King Diamond: The Patron Saint of Heavy Metal Halloween

King Diamond: The Patron Saint of Heavy Metal Halloween

- By Perran Helyes

King Diamond has embodied the spirit of the spookiest season for metalheads for decades. In this Knotfest interview, he talks October holiday traditions, supernatural energies, and his current work writing two different albums.

When those spectral October winds are in the air, there is one man above all others in heavy metal you check in with. From Mercyful Fate's "At the Sound of the Demon Bell" on their debut album "Melissa" which turns 37 years old this month, to the cackling and timelessly gleeful "Halloween" on his first album as King Diamond, it is a subject the King has returned to time and time again, and in turn has seen himself become synonymous with it for his decades of work pioneering conceptual horror storytelling within heavy metal as a legitimate art. His morbid statesman of the macabre look isn't a bad Halloween costume idea itself.

Doubtlessly, it's a fruitful and inspiring time for the man. After releasing his first new song "Masquerade of Madness" in 2019, the theatrical femur-wielding icon is now hard at work not only on the surrounding new King Diamond album, but the first album in the 21st century from the reformed Mercyful Fate as well. We interrupted his efforts for just a moment to take stock of this October season.

If we were to say to you that the heavy metal community views you as almost their patron saint of Halloween, how do you feel about that title?

I think it's great! It's in my lyrics, every night when we're up playing feels like Halloween. Halloween has been seen in so many ways depending on what your background is I guess. For me, on that very day, it's not like I do a ritual but I observe my departed friends. I always do that, whether we're on tour or at home. It's a day where I am very reminded of that and so, Halloween has its strong meaning. There's the old Samhain, no one really seems to know too much about it and it's a lot of guesswork, but that's fine too. Halloween is a party with the dead, and a party among the living. The thing of dressing up, it's not too far from Mexico's own Day of the Dead, where it's macabre in a good way and there is a lot of good in it. For us of course it is perfect to play the song Halloween and whether it is Halloween or not people are always singing along like it is that night, which has a real power to it. It is so cool to see from my perspective and when you put that much power into it collectively, it almost becomes a ritual in itself.

How much does your life and surroundings change around Halloween? The perception for a lot of people would surely be that in King Diamond's house, it's Halloween all the time.

The house right now looks like from another era, I can tell you. Gargoyles in front of the fireplace, Dracula's crest over it, just right where I am sitting now in the music room. The ceiling in the living room is 20 feet tall and it looks like a small church in there, going up into a ceiling with exposed beams. We've got stuff from shows, these are the same gargoyles we used to have on stage. So no huge change, but it has a mood I can tell you.

Like any global holiday there's the difference in the old traditional or folkloric roots of Halloween and the modern, very commercialised Halloween with its own modern traditions. Whereabouts do you sit on that, is Halloween something you take quite seriously in an old sense or just purely fun factor?

I think it's a mix depending on the occasion, I would say. When we are playing live, like I say it becomes almost ritualistic, though not where people walk away like "Now I'm screwed, I've got to go straight to church!", as much as I would like them to be! I think for me that environment is where I feel it most, where the energy of that night is most meaningful to me. It's inspiring to try and create something to match the occasion. With the Mercyful Fate shows there will be some heavy improvements on the stage show I can tell you, and I am going to be getting into some totally new ways of presenting myself. It's going to be very dark, where it has to be that the first time people see us they think "You've gotta be kidding me, what the fuck was that?" It's gonna be different and it will be leaning on old horror, the old tradition of Satan as you would have seen in old books or paintings. The new cover is done, even though it's not going to be out until after the King Diamond album, and the feeling I get from looking at it is the same as when I saw the movie poster for The Exorcist for the first time. King Diamond too will have new stage presentation of course, a bigger show with more depth, and last time we played the US people said it was the best they had seen then ever. You leave with an image in your mind that will not be erased ever, which is what I always hope for because that is what I have from the concerts I saw way back in the 70s of Genesis with Peter Gabriel who is a huge influence with the costume changes and presentation, and I will never forget it. None of my friends wanted to go as it was not heavy enough for them but listen to those old songs, "The Musical Box" or "The Return of the Giant Hogweed", and there is something raw about them. The year after I saw Alice Cooper, so that was two very influential moments for me coming from a show, and if I have the chance to do that same thing I will do it. I was such a hardcore music fan, and still am, but that is why I know what it means to people and what it means to come up with something that is rehearsed well, presented properly with everyone a pro at what they are doing, and to deliver that mood that people walk away from feeling they had seen something special. That is how we bring Halloween with us every night.

