With a career spanning four decades, King Diamond (aka Kim Bendix Petersen), the Danish-born, Dallas-based, falsetto-ed frontman of Mercyful Fate and his eponymous band King Diamond, is undoubtedly one of the most iconic and prolific artists in heavy metal. He’s known for horror-laced, story-driven lyrics, Satanic-leaning spiritualism, and stylistic flair including theatrical stage sets and mic stands made out of human bones. His artistry has directly impacted musicians across stylistic lines from extreme metal (his black-and-white-painted face notably helped inspire corpse paint), to occult and prog rock, to mainstream artists like Foo Fighters and Metallica, who immortalized him as a playable character in 2009′s Guitar Hero: Metallica. A series of heart attacks in 2010 threatened to keep him down but failed; after a triple bypass operation and a few lifestyle changes (including kicking his cigarette habit) King Diamond was back on stage by 2012.
This month, for the first time in nearly a decade, King Diamond has embarked on a full U.S. tour (culminating with an appearance at Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest), making a lot of rock fans’ Halloween seasons much more evil in the process. With talk of a new album ahead in 2015, at the age of 58, he seems practically unstoppable.
Wondering Sound caught up with King Diamond from his home in Dallas just before the tour kickoff, but something else was on his mind. The day before, he announced the November 11 release of Dreams of Horror, a 23-song collection that spans the band’s entire career. While at first this might not seem like that big of a deal, since other Mercyful Fate and King Diamond “best ofs” have been on the market for years, Dreams of Horror marks the first time King Diamond and original member Andy LaRocque have been involved in the process, and more importantly, were given free rein to curate and remaster the material to their specifications. For such detail-oriented artists, the opportunity was like winning the golden ticket. Diamond is stoked, not just about the upcoming release, but about the state-of-the-art home studio he built for the project and the creative potential he sees in it for future recordings.
A listen to the newly enhanced songs on Dreams of Horror makes it easy to understand King’s excitement in sharing it with the public after many years of standard-issued, compressed-to-death remasters. The tracks sound massive, but retain plenty of sonic nuance and clarity. King says they hope to eventually give their whole back catalog the same treatment.
During our enthusiastic, whirlwind conversation (was this really King Diamond, or did the connection get swapped with the Energizer Bunny?), the metal legend raved about his new studio, shed some insight into concept-album construction, and gave us a closer look into the turbulence of losing and regaining control of one’s art.
How does this differ from a typical “best of” compilation?
It’s important for me to explain what it is because it’s not just “Sit and pick your songs for a ‘best of.’” It was supposed to be out in the summertime, but it was too much work. It’s got to be right, so it was pushed to November. We worked a lot on this, Andy [LaRocque] and I. We built a new studio in the meantime. Here in my house there is a vocal studio now, fully outfitted with the top-notch stuff. It will be so much better for the future to be able to use that.
It’s got to be nice to have that right at home.
Oh my god, man. We won’t be on the clock anymore and we can just try out anything without feeling like you’re wasting anybody’s time. Both me and my wife [Hungarian-born singer Livia Zita] can fit in the vocal booth and sing at the same time for a rehearsal. For us, this is the best of the band’s entire career; it’s both Roadrunner and Metal Blade material, so it’s very unique.
It is very unusual to have two labels come together like that. Is that why you describe it as a “‘best of,’ but not really a, ‘best of’”?
No, there’s so much more to it. [Roadrunner] remastered everything at some point — they’re the only ones you can get now in stores, I think, but we were not part of that process. That was after we stopped working with them. I’m not too fond of [the remasters], personally. The purpose was to make the music louder for radio, so if they played a King Diamond song or a Mercyful song it would not be a lot lower than the stuff they just played before it. So they go in, and the standard way of doing it, a lot of people were talking more and more about, “You’re killing the quality of the recorded stuff, you’re crushing it with compression.”
You’re losing the dynamics.
Absolutely. The dynamics and the clarity. Even the effects sometimes. People are like, “What did you do?” And no, they didn’t do anything; they don’t have the master tapes or multitracks. So that was not a good thing to listen to; it still isn’t a good thing to listen to. That’s why it has to be right if we do it, but it took more work than we thought. We got all this great gear. We got some speakers hand-built up in Oregon called Barefoot Speakers. I didn’t know music could sound like this.
There is already a Best of Mercyful Fate and a Best of King Diamond. Were you ever asked for your input?
