Concert Review: King Diamond (Valentine’s, Albany, New York, May 29, 1998)

Denmark’s King Diamond has been lauded over the years as (pick one) black-metal’s Beelzebub, Satanic speedcore’s scion, prog-metal’s progenitor or death-metal’s dad. And all of those accolades are merited: the man’s work since 1981 with Mercyful Fate and his eponymous band has been truly, deeply influential among those musicians and fans who thrive on the dark stuff. Diamond’s impact has also been far-reaching: a quick Internet search revealed 2,835 web-sites dedicated in full or part to his work and a review of the first couple of hundred turned up pages in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Danish, Finnish (I think) and Norwegian.

So no surprise that the house was packed when King Diamond (the man and the band) took to the stage at Valentine’s last Friday night. And no surprise either that neither the man nor the band let down the audience gathered to hear them wax evil, loudly. Guitarists Andy LaRocque and Herb Simonsen, bassist Chris Estes and drummer John Luke Hebert provided all the required riffs at extremely high volume, making places for everything, putting everything in its place, tightly wrapping their little musical bundle-bombs with sixty-fourth note solos.

King Diamond (the man) did his part to make the show a successful one as well, standing on a riser, top hat poking into Valentine’s rafters, playing air-guitar on his femur-like microphone stand, wailing like a banshee and groaning like a ghoul through material culled from as far back as 1987’s Abigail and from as recently as this spring’s Voodoo. Of course, the singing and the playing are only half of the entertainment at a King Diamond show, as a cast of supporting players took to the stage throughout the set to vivify Diamond’s litany of horrors. High camp, high concept, high voice, high octane, high fun.

When it was all over and the undead (including the young woman who I watched getting her arm custom sliced by a razor-wielding crony) had drifted back out into the night, I found myself thinking less about King Diamond’s influence on thrash or prog-metal than about how I had just witnessed the ultimate manifestation of Eurometal. Why? Because after twenty years in the business, the very intelligent, creative and theatrical King Diamond has less in common with most American-style grunters than he does with such Old World stalwarts as Celtic Frost, Rhys Chatham, Voivod (Quebec counts as Europe), the Scorpions, UFO, Disneyland After Dark, Yngwie Malmstein or even Metallica (Lars Ulrich counts as Europe too). I found this impression somehow comforting, as it showed that even Satanic speedfreaks can age gracefully. Do not go gentle, indeed.

Friday night’s opening acts helped highlight King Diamond’s Euroflavour, as they were both very, very American in their approaches. Houston’s Pit Bull Day Care put on a beast of a show in the evening’s middle section, coming across like Ministry-on-crack as their six (or seven? eight? who could tell with all that motion?) buff, shirtless members careened about the stage, spewing call-and-response vocals, choice samples, twin guitar licks and some of the best trans-industrial drumming I’ve ever heard. No subtlety, no theatrics, no widdly guitar solos, just raw power, Iggy-and-the-Stooges-meet-Public-Enemy-style. Intense, yes sir.

Our own home-grown evil black metal ensemble Goatmass kicked off the evening by allowing moonlighting members of Wartime Manner and Straight Jacket to experiment with looks, sounds and concepts that might not fly when presented in the context of their main bands’ bodies of work. Give ’em credit for pushing the envelope about as far as it can go as their music was extremely dense Swans-meet-Cannibal Corpse fare while their stage presentation featured aliens with grill tongs, a goat-monster head, Kiss-style make-up, Jesus on the cross, spiders, candles, a skull, a shrieking femme fatale, billowing smoke and maybe I think, just behind the billowing smoke, even the proverbial kitchen sink. Very scary. Ooo!

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