You live in America now and have done for many years. Was Halloween something you celebrated much when you were back home in Denmark or was it a real American thing?

In Denmark it's a different day, when I was a kid we did not have Halloween but we had a day at the end of February where we do the same thing perhaps more like the Day of the Dead. The song Halloween was written way before I moved to America. We had been to the US touring with Mercyful Fate and that was around when that song was written, so it goes further back, but that is because of my interest in the occult. That started right in the beginning before Mercyful Fate, as a kid, I was always interested, reading books and then having my own experiences. I moved into an apartment in Denmark later and that was just haunted as fuck. Everyone experienced that, other band members, guests, journalists. It was a place that gave heavy inspiration. Things are taken straight from there and then made to fit the storyline of songs, so I've had my experiences there, and then in the late 80s I was invited to the LaVeyan Satanic Church to spend a night there which was very interesting to put it mildly.

Photo by Jason Bailey

Is it true that it's a particularly supernatural night? Do you notice an increase in paranormal phenomena you have experienced at this time of year?

Not really, only if we are on tour and playing live where there is that amazing power present, but otherwise those things can happen anytime. If you are expecting it at Halloween then it might not come. And I wouldn't say that I have gotten sceptical, but whenever something happens that I experience now that is what you would say of the occult, then I will try ten times harder to prove that it was not. I have seen that it is real, I have seen things that are wholly for sure and that others have seen with me, and it does not matter to me who believes it or not. I know though that because I have seen so many things, that most times when something seems to be that way, it won't be. Even in that old haunted apartment where things were experienced that could only be of the occult, I saw a light flying through the building, and it turned out there was just this one angle where at a certain time of the day the sun could hit a car's window driving by and shoot up creating this illusion. We found that out later, and so this one thing that was part of what we thought were the hauntings of the place turned out not to be, but elsewhere there was touching going on, a girl's hair being pulled by nothing, the growling in the bathroom. Once I had a photo session and the photographer spent the night there. Afterwards, they just looked white as a sheet and insisted on leaving right away, being very evasive about what was wrong and we just had to go "Oh, you mean the growling in the bathroom?" Don't mind that, it's normal you know! Lars and James from Metallica were there partying with us in Mercyful Fate, and another girl who was with us there went to the bathroom and didn't come out for fifteen or twenty minutes. I heard her crying in there and saying that the door had locked, she could not open it and something was in there growling at her. Just something in there, telling these people to get lost so it can have the room to itself again! Of course this gave me ideas for "Them", where these stories will always come from real things we experienced and then modified for the songs. The cups flying in thin air, that goes way back to three of us listening to the first Fate demo in my apartment and a glass full of beer just rose up from the table half a metre or so. It slowly sank back down again and we sat and said nothing for a couple of minutes, until I said "I know you both saw that." They just nodded and we didn't talk about it again. That was put into "Welcome Princes of Hell" with "I'm alone with my friends, now I see you clear, we raise our glasses, welcome to my house princes of hell!"

When it comes to songs like "Halloween", "At the Sound of the Demon Bell" or "Legend of the Headless Rider" then which all have this Halloween theme, when you are talking about these stemming from real sensations, to what degree is there a balance of that real conviction and something more tongue in cheek like Christmas single "No Presents for Christmas"?

It is more serious than you would think, you know. It is what Halloween means to me, taken to the stage. With all of those people in that mood on that night, if we were to have a real ritual it would be the most powerful one. With "Halloween", the tongue in cheek thing is not so much there, but of course with "No Presents for Christmas" and those lyrics about Donald Duck it totally is! I have this letter still from a priest bitching about how I was making fun of Christmas and tainting it with the occult among young people, and apart from maybe reindeer flying around with a sleigh, that is the one song with no occult references! Another priest back in Denmark got upset over "A Dangerous Meeting" and he was on the radio speaking about it. Again, all I could say is, have you read the lyrics? That song is a warning. It is telling young kids not to mess around with Ouija boards because you can come back with something dangerous, and to have respect for it. That is one thing I have never done, used a Ouija board, because I do not feel that it's safe.

With your songs such regulars on many metal fans' Halloween playlists, do your personal listening habits change at all around Halloween? Do you have favourite seasonal spooky records?

