King Diamond | Still Haunted after All These Years

prof king-diamond_smWas it ever difficult not to cross the line between playing his character and becoming his character? His answer is immediate: “It’s not hard at all.”




prof king-diamond_500

When I was growing up a hard rock fan in the ’80s, there were always two very different, yet clearly defined paths from which one could choose. The first was what one could call the path of least resistance: the glossy, always-good-looking bands that dominated MTV with instantly catchy hooks and perfectly crafted looks. The other was the less popular one: hard-rocking bands that looked like they just got off the third shift at the slaughterhouse, with edgy, aggressive riffs and faces only a mother could love.

Then there was King Diamond.

He was on a path all his own, ever since forming occult rockers Mercyful Fate in Copenhagen back in 1981. With his theatrical use of makeup and props, Kim Bendix Petersen, professionally known as King Diamond, not only lacked a face a mother could love, he would give her nightmares until her last dying breath. And that kind of thing was exactly what drew us to him in the first place.

After I had spent years of listening to classic albums such as Abigail and being confronted by his devilish image, my expectations of our impending interview were scattered and jumping all over the inside of my cranium. Somehow, even as an adult, I pictured him in full makeup, talking in a low, sinister tenor, and then suddenly rising into a crazed falsetto if my question didn’t meet his personal expectations. As it turns out, the gentleman with whom I spoke had no plans to send me to hell, and was a bright and engaged conversationalist.

King Diamond, the man and the band, will be returning to St. Louis on Friday, October 22, at The Pageant. “We have played St. Louis many times in the past,” he says, “but it has been a while.” King reckons that this is probably the best time in their history for longtime fans to become reacquainted and new fans to hop aboard, for a variety of reasons. “For people that never saw us, this is the time,” he says excitedly. “We played some shows earlier in the year at the Wacken Open Air festival in Germany to over 20,000 people. That entire new stage show was so big, and now we’re basically cramming it into these theaters we’re playing in the States. Along with a great set list, the show is very visual and it’s going to be phenomenal, I can tell you.” Joining the King onstage for the current tour will be longtime guitarist Andy La Rocque, guitarist Mike Wead, drummer Matt Thompson, and new bassist Pontus Egberg.

The fact that King Diamond is able to tour at all is a source of great happiness and relief for his legions of fans. Back in November 2010, it looked like he might never get the chance to perform again. “I had a triple bypass, and I stopped smoking a few years ago” he explains. “My voice is better now than it ever was. I had no idea it would have that big of an effect on my voice.” Armed with a clean bill of health and a renewed vigor, he’s convinced that he sounds better than he ever did before. “Now, it’s go forward every day, and we do an hour-and-a-half, two-story production. And when I say two-story, I mean I am going up and down staircases on the stage.”

He says when he finishes a show every night he feels ready for round two. “I ask myself, ‘Was that it?’ It’s full blast, and the stamina is there. I am in much better voice, and I’m very much looking forward to this show.” The newfound enthusiasm has spread to his musicians, as well. “The sound of the band now is unbelievable. There’s a lot that has been refined. It seems like the music, during this recuperation period, has just gotten better and better.”

prof king-diamond_300We begin to talk about influences and, inevitably, Alice Cooper comes up. I asked King if it was ever difficult not to cross the line between playing his character and becoming his character. His answer was immediate. “It’s not hard at all. Of course, I like Alice Cooper, and I loved when he would be talking about himself in the third person,” he says. “But when I am up there, I would act exactly the same whether or not I wear makeup. Even in rehearsals, there’ll be that squint of the eye, the same movements with the bone microphone. It’s just the way things are. But I never lose control. I know exactly what I’m doing up there.”

Clearly comfortable with his image after all of these years, he’s also not above poking fun at himself. “Sometimes people ask me if I mow the lawn in makeup,” he says, laughing. “It would be interesting to go shopping in the makeup, wouldn’t it?” Some may be surprised to know that another big influence during his formative years was Genesis-era Peter Gabriel. “I saw Genesis when they were touring for The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. The show was mind blowing with the giant knife, and Gabriel was hanging from the ceiling, above the audience and you couldn’t see the wires. It just went to my bones.” And just as Peter Gabriel and Alice Cooper inspired him, King is out to inspire the metal-heads who flock to see him this Halloween season. “We’ll have actors onstage, the wheelchair will be there, the coffin trick—it’s a very theatrical presentation.”

