On February 17, 1986, King Diamond released their excellent debut album "Fatal Portrait".
"King Diamond" emerged in 1985 from the ashes of the band "Mercyful Fate".
After the release of the excellent album "Don't Break the Oath", "Mercyful Fate" went on a US tour, during which the band members began to discuss the band's future. Guitarist Hank Shermann sought to pull the band in a more commercial direction, while singer and keyboardist King Diamond Wanted to continue on the same line as the previous album and even radicalize it towards more complex music. This led to the disbandment of "Mercyful Fate", in April 1985. It was right at the height of their success and it left the metal world in complete shock. "Mercyful Fate" was one of the first wave bands of the "Black Metal" genre and was a great inspiration not only for young bands from the specific genre, but also for the Thrash Metal bands like "Metallica" and "Exodus", so the breakup that came precisely when the band's career was on the rise, was a complete surprise.
After the breakup, King Diamond took guitarist Michael Denner and bassist Timi Hansen with him. He adds two new musicians to the new lineup, drummer Mikkey Dee (who will later join "Motörhead" and is now part of "Scorpions") and guitarist Andy LaRocque.
King Diamond wasted no time and immediately after assembling the band, he began working with them on material for the new album. Meanwhile, the band released on Christmas of 1985 a single called "No Presents for Christmas", which was not included on the original album.
This debut album illustrates the change that King Diamond intended to lead "Mercyful Fate" into. Diamond wrote all the songs on the album exclusively, except for three tracks written in collaboration with guitarist Michael Denner. He has concocted a "creepy" concept story, which dominates more than half of the album's tracks. The keyboards and synthesizers have been given a more dominant place to create the dark and frightening atmosphere that accompanies the story, with Diamond combining the songs with recited short tracks that complete the fabric of the plot. Diamond will perfect this formula in future albums, most of which will be full concept albums, so it can be said that in a sense, this album is a kind of bridge between "Mercyful Fate" and King Diamond's sequels like "Abigail".
The name of the album comes from the book "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde, where he used the phrase "Fatal Portrait" several times.
King Diamond's horror story is told through six of the album's nine tracks: the four songs that fill the first side of the album: "The Candle", "The Jonah", "The Portrait", "Dressed in White", as well as the two ending tracks of the album: The instrumental "Voices From the Past" and "Haunted".
At the center of the plot is a man who unleashes the haunted spirit of a little girl named Molly, imprisoned in every candle found in a haunted house. The same man who is also the storyteller (Diamond) sees a girl's face "in every candle he burns" ("The Candle"). And the girl always talks to him and says one word ("The Jonah"). He realizes that the girl in the white dress has a story she cannot tell ("Dressed in White"). He finds an old book, he reads from it a spell that frees the spirit of Molly from the candle. Molly tells the protagonist her story, which took place seven years earlier ("The Portrait"). Jane, Molly's jealous mother imprisoned her daughter in the attic, until the daughter died. Out of longing for her daughter, Jane drew her portrait and placed it over the fireplace in the house, so that Molly would become immortal. However, Molly, whose spirit prevailed at home, managed to get the portrait to talk to her mother, so that Jane would know about the pain she was causing her. Following this, Jane burns the portrait, but then Molly's ghost returns to haunt her until she goes crazy ("Haunted").
Musically, the album gives us exactly what we were used to getting from "Merciful Fate" but with a little twist.
Diamond's voice is the anchor on which the two lineups are based on. There is no sound like that in Metal and we doubt if it exists in the music world in general. A combination of Rob Halford-style falsetto screams, with an operatic voice, a vocal signature that simply cannot be missed. In terms of guitars, too, there is a direct continuation of what we got at "Merciful Faith". The successful formula of the twin guitar sound, and the exchange of solos and riffs we got in the previous lineup, are well applied here as well.
So what is different after all? First and as we mentioned above, the dominance of the synthesizers and keyboards, which are used to create the atmosphere on which the story of the act is based. Second, the special emphasis on the melody is both in King Diamond's singing and in the solos of new acquisition Andy LaRocque, whose playing in some of the songs is on the border of neo-classical.
King Diamond's music and voice blend well with the story of the act and even complement it. "The Candle" gets us into the story just like in the soundtrack of a horror movie. The sounds of the church organ, the screams in the background, and the devilish voice of King Diamond leave no room for doubt, this album is going to shake us. Then, at 1:38, comes the entrance at a fast pace and King Diamond's voice merges with the guitars and that's it, we're already trapped within the story plot, trapped in the musical madness. Diamond's singing here is another tool designed to convey and illustrate the story to the listener, just as if it were a film. A crazy combination of singing, speaking, reciting, screaming, wicked laughter, and operatic voice blend into the dynamics of the horror story. Immediately afterward we get "The Jonah", which also begins with the sounds of creepy keyboards and recitation that blends in with the story of the act, and here already comes a Doom riff similar to "Black Sabbath", accompanied by Diamond's vocals attacking us from every direction. Diamond's singing here is very melodic and the combination of the two guitars is perfect. Like the previous two tracks "The Portrait" also starts with the atmospheric "carpet" of keyboards, but here the song explodes at a fast pace, maybe the fastest on the album, with amazing guitar riffs and solos by Andy and Michael and crazy bass work by Timi Hansen. "Dressed in White" seals the first side of the vinyl with a melodic-bombastic atmosphere. Diamond's singing here is amazing. He changes his voice and manages to match it to the plot story. And listen to the unique guitar collaboration between Andy and Michael, especially starting at 1:46, which reminds us of the collaboration of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith from "Iron Maiden".
The other side of the album opens up with an excellent 3 songs: "Charon", "Lurking In The Dark" and "Halloween", which are closer in musical style to the mother band, "Merciful Fate", probably because they are not part of the concept plot.
These three songs are powerful and sweeping, and we really have no problem with them interrupting the story sequence. Immediately after them, we come to the instrumental track "Voices from the Past" which is a kind of introduction to the closing song "Haunted". The two tracks complement each other and blend in with the plot story which culminates with "Voices from the Past" which Jane hears and which finally drives her mad at the epic end of "Haunted".
"Fatal Portrait" is a great opening shot for King Diamond's glorious solo career. It has all the elements that will be upgraded and refined in subsequent albums like "Abigail" and "Them".
For Listening: Spotify