King Diamond | Fatal Portrait 30th Anniversary Retrospect | Halloween Edition
Label Original Release : Roadrunner Records
Release Year : 1986
Country: early-Denmark / later-USA
Genre: First Wave Of Black Metal
Band Members – Original 1986 Fatal Portrait Line up
King Diamond – Lead Vocals, All Vocals & Guitars on ‘From The Past
Michael Denner – Lead Guitars
Andy La Roucque – Lead Guitars
Timi Hansen – Bass Guitars
Mikkey Dee – Drums
Dressed In White
Lurking In The Dark
Voices From The Past
Back in 2005 I had discovered one of the absolute best documentaries called Metal : A Headbangers Journey. It was done by a new Canadian anthropologist and filmmaker Sam Dunn. Throughout the course of this documentary Sam Dunn went into very great detail on the history of heavy metal by creating a heavy metal family tree. This family tree not only spoke of the origins to heavy metal music but also the evolution of metal. The family tree was fractured into 26 sub genre’s of heavy metal. He would soon create a docu-series on 12 of those 26 sub genres and call it Metal Evolution.
As I was watching this docu-series I noticed a few artists made the list within this family more than once. Some were credited with be a pioneer in one or more genres. I totally agree with Sam Dunn’s assessment. One artist that really stood out more then some that were featured on multiple branches of the family tree was none other than the subject to this retrospective, Mercyful Fate’s own King Diamond.
King Diamond would make the list under the sub genres of ‘First Wave Of Black Metal’ in Mercyful Fate and ‘Shock Rock/Metal’ as King Diamond. Back in those days to even be considered as a pioneer in a only one sub genre was a huge deal but to actually make two sub genres looking back on it is a outstanding accomplishment all its own. Not even the forefathers of heavy metal such as Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Judas Priest members can boast of this in the way King Diamond now can. However not to bore anyone with further history, I am here in hopes many will join me in celebrating the 30th Anniversary of King Diamond’s first ever solo effort away from Mercyful Fate titled Fatal Portrait.
Coming with King Diamond on Fatal Portrait were Mercyful Fate original’s Michael Denner – Lead/Rhythm Guitars and Timi Hansen – Bass. To round out the lineup were Andy Larocque – Lead Guitars and Mikkey Dee – Drums. It was released on February, 17th 1986. Ever since its release there have been reissued and remastered versions of this album across various formats. My focus however is the classic 9 tracks from the original pressing issue. See above in track listing.
When I first heard King Diamond it was in fact Fatal Portrait. I was attracted to the animated Cleopatra female face on the album. In those days album art sometimes made the album or broke it. The cover of the vinyl jacket caught my attention and I looked on the back of the jacket and tripped a bit in horror. The face paint on King Diamond totally was Sir Arthur Brown, Alice Cooper and Kiss taken to a whole other dimension. I knew I was about to have my ass handed to me when I placed this on the turntable platter.
King Diamond’s voice was like none had even heard till that time. He took what Rob Halford, Robert Plant, Ian Gillan up to a level of falsetto soprano to the ionosphere. It would also help inspire either directly or indirectly singers like John Arch – Fates Warning or Midnight – Crimson Glory in progressive metal or even black metal contemporaries such as Kronos of Venom, Tom Warrior – Hellhammer/Celtic Frost or Quorthon of Bathory to name a few. This sounded like going to a opera house to see a horror opera on stage and King Diamond the main character. For 1986 this was pretty scary for the time and at times controversial due to the lyrical content.
Fatal Portrait also set another standard especially within the ‘First Wave Of Black Metal’ and later on with ‘Norwegian Black Metal’ and that being Black Metal’s first thematic or concept album depending on how the audience and listener received it. Unlike the bands that would come after Mercyful Fate/King Diamond whose vocal styles were practically screams, shrieks and more acquire audio pallet, King Diamond would maintain a clean operatic vocal style. King Diamond also set a monumental higher standard on the stage than most artists to come before or after him.