Me and Andy picked all the songs for this, but we’ve never been asked before. They came out after we stopped working with Roadrunner. We always had a great relationship, but still, they did stuff because they were allowed to contractually. They didn’t have to contact us, or maybe we were on tour and we were not contacted.
Once, I found out in the worst possible way. I was with a promoter in Poland. He was driving me to the show and said, “Would you mind signing your new album?” I said, “That’s not the new album. What are you talking about? Can I see it?” I hadn’t done the front cover, I don’t like the song choices. How can you do a “best of” without certain songs? Who picked them? Of course, I signed his album, but I was not happy afterward. There were a few boiling phone calls after that.
I’d think for an artist like yourself where each of your records is a full-scale production, it must be hard to see it chopped up that way.
Oh, absolutely. This was the exception, fortunately. Everyone has been very good in most cases, but there are some of those where you’re just thinking “Oh my god!” I remember the first time I saw the Fatal Portrait album for the first time, when I was doing a photo session in Paris. I had been in London and I flew to Paris for the next thing, and I was flying back from London to Copenhagen. The guy came down to the hotel room and said, “Here is the new album. Check it out.” It’s one that is now very rare, where the cover has all the colors you would find in a Monopoly game. Light blue, pink, yellow. Each letter colored differently. “Whoa, this was supposed to be yellow with a red shadow. What on Earth?” I flung it up on the wall and it splintered all over the place. I got so mad.
Imagine, our first album as King Diamond and it was totally botched. The first thing people see with the front cover and it looked absolutely pathetic with the logo, the first thing people recognize you by. A simple thing, like a title, “Welcome Princes of Hell,” became “Welcome Princess of Hell.” There is a difference in how you see the picture form. I’m singing in the lyrics, “Welcome princes of hell.” It’s still spelled like that today, but now it’s almost classic and you don’t want to touch it. It happens to everybody, of course, there’s no way you can be perfect with stuff. Neither can we. You can’t avoid these things but some of these are more obvious than others.
Every aspect of your records adds to the story and the message you’re trying to create. How do you put your concepts together for each album?
Oh, there have been so many different ways they come together. Next time I know there will be a lot of different feelings from what I went through in the hospital and all of that. It might not be exactly how things happened but the emotions and that style of feeling will be part of certain passages for sure. If I get an idea I just write it down on a little notepad and put it away.
When it’s time to write another album, I usually do a story first because I know what I want to do. That creates a feeling and a mood, and when you have that mood it automatically affects how you write the music, because you are in that mood. Then you start writing the music and eventually the story will be divided into as many songs as you have written. You divide the story into chapters, and you put the story from each chapter into lyric form. It’s kind of like sitting with a lot of little pieces for a puzzle, you know? Where do I put this piece? Oh, it has this in it, so it should be over here. You can’t just write a bunch of music and then write a story over that and then try to fit the story to the music. I have to do it the other way, because that’s the only way I can do it right.
There are so many things that inspire you. “House of God” has to do with different religious beliefs. I’m not religious myself. I think I’m very spiritual, but I’m not religious. But there’s always been this dilemma that I think is horrible, that people think they believe in the only right thing, and they won’t respect that there are other things. Then they’ll go and kill each other. I don’t understand because there is no proof. Everyone would believe in the same thing if there was proof of one or the other god. I don’t claim to know — I don’t say there are no gods, either. How would I prove that? I am spiritual. I have had a lot of occult experiences. I feel there is definitely more things than we understand but it is still not enough to base a religious belief on for me.
“House of God” is very much about that. That’s where the makeup came from as well, the crosses are going both ways in the makeup. A lot of those thoughts in that, there is talk about a wolf called Angel. I had [a wolf named Angel] for real in my yard, for a year as a puppy. It was given to my ex-wife by some friends of hers — they really didn’t think [it through]. It grew until it was up to my hip, really big with blue eyes. I played a lot with it in the backyard but everyone could hear it was not a dog that we had, and an ambulance would drive in the distance and it would start howling. A wolf howls like no dog could howl. Also he got too big and it was very sad. There’s a little [song] called “Goodbye,” that talks about that day [we brought him back to a wolf pack]. I didn’t feel good about it but it had to be done. Fortunately the pack accepted Angel back in with no problem at all, but otherwise…
Yeah, so you take stuff from there, and there is so much more in the stories based on real things that are modified to fit than people would ever know.