King Diamond: Fatal portrait
30/03/12 || Sokaris
Mercyful Fate’s early demise isn’t necessarily remembered as a tragedy. It’s true that their breakup was extremely untimely, only two (absolutely classic) albums in but King Diamond’s illustrious solo career definitely softened the blow. Picking up where his old band left off and bringing in an increasingly more theatrical approach, Diamond (alongside MF alumni Michael Denner and Timi Hansen, then newcomer Mikkey Dee and King’s soon-to-be right-hand man Andy LaRocque) began on a legendary path of classic albums and memorable live shows. Although the band debuted with a Christmas single (gotta admire the balls behind that decision) the tale of King Diamond’s metal conquest through some of the genre’s best albums starts here.
9. Clever arrangements, plenty of twists and turns, well-placed solos and just damn good intuition. If good songwriting in metal could be taught then Diamond (…Professor King?) could run a university on the subject. The consecutive songs that form the conceptual part of the album (“The Candle”, “The Jonah”, “The Portrait” and “Dressed in White”) all lead into each other like well-written chapters, a quality that would define most of the KD catalog after this album.
8. Each instrument has its own space in the mix, even in King’s more layered vocal moments. Even the bass is clearly audible. The rhythm guitar could maybe use just a bit more crunch to push it past the drums and keep up in volume with the leads. Good classic heavy metal sound, sharp with a little extra side of reverb.
10. No matter how over-the-top King’s vocals and lyrical topics get, no matter how much haunted house evil is injected into the atmosphere, at the end of the day focus is always kept on badass six stringery. Riffs that command headbanging through their diabolical momentum and likely the best soloing in the business. The overall approach is a bit more straightforward than later Diamond gems (heh) and shows its lineage from Mercyful Fate more clearly.
9. It’s King. If you’re new it’s going to take a little getting used to but pretty soon his abundance of insane falsettos and maniacal performance antics will be dear to your heart. His technique and sense of dynamics were stepped up. The only reason this isn’t a 10 is because I’d reserve that for the follow-ups that featured him using his voice to portray different characters throughout an entire story.
7. Not much to say about it but it’s presence is definitely felt more than in most traditional metal bands. Thick and smooth, there’s occasional deviation from the guitar lines but nothing flashy. Everything is well-played and appropriate and it adds a lot to the overall soundscape.
7. Moderately straightforward but more intense when the tempo calls for it. There’s a great warm tone to the kit, I just wish the toms were used more. “Haunted” seems to provide more of a challenge for Mikkey and he responds with tasteful but interesting rhythmic arrangements.
8. As mentioned before only about half of this album is connected through a concept (what I’m guessing was originally Side A and the closing “Haunted”) and it all connects very well. Molly might not be as famous a name as Abigail but her story is still an interesting one. The other songs all have decent lyrics but it just doesn’t seem right to only have half the album tell a story. King’s narrative style is an important part of the whole package, something the band obviously realized since this and “The Spider’s Lullaby” are the only albums with a story only covering half the release.
7. Not necessarily spectacular on its own but it has a certain atmosphere to it and it makes sense in context with the story.
8. Fitting and classic with the indispensable brimstone symbol and bat.
5. I’m reviewing a copy of “Fatal Portrait” from the 1997 series of remasters which includes some liner notes from Don “Serious Metal Journalist” Kaye. It’s interesting enough, but it would’ve been better to have someone who was involved in the actual recording process weigh in. Hell, I’d rather hear some anecdotes from the guy that provides King Diamond his top hats or something. I mean, seriously, who wants to read some asshole writer’s analysis of King Diamond’s early solo career, anyway?
Overall and ending rant
All in all this is a hell of a strong debut album. It isn’t quite the perfect release that “Abigail” would be and that Mercyful Fate’s full-lengths were but it’s damn close. Any self-respecting metalhead should give this and all of the King’s 80’s output their attention.
- Released: 1986
- Label: Roadrunner Records
- Website: www.covenworldwide.org
- King Diamond: vocals
- Andy LaRocque: guitars
- Michael Denner: guitars
- Timi Hansen: bass
- Mikkey Dee: drums
- 01. The Candle
- 02. The Jonah
- 03. The Portrait
- 04. Dressed in White
- 05. Charon
- 06. Lurking in the Dark
- 07. Halloween
- 08. Voices from the Past
- 09. Haunted