Before Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth made a high quality visual video of the listener for black metal, King Diamond was doing this in the theater of the mind of the listener on Fatal Portrait and his other conceptual works to follow such as Them, and Abigail’s 1&2. King Diamond had incredible vision for the conceptual side of metal and music in general. His vision was like a soundtrack to horror and suspense films that have not been made or filmed yet. Now we can explore a few highlights of Fatal Portrait by song/track.
The Candle opens up with a very eerie atmosphere with a slight touch of a hand bell. The intro is very haunting almost like the opening to a sheer horror film set to metal music. It is very intense from the first note and passage. Soon you hear a coven like gathering for a possible seance. The chant narrative is very wicked and haunting. It sounds like it is possibly being held in a church as you hear this thunderous atmospheric Hammond Organ sound painting the very walls of the mind of the listener. It is like a wicked invitation from some apparition. The title The Candle is very appropriate title for the first track as well. It is somewhat a metaphor for a person lighting a candle to see where he or she is going within the album itself. It soon takes off in a more thrashy speed metal direction. This is the one of the first times you hear a sort of double blast beat that would become commonplace in future black metal in general. This is also the early stages of voice transitioning from a scream style shrieks to a clean vocal .
The Jonah also starts with the chant effect of a coven or seance happening before it goes into something metal had very little with at that time and that is the use of a choir style of vocal. King Diamond keeps his enigmatic and sinister allure about him by ensnaring the listener more into the story. This is where reading the lyric sheet obviously comes into play. The incredible overdubbed vocals expanded the sound full of majestic atmospheres. The bad also is actually playing real guitar solo’s, something that would be partially lost in future in some black metal bands.
The Portrait begins with a seriously deep down tone effect before it enters into a almost NWOBHM style of galloping guitar and rhythm section of bass/drum. Once again King Diamond displays more and more possibilities with how to execute vocals in this fairly new format of metal. In this you also here a stringed section acting like a stringed section instead of the tuned down guitars that you would had with black metal’s rival death metal. Some of King Diamond’s vocals were not just a vocal but were also used as an instrument, always have and always will. He was pushing the proverbial vocal envelop further out of its comfort zone.
Dressed In White on the instrumental side is a completely total shredfest , still a new element to this new sub genre called black metal.You also see King Diamond really becoming a serious force vocally to be reckoned with as this has at this time never been done as a solo act with help.
Charon is a brutal rhythm laden thrash over toned track with King Diamond still executing the vocals both as an instrument and a narrative. The vocal even emulates the illusion of a full choir going on about it that would later be heard in bands like Dimmu Borgir, Cradle Of Filth, Enslaved, Agalloch and Summoning. The wicked little giggle serves as something of melodic horror legend. The twin guitars pull off one of the very best guitar solo’s I have heard not only in just black metal but metal in general.
Lurking In The Dark has a brutal wolf style call effect as if this part of the story were taking place off in the woods. The beautiful vocal overdub sounds like something of a classical musical hall legend with an acoustic choir carrying it. The guitar solo’s are nothing but a thing of beauty and perfection in a format still very young.
Halloween continues to see King Diamond really coming into his own wicked persona. Even more so than when he was in his first band Mercyful Fate. The character is evil, wicked, diabolical and will stop at nothing to produce the most amount of fear in a person’s soul and blister the listeners ears with some serious guitar riffs. He is really wanting to rip somebody’s heart and soul out with melodic malice.
Voices From The Past is a brilliant instrumental as if somebody is running for their very lives through a set of woods or down a lonely street. This simulates much of how the human psyche can real take fear with very little.
Haunted lyrically lives up to its name. After running for your melodic life in Voices From The Past King Diamond really lays sheer horror within you. The guitars are offset to create a echo and bone chilling effect throughout this track. The solos are just as detailed as the rest of the recent eight tracks are. This album places the whole project into the perspective of being haunted, looking over your shoulder and in fear. King Diamond and band serve as instruments fear a melodic sticks and rods to further provoke that fear.