Okay, so…confession: This show was the first time I've seen King Diamond live. That fact seems a little strange to me since I've been a fan since the release of Mercyful Fate's Melissa in 1983 – 32 years ago…wow – but for whatever reason the stars have just never lined up.
I remember being a little scared on my first listen to Melissa. There just wasn't anything else like it at the time. It was soooo dark, atmospheric and completely overtly Satanic. That was pre-9/11 of course, and even pre-AIDS, so the bar on scary was a little lower, and I was only 12 or 13 years old, so cut me some slack.
Fast forward to now, and I'm finally ticking-off a big notch on the whole "Yeah, I saw ‘em," list. King Fucking Diamond.
I was a little concerned going in because the show was at San Francisco's Warfield Theater, which is a notorious sound tornado where metal is concerned. I mean it can be a real shit-show. Thank goodness someone had their ears on straight, though, and I'm pleased to report that this was probably the best sound quality I have ever experienced there. Everything was well balanced, and there was no need for earplugs since apparently the sound guy was not one of those I'll-cover-the-band's-sins-with-punishing-volume types.
Exodus hit the stage first, and they were…Exodus. That's not entirely accurate. They were Exodus minus Gary Holt and plus Kragen Lum (Heathen), who fills in when Gary is off earning his (presumably) larger paycheck with Slayer. I like Exodus well enough, but I've seen them a gazillion times, living in the Bay Area such as I do, and honestly? There's something palpably lacking when Gary Holt is not present. Zetro is back of course, and this was the first time I've seen them with him, but I have to admit that I'm probably the only guy on Earth who preferred Rob Dukes on vocals. I think Shovelheaded Kill Machine was a post-reformation highlight, and Dukes sounds great on that album. Frankly, I've never been sure why people disliked the guy so much. The set was a short 30 minutes, and they picked the obvious ‘classics' to fill it ("Bonded By Blood", "Toxic Waltz", "Strike of the Beast"…you get it), so all was fine and well there.
The crew was on point, and the turnover went down pretty quick. There was just time to grab a beer and a kickass hoodie from the merch booth, and the lights went down. Uriah Heep's "The Wizard" came through the increasingly louder sound system, and played in its entirety, so I'm gonna go ahead and assume that song is King Diamond's "Doctor Doctor," since I happen to know he's a huge David Byron fan. If you don't know who that is, pick up Heep's Demons and Wizards to hear KD's biggest influence…you'll catch the connection pretty quick.
King hit the stage to "Welcome Home" from Them, so a minute or so in I got to hear the most metal lyric in recorded history: "We're going to repaint the front door soon!" Goddamn, right you are, King. You're going to repaint the shit out of that thing. The early set was taken up with KD standards and three songs from the vaunted Fate canon. "Come to the Sabbath" and "Evil" are trotted out by the band with regularity – and were great – but the true highlight was the title track from Melissa. Just…wow…worth the price of admission alone. Seven songs in the band launched into the Abigail album, in its entirety, the intended ‘purpose' of the tour.
King Diamond was spot on. Since he had bypass surgery a few years ago and he is getting a little long in the tooth, it's pretty amazing that he managed to sound EXACTLY like King Diamond. His voice is in such fine form these days that when he reaches a part of a song that has harmony vocals on the record, he ALWAYS sings the highest note in the harmony. I mean, the man could have cheated if he wanted. But no, he went straight for the money shot. One of the more challenging vocal sections (by my count) is in "The Family Ghost" from Abigail – "And the darkness came closer to home on the following niiiighht!" I wondered in advance if he would be able to tackle such difficult sections. No problem – he tossed it off like he was ordering breakfast at a diner.
The band, in general, was so good as to be almost mechanical. Tight as a drum, and if something went askew at any point, I did not catch it. And let me just pause here for a minute to give a huge horns-up to Andy LaRocque, one of the most criminally undermentioned guitarists in metal. Andy was throwing down shreddy goodness (that was tuneful and interesting to listen to) as far back as 1986. His name just does not come up enough when people talk about ‘the Gods of Metal.'
It was ultimately reassuring to walk out of a show by a legend that lived up to the hype. King Diamond is huge, but only really in an underground sort of way. I'd say he's at the top of the underground, the proverbial King of the Hill. And that's fine, but I do lament a bit the fact that he is the kind of musician that the mainstream just still doesn't know about. It's a shame, because he and his band are out there right now, doing very real and vital performances. Trust me, he's several notches above what one will see on the Black Sabbath The End tour, or whatever album Judas Priest is touring for – no offense, I love ‘em. But Ozzy and Rob are a shadow of their former selves. If you want to see and hear a living metal vocal God who can still pull it off, see King Diamond. May the Devil bless him.
King Diamond Photos