Well you can always put the first Black Sabbath album on. That is one of my favourites from them which has incredible playing, a very moody sound. That's definitely something that has richness but there are a lot of bands like that. There's the song "D.O.A." by the band Bloodrock from here in Texas which is so eerie. You hear these ambulance sirens and the guy starts singing about surviving this plane crash, being in the ambulance with his girlfriend on the bed next to him slowly dying. It's creepy as fuck, it really is. My cardiologist I have now after switching from the previous one who nearly killed me, when I first explained that I travel the world playing music and that I play this music that is horror-inspired he came to me straight away saying that his favourite song in that style is Bloodrock with "D.O.A.", and we started this friendship from there. I speak to the singer Jinx Dawson from Coven and she sent me some special Coven stuff not too long ago. Blue Öyster Cult's moodiest stuff like on "Tyranny and Mutation" or Uriah Heep, where I think that real moodiness coming from the music itself is the most essential thing. We toured with the band Idle Hands recently too who as well are just from my personal view really great people.

Are you still a big horror movie watcher?

Not a movie but I just watched two episodes yesterday of American Horror Story: Asylum. My story for "The Institute" is already written for both albums, as it will take up two albums of storyline, but I thought I would just put a bit of that on for fun to see their mood and settings for that kind of environment and the very first thing I see is this old institute chair that looks exactly like the surgery chair that we have had built for the stage show. They're having some fun with it in the show but if only you knew what those chairs were used for, and that's one of the nastier things that we're going to try and do on stage.

There must be so much time spent researching both between you and these shows and movies to get those historical details right.

It's some of the worst horror you can get and it's no wonder these places are haunted. We've done albums like "Voodoo" and with the research there, that's a full blown religion to learn about. That's something there that is not necessarily bad but if misunderstood it can be twisted into something, which is what the story that we did on that album moves into, where if someone in that story had only done their research they would not have had these confrontations. We were writing something once that was not able to be finished, and it will never see the light of day, but it was called "The Plague" and when I started looking at it it took me right back to the same time period and what was going on on "The Eye". "The Eye" was done with I would say 90% historical accuracy, and then I put my own characters into it. The thing about the priests having orgies, the babies born in the convent, that was totally taken from history. I didn't even know this at the time of writing the album but when the priest who is in that story was found out of what he was doing, he had already died and they took it so far as to dig up his body and burn it at the stake next to his still living assistant. Other cases in places like Austria of this mass hysteria and pointing fingers, giving up others out of fear of being given up themselves when no one has really done anything. They'd have a trial but no one is innocent.

Photo by Jimmy Hubbard

Obviously Halloween this year is going to be very different for a lot of
people with the pandemic restrictions in place, what are your

We're taking it very easy and not taking any risks, and the good thing is we have so much work anyway to keep us busy. I have to work on two different albums. It's gonna go on until it's done and otherwise, we just go and buy groceries, or take a drive every now and then to get out of the house. I've recently moved into a new house with a studio upstairs which is the best sounding room I have ever been in. I have very high expectations for what we are doing now. You can hear on the new song "Masquerade of Madness" as well that it is back to the old vocal style where anything goes. All vocals are lead vocals in my mind. That's how it was in the old days. Sometimes you can be talked into leaving the choirs as backing vocals or whatever but that is not how I feel. I will sing a lead and then the next part of that lyric will be sung by a choir to the right, then a choir to the left takes over the next line, where it is always moving around taking on different effects. That is what I love, that craziness, because that makes it even more theatrical to listen to. We are back into that, full blast.

How much are you willing to tell us about when we might get to hear it?

Everything has been thrown around by how things have happened obviously. Mercyful Fate will be playing live first, doing these European festivals that were supposed to be being played now. We're in Denmark for rehearsals first and then there are eight or so festivals in Europe, then we have to fly all the gear over to the US to play Las Vegas. There will be a couple of new songs from the Mercyful Fate album in the set next summer, which otherwise will just be from the EP, "Melissa" and "Don't Break the Oath". Totally old, with a couple new songs added to it. The other side of New Year's should be the new King Diamond coming out, and then touring, touring, touring till we don't tour anymore. The virus decides more than we do ourselves but it's not a wasted year for us as we can do the albums in our own time without having to book time in someone else's studio which really I am so glad for. I can get in here at 3 in the morning and start recording with no one bothering me.

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