Do you like your metal theatrical and over the top? Do you like your vocalist coated in corpsepaint and with a full octave range that allows him to sound like Bruce Dickinson or James Hetfield at will? Then King Diamond, wrapped in tattered shrouds, is just the band for you. And don’t worry about any religious sensibilities: King Diamond still has an affinity for what have been euphemistically referred to as the dark arts, but the Anton LaVey discipleship from his Mercyful Fate days has subsided into something more camp than occult. Don’t mistake this decade-long transition as a diminishment of talent, however. There’s a reason that the good folks at Metal Blade have reissued two of King Diamond’s albums, and that reason resides within the superlative relationship between a gothic thespian and his musicians.
The Spider’s Lullabye is one of the finest King Diamond records ever conceived, behind the bona fide and undeniable opus Abigail. Creepy and eerily atmospheric, the 1995 album is a clinic on melodic, and even neo-classical, metal, thanks in large part to the nimble guitar abilities of Andy LaRoque. Diamond is nothing short of amazing as well, belting out frightening falsettos and gruesome baritones that approach operatic standards. Consider the opening “From the Other Side”, with its rapid riffing and strange chipmunkish vocal layering. Who else in the metal community could pull this off without seeming goofier than Garth Algar? The keyboards add a nice ghastly touch to “Poltergeist” and “Six Feet Under” as Diamond ranges from demonic to shrieking and LaRoque ruthlessly abuses the fretboard. Hell, the album is worth a listen just for the eight-minute epic “Room 17”, where the band is allowed to run freely over Diamond’s Lovecraftian musings about being a patient in an insane asylum.
The Graveyard, on the other hand, is not nearly as brilliantly realized or executed. The songs, while technically good, lack the luster and vitality of other efforts, sounding as moribund as the subject matter. The tired concept of the 1996 album revolves around the kidnapping of a little girl by — who else? — a lunatic gravedigger, so by the time the less than thrilling conclusion comes only the most nefarious of listeners will remain intrigued. Disturbing (and uncomfortably comical) moments abound, like when King Diamond tries to convince seven-year old Lucy to come home with him on “I’m Not a Stranger”. Similarly disquieting are “Sleep Tight Little Baby” and “Daddy”, which cover Lucy’s imprisonment and ransom. Diamond’s howls and growls are convincing throughout, however, adding a shudder-inducing realism to the album that most people could hopefully do without.
The Spider’s Lullabye hearkens back to a simpler time in the mid-’90s when metal was fun, hovering on a fine line between macabre and whimsically satanic, and it certainly deserves to be unearthed from obscurity. King Diamond and his band achieved an evil synergy, successfully rendering a niche concept into something impressive and enjoyable. The Graveyard, needless to say, is dead on arrival due to some intangible element of omission. Genuinely unsettling, memorable in the wrong ways, and at times nearly unlistenable in its grotesqueries, it is better off laid to rest.