My introduction to King Diamond came with the high recommendations given by my former SEARS co-worker and friend, Richard. He told me of King Diamond's ultra-screech, mysterious nature (relating to "the Devil's Church"), and provocative, dark, conceptually-themed albums. But most importantly, he recommended a particular album, called "THEM."
A couple of weeks later, I was in a Newbury Comics in Boston and purchasing "THEM." My first couple of listens impressed me, but didn't exactly grasp me. Now, as I write this review, four days before Halloween, I am listening to "THEM" again, and I'm quite in awe of just how awesome my first King Diamond experience has been.
Thematically, King Diamond likes to be mysterious and controversial. His heavy makeup, vague biographies, and talks of tales such as the one found on this album as having been true tales which happened to him! This, of course, makes it easy to assume his lyrics are of a similar nature. There are some pretty cheesy executions to Diamond's nature, including his ear-grabbing vocals. In fact, VERY cheesy. So cheesy it's hard to believe that the music is so good, not so much in spite of, but rather BECAUSE of, the overly-thematic cheese.
However, as cheesy as these material aspects go, the lyrics are quite the contrary. Although some word choices are perhaps a little overdone ("I hate that b---!," for one), the story what's within behind is very well-plotted and rather eerie. And when I say "plotted," I mean there is actually a whole PLOT behind every story on the album. Yes, folks, this is a concept album (or "rock opera," as many prefer). Every song (except for this edition's last three tracks, which are bonuses) on "THEM" is a chapter in a rather eerie story. For those who have no imagination, the main plot is as follows.
A nine-year-old boy, King (supposedly King Diamond himself as a child), along with his older sister Missy and their mother, are getting a visit from their grandmother. Grandma was coming home after being released from a several-year sentence in a mental asylum (which she had been put into because she spoke of "invisible guests..."). As she settles in, King notices she's acting very strangely...and one night comes into her room in the attic, only to find her drinking tea - with other mugs floating in the air, as if being held by invisible guests! At first terrified, King slowly falls to Grandma's lulling words, and soon gets involved with her and..."Them." Meanwhile, their mother was getting sick, and sicker and sicker, feeling weaker every day. Because of this and King's strange new behavior, Missy, tries to figure out what's going on, and deemed too inquisitive, is killed by "Them." This horrific episode freaks King out and makes him come back to reality, and he rebels. He flips out in his fury at Grandma, now knowing what has really been going on. They get into a squabble, and he ends up killing her by biting her in the neck. Before he knows it, King is placed in that same asylum for the murders of his mother, sister, and grandmother, and he tries to tell them that "They" did it, that he's not really crazy... And of the ending, I shall not speak. You can figure that out for yourself.
What a plot. That's one half of why I love this album. Here's the other half: the music.
King Diamond's band includes guitarists Pete Blakk and Andy la Rocque (the work of whom I'm familiar with on Death's album INDIVIDUAL THOUGHT PATTERNS) are a tight duo. Shredding like pure thrashers, incorporating lots of great melodies (fast and slow), and crossing solos left and right with such ease, they are a good team. There are great solos and leads in each song, and some great harmonies. I like. Oh yes, I like. Bassist Hal Patino lays down some good lines, mostly mirroring the guitar riffs but still being a much more prominent feature in the overall heaviness. And Mikkey Dee on drums...very good. Fast, complex, lots of double-bass, snare, and tom bashing. King Diamond's got quite a good band to back his insane vocals.
Vocally, King Diamond outdoes even the great Rob Halford in how high-pitched a male soprano singer can be. Thankfully there are lyrics to read the story with, as well as to understand what Diamond is pronouncing. He has a bit of range, from alto growls and snarls to the more prominent shriek. He also performs all the vocals on the sound effects, performing young King, Missy, and even Grandma! It's easy to see how he has influenced upon black metal vocalists.
There's not much else to say about this album. Every song is very singular and original, telling another chapter in this horrifying episode. The music is more than often appropriate for the mood of each piece. There's even an instrumental, the title track "Them," which relies on acoustic guitar and clean electric leads, courtesy of Mr. La Rocque. Oh, and there's an awesome acoustic break in "A Broken Spell," with a brief bit of low-end alto vocals, which is a nice little breather.
Finally, there's this new edition of "THEM," which is remastered and recorded on a gold (yes, the metal gold) disc. I've not heard the original, un-mastered edition, so I can't tell how much better the sound might be, but the sound here is crisp and yet with just enough mist to add an extra touch of atmosphere to the album's vibe. As I mentioned before, there are three bonus tracks on this album. They include an outtake, "Phone Call," which makes both a nice prologue or epilogue to the rest of the plot (it's a phone conversation between King and Grandma), as well as demos of two songs on the album, "The Invisible Guests" and "Bye, Bye Missy." These latter songs are not of particular interest to me, but they're a nice look into the past.
At my friend Richie's recommendation, I bought this album and fell in love. So now I am recommending to you, the reader, to buy this album, and enjoy it...but don't listen to it after dark.
Now, would you care for some tea?