One of the most influential figures in metal to emerge after the 1970s, Mercyful Fate lead singer and solo star King Diamond has risen to become one of the genre’s iconic frontmen over the past three decades.
[jump] With a voice that ranged from a guttural growl that prefigured Cookie Monster death-metal vocals to a piercing falsetto and a sinister, corpse-painted visage, Diamond and Mercyful Fate were pioneers of early black metal thanks to the Satanic anthems heard on the band's seminal albums Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath.
When the group split up over artistic differences in 1985, Diamond formed his eponymous band and went on to explore a more theatrical approach with horror concept albums like Abigail, “Them,” and The Puppet Master. While he had always cut a striking figure live with his upside-down bone cross mic stand (made from an actual human femur and tibia), King Diamond upped the ante by introducing more elaborate stage craft, including costumed actors and illusionist tricks to flesh out his dark, gothic visions when performing.
Diamond had a major health scare a few years ago when several arterial blockages required doctors to crack open his ribcage and stop his heart to perform a triple-bypass surgery. The singer made his first post-operation return to the stage in 2011, performing a medley of Mercyful Fate hits with longtime admirers Metallica and old Fate bandmates Hank Shermann, Michael Denner, and Timi Hansen during Metallica’s 30th anniversary shows at The Fillmore. We recently spoke to Diamond about his recovery and his band’s first U.S. tour in nearly a decade, ahead of its stop at the Warfield Theatre this Thursday evening, a show that takes place — appropriately enough — the night before Halloween.
You've spoken a bit about your memories from the triple-bypass surgery you had in 2010, and they're very vivid and surreal. I’m sure it will influence your writing, but have you given any thoughts to explicitly incorporating that experience into your next album?
Well, those things will be in there, not necessarily in the hospital. There is so much in the old albums that has been taken from real life. Sometimes it’s been doctored a little to fit the storyline. So there will be some things [from the surgery] that will have to go in there, absolutely. In one way or another, people will recognize that stuff. How I’ll work it in, I don’t know yet, but it has to be in there.
You’ve done festival dates in Europe the last couple of summers, but will this be your first full tour since the surgery?
Yes, in the sense of it being an indoor tour. I was gone from home for 10 weeks last year, much longer than this tour is, but because it was festivals mainly on the weekends. So you have to sit there staring at hotel walls trying to kill time. It’s so boring and you could get so much more done and be more productive at home. At least, if I’m not in Denmark, where I’m originally from and where I can hang out with friends. That’s great.
So sometimes you get a Friday and a Sunday at different festivals if you can, but it’s not always possible. And you can try to do some shows on your own in between, but of course they don’t pay like the festivals. In the summertime, no one wants to go and see an indoor show in Europe. It’s not like Europe is famous for air conditioning [laughs]. People go see festivals in the summer, so it’s the worst time to play. We did a show in Tilburg in Holland in 2013 in between some festivals. I think it was a Monday or a Tuesday. It was the worst you could have picked. It was like, ‘How many times can we shoot ourselves in the foot with this show?’ Monday night in summertime and indoors; it was insane! But we did the show and it was packed! There was like 1,700 people or something like that. It was great.
But also a lot of stuff has happened since we last toured. The music is coming full circle. The first two shows we played — Sweden Rock and Hellfest in France; those are two big festivals — we didn’t know at that time what was going to happen. At that time, I had not sung except for two rehearsals. It was like ‘OK, we’ll figure out if I can do it.’ I thought I could. I was in better shape, but there were no guarantees.
And then we played the shows and it was good! There were no problems and we were ready to do more. We had to get a permanent booking agency. A lot of things had to be started up again, because it was really a test to see where we were.
And then we booked the shows for last year and we headlined several big festivals. We headlined Copenhell with Alice in Chains playing the night before. We headlined the last day and Down played before us. We played Bloodstock and several other festivals. And then we got booked for this year’s Wacken Festival, which is the biggest show we’ve ever played. We went onstage Friday night at midnight. Couldn’t be better! On the big stage in front of 92,000 people and it was mindblowing! It went so well!
The production is absolutely the best that we’ve ever had. It was never so memorable. And we did a lot of things for Wacken that we upgraded our production and the set list. And we’re bringing that whole Wacken production over here. We’re cramming it into the theaters! We have made dead sure that it fits everywhere. A few of the promoters have gone the extra mile and expanded the stages a little bit so that we can fit it right.
So the whole thing will be there. The cremation scene with Dr. Landau and the priest Sammael, the two-story set with the battlements, the whole thing is going to be there. When you stand there and the curtain drops and the intro music plays and you see it for the first time, if you don’t get goosebumps, you shouldn’t be there [laughs]! You will never forget what you are going to see. It is so unique.
There is this one picture you can find from our first show at Sweden Rock. It’s the weirdest picture of just our actress’s leg up to the thigh. She was standing behind me when I sat down on a riser in front of the drummer and it looks like she’s coming in from another dimension. It’s completely weird. I still haven’t heard a good explanation for it. It’s no gimmick or anything. The first time I was it, I was like “Whoa!” It was like something out of the movie “The Omen.” I called her and told her to be careful so she doesn’t lose a leg!
Theatrical elements have always a big part of your live show. Have you ever considered adapting an album as a stage production for the theater?
It’s always been tempting, but it would be too much probably. It’s very difficult to create that whole setup to play a theater; you’d have to have a bunch of characters on stage. Some songs are not really suited for it, but others, like “Coming Home,” with Grandma in the wheelchair, it’s perfect. But other things would be difficult to create the same feelings and colors. You would have to go really far to take a whole album and present it onstage and then you’d have to go and be someplace where you could present it for a longer time. But I’m not really into doing that. A movie would be fun for some of these stories.
That was my next question, if you’d thought about cinematic versions of the albums. It seems like the stories are there …
Absolutely! And some of these characters could become household names; Grandma would be an obvious one. The Puppet Master is also a story that would lend itself to a movie. You could even shoot it in Budapest; I’ve been on the streets where it takes place. And Abigail and Them and Conspiracy all would work. They have the horror and crime stories.
It hasn’t happened yet in all these years, so I don’t have high hopes for it [laughs]. But it is strange that no one has jumped on it actually, I think. Because they always redo all these same old stories, so why don’t they do a new one? One that is ready to be done and would be very suited for film? But it would have to be a serious effort and an A effort, not a B movie. That would never be accepted by me. I would rather not have anything. It’s not like I must have a movie, but I think it could be great. And a lot of fans would like to see that too right off the bat.
King Diamond with Jess and The Ancient Ones, 8 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 30, at the Warfield Theatre. $35-$55