King Diamond is an icon. The man behind the mask is legendary on so many levels. His songwriting, storytelling, stage presence and survival skills place him in the upper echelon of heavy metal frontmen. He never garnered mainstream fame the way Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio or Rob Halford did, but you would be hard pressed to find an individual in the metal community that has not been influenced in some way by King Diamond. His painted face and crossbone mic stand are trademarks of the underground, and his high falsetto is one of the most easily recognized in extreme music. The man might be 58 years old, and it has been 7 years since his last album, but that didn’t stop the faithful from packing into the Paramount Theatre on Friday night. It had been quite some time since King Diamond had graced Denver with his presence. Herniated disks, severe back pain, heart attacks and triple bypass surgery would put most men in the grave, but not King. A few cancelled tour dates and some rest were all he needed before taking the show back on the road. Any concern that he might not be operating at full capacity was immediately put to rest when he appeared on stage in front of a giant LaVeyan pentagram to kick things off with “The Candle”.
King Diamond claims to have been following the philosophy of LaVeyan Satanism long before he discovered The Satanic Bible, but unlike many black metal bands who considered themselves theistic Satanists, King does not believe in an actual supernatural being…God, Satan, or otherwise. Satan is just a symbol. Therefore, although King may be more honest in his beliefs than many black metal bands, his stage presence has a levity rarely found at metal shows. Every song on every album is a chapter in a story — stories of haunted houses, evil grandmothers, possessed children and other dark things that go bump in the night — so the pentagrams, make-up, and skulls and bones just add a visual element to those stories. The whole thing is very dramatic, but it’s all done in good taste. A King Diamond show strikes a perfect balance between theatre and concert. It was for those reasons that the Paramount Theatre made sense for King’s return to Denver. It would have been hard to accommodate the two-level stage with the winding staircases and elaborate backdrops in similar sized venues around town. Although, it was a little strange to see the studded, patched-up, black denim crowd neatly lined up in perfect rows before the show started. More than a few people looked uncomfortable as they were ushered to their seats, immediately realizing that there would be no circle pit at this particular show. One unfortunate soul was escorted out for trying to get the crowd to stand-up during Jess and the Ancient Ones set, and another shirtless dude was given a strong talking to by security, but most people were left to their own devices. The Paramount Theatre was something very different than The Gothic Theatre — this was something the crowd had to get used to quickly.
Once the lights went down on the crowd and came up on the elaborate stage, all venue concerns were forgotten. The show wasn’t really condusive to a pit anyway, and no one was going to stop anyone from headbanging or singing along, so once King brought us into the world he had crafted so well, we hardly noticed where we were anymore. The set started with “The Candle” before transitioning into the first of many selections from Conspiracy, “Sleepless Nights”. The setlist shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone following along, because it really hadn’t changed throughout the tour. Like a play, the stage props changed with each song, so changing up the set every night would have been difficult. The pentagram was replaced with a giant bust of King surrounded by characters from the various albums, then Grandma came out for a few visits, then a life-sized puppet broke free from her strings…then darkness came, candles were lit, and color schemes were changed again. The production value of the show could have taken away from any lesser artist, but King’s position as Master of Ceremonies was never compromised. The years have done nothing to affect his ageless voice. The man can still hit every note. Even when he treated us to some Mercyful Fate, he sounded exactly like he did in ’83. His band also proved themselves to be one of the best metal bands working today. Andy LaRocque and Mike Wead were non-stop as they guided us through the decades from Fatal Portrait to Give Me Your Soul…Please, but I couldn’t take my eyes off center stage where Matt Thompson was destroying the drum kit. The main set lasted exactly an hour and included 14 songs (if you count “Let It Be Done” and the mid-show medley of “Tea”, “Digging Graves” and “A Visit From the Dead”), highlighted by “At The Graves”, “Evil” and “Come to the Sabbath”, but the best was yet to come.
A coffin preceded the band back on stage. Then came the priest. King fought Grandma into the box while the band foreshadowed what was to come next with “Cremation”. The soundtrack played on while King summoned the spark that would get rid of Grandma once and for all. By the time the song was finished, she was no more than a smoldering pile of charred bones. It was one of the most theatrical scenes of the evening and it gave way to what everyone have been waiting for. The lack of Abigail material was a little concerning up to that point, so closing things out with “The Family Ghost” and “Black Horseman” was the perfect recipe to have the crowd foaming at the mouth. King’s voice had some competition from those screaming the words back at him, but the master’s voice had no problem overtaking the masses. It was an incredible closing to an amazing show — a show that would have never happened if King Diamond wasn’t one strong human being. “Insanity” was played over the PA as the band bowed and left the stage. King stuck around to shake hands and thank all those in the front row. He looked sincerely grateful for everyone who came out to see him.
King Diamond is a legend and and an icon…and he is extremely lucky to be alive. Seeing him up there on Friday night, I couldn’t help but wonder if there wasn’t somebody or something looking out for him, despite the fact that he doesn’t believe “they” exist.
Never Ending Hill
(Let It Be Done)
The Puppet Master
At the Graves
Tea / Digging Graves / A Visit from the Dead
Come to the Sabbath
Shapes of Black
Eye of the Witch
The Family Ghost