The tour isn’t the only thing on King’s mind these days. The band has re-upped with Metal Blade Records for three more albums, and there are career-spanning DVDs and a compilation of what he calls “enhanced” tracks from his classic albums. “My old label, Roadrunner Records, was bought by Universal, and Metal Blade has recently been given the license worldwide to put together a collection of songs from both labels.” And what, exactly, does he mean by “enahanced?” He explains, “I don’t like to say remastered, because this sounds so much better. Sometimes remasters just condense things to make it louder and even and nice, but I don’t like that. I like to hear the details, and these enhanced versions really bring those out.”

Indeed, this is a complaint echoed by many audiophiles, that modern mastering distorts the natural sound and sacrifices the subtle details for maximum volume. “You hear bottom end you never heard before, and its clearer” Asked for an example, he says, “There are places in ‘Invisible Guests’ where you can hear the keyboard that plays the harmonies, and you couldn’t hear that before. So you hear things much better.” Inevitably, fans are going to ask for enhanced versions of the entire back catalog. Is this something that can be done down the line? “I really want to,” he says, “for everybody’s sake.”

There’s also the next album to look forward to. King sounds less like an evil mastermind and more like a kid on Christmas morning, describing his new home studio where he plans to record. “I had a studio built in my house designed by a company in Oregon. Sound insulated, floating wood floor, Pro Tools, all the super stuff that you want,” he says before declaring, “It is the shit, to put it mildly. They blew my mind the first time I walked into it.”

He continues, “Andy [La Roque] has a studio in Sweden and I have a studio, so we can correspond when we record.” He’s especially enamored with the speakers in studio, sometimes even blasting some of his favorite music through them. “The first Black Sabbath album, Rush’s Moving Pictures, Uriah Heep’s Demons and Wizards album, they sound so incredible through them.” Just out of curiosity, I ask King if there are any artists he enjoys listening to that may surprise his fans. “I like Kate Bush and Loreena McKennitt. I saw her in concert and I thought I would have another heart attack; I couldn’t believe how good the show was.”

As our time winds down, I ask about the possibility of another Mercyful Fate album and tour. He responds, “King Diamond is my life, but Mercyful Fate is in my heart. It’s difficult, though, because most of those guys are working, and it’s hard to pull them out of their lives and say, ‘Hey, play with me for a while.’”

prof king-diamond_creepyFinally, being that he’s always been a lightning rod for religious controversy, I ask him what exactly his perspective on religion is. There’s a fine line between rumors, image, and reality, and his response was somewhat surprising. “I am not a big fan, but I respect religion, although I believe it has been at the root of certain evils. I respect people that believe in what they believe in. I’m very spiritual.” King had a spiritual encounter of a different kind fairly recently that is the perfect way to tie everything back to his tour in October. As he tells it, “It was the weirdest thing. We played ‘Shapes of Black’ at the Sweden Rock Fest in 2012, and at some point I sit with a lantern on the drum riser. At that time, we also used a follow spot. The actress is dressed in a black outfit without a face. So she’s there, and trying to steal this lantern from me, and it’s at the end of the song. Well, there’s a photo from that song that a Norwegian guy took with a digital camera—all you can see is one leg up to her thigh, and the rest is not there. Right through her thigh, it’s cut off. It’s nuts.” Still amazed at what was shown, or not shown, in the photograph, he says, “You can see the vague outline of the follow spot on me, but in that picture there is no shadow on me, and that doesn’t make sense. It’s a digital camera, so there is no double exposure.” | Jim Ousley

See King Diamond in St. Louis on Wednesday, October 22, at The Pageant with Jess and the Ancient Ones. GA $30 adv/$35 dos; reserved balcony $35.

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