks: Arrival, Abigail, Black Horsemen

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