KING DIAMOND – Diamonds Are Forever
Metal Forces, Issue 17 (1986)
When King Diamond decided to leave Mercyful Fate in April ’85, it came as no surprise that his split also signified the end of a band who, at the time, were a major force on the metal underground and on the verge of international success, because for many Mercyful Fate was King Diamond. His dynamic stage presence and unique vocal style has made Diamond the most unmistakable character in heavy metal today and also help put Denmark on the heavy metal map.
King Diamond’s new self-titled band – featuring fellow ex-Mercyful Fate members Michael Denner (guitar) and Timi G. Hansen (bass), along with new recruits Andy La Rocque (guitar) and Mikkey Dee (drums) – have already made their mark on the metal scene in a big way, releasing an excellent, albeit tongue-in-cheek, Christmas single, ‘No Presents For Christmas’, and a stunning debut album, Fatal Portrait, on Roadrunner Records.
King Diamond makes no secret of his interests in the powers of the unknown, and in conversation about the subject will constantly refer to The Satanic Bible by Anton Szandor LaVey. Though Diamond feels that he is often completely misunderstood by the major music press, and still holds a grudge against Dave Dickson for his infamous article on Mercyful Fate in Kerrang! a couple of years ago that made out King Diamond to be nothing more than a metal gimmick. But more about this, his beliefs and the new King Diamond band later.
Let’s first find out more about the demise of Mercyful Fate and the reasons behind the split? This is the first question I put to King Diamond during his recent promotional visit to London. “The main reason was because of one of the guitarists, Hank Sherman,” reveals Diamond. “We toured the States in ’84 for two months, and the way he was dressing up just wasn’t fitting into the band. I mean, he was wearing pink jogging suits and short trousers. Also, he didn’t want to do in-stores or interviews and we were just growing apart. He just did not have the right professional attitude.
“Then there was Hank’s musical direction. We had both recorded some stuff for the next Mercyful Fate album, and we were round my house listening to his tape and we all just started laughing. You see, Hank’s a big joker and we thought what we were hearing, all this over American commercial poppy music, was a big joke. So we said, ‘Come on Hank, play the real thing, this is just too ridiculous’. But he was really serious and was offended by our reaction.”
I’d heard that Hank had also been playing funk music while he was still with Mercyful Fate? “Yeah, funk music was all he was listening to at home, and he certainly wasn’t improving as a heavy metal guitarist as he had no influence. You have to listen to other bands to be influenced. A lot of people say that they are original and not influenced by anybody, but everybody is influenced in some way by the music that they listen to. So Hank was listening to funk and there was no way he could keep up his speed or techniques from the old days.
“It even showed up live onstage when he used to go into his guitar solos. I had to actually pull him to one side and tell him not to play those funky riffs during his solo, because I could see the faces of the audience who were wondering what the hell he was doing.
“So, musical differences was the main reason. I can listen to the poppier stuff – I listen to all types of music – but I don’t like to play it. Hank wanted the next Mercyful Fate album to have some more pop orientated / commercial tracks, and thought it would make a great mixture with the normal heavier Mercyful Fate material. But I said no way, it would have been ridiculous to release an album with two such contrasting styles of music.
“So eventually I could see no alternative but to leave, and I left Mercyful Fate on the 11th April 1985, the day after we had played at the Saga in Copenhagen. I rang the other guys up and told them of my decision, and that was the end of Mercyful Fate.
“Hank and I are still good friends, we see each other and there are no problems, and he’s now playing the music he wants to play so he’s happy, but in Mercyful Fate it was just not working out. He actually told us after the split that he’d been playing in Mercyful Fate for the last year only because he thought there would be some money in it; he didn’t feel anything for the music anymore.”
Wouldn’t it have been easier to ask Hank to leave Mercyful Fate, rather than leave yourself, forcing a split in the band, then forming virtually the same band but under a different name? “Yeah, but as a band we wanted a better record contract than Mercyful Fate had. I’m not saying before that we had a poor contract, but it was only average and we wanted something better. We basically changed the name so we could start new negotiations with Roadrunner Records and we now have a lot better deal; all the percentages and advances were raised so we’re pretty content now.”
How do you feel about Hank Sherman taking the name Fate for his new band? “It’s stupid. I feel sorry for him. At first he wanted to keep the complete name, Mercyful Fate, but we forbid that, because people would have thought that it was the old band and musically Hank’s band is completely different. What’s more, the new King Diamond will still be playing a lot of the old Mercyful Fate material when we go on tour. So this would have resulted in a lot of confusion.
“But even calling the band Fate is stupid because on one side you will have old Mercyful Fate fans buying the album who are gonna be disappointed with the more commercial approach that Hank is taking, and on the other side there’s the people who Hank is trying to reach with his new style, who will ignore the band because they know that it features the old guitarist from Mercyful Fate, who they didn’t like before anyway. So, Hank is standing in the middle of nowhere really.”
Hasn’t Hank got a good deal for Fate with EMI Denmark though? “It’s not really a good deal because EMI Denmark have no power abroad whatsoever, and Hank’s discovered that out very quickly.”
Although Mercyful Fate had a relatively successful US tour from a crowd reaction point of view, I understand you had quite a few problems with the tour agency in the States? “Yeah, the tour agency over there was absolutely ridiculous. We were promised beforehand that they would only take their commission and the rest of the money would be waiting for us when we arrived.
“The prices were pretty good, but not when the agency had taken away half of it, because when we got over there we were told that there was various other expenses and the bills were sky high; we still haven’t had a final account for the tour. So we certainly had money problems in the States, but fortunately our merchandiser was really cool and we even borrowed some money from the Mafia in New York – our tour manager had some connections – but only for a few days!”
Who actually financed the US tour? “We did it ourselves. Combat, our label in the States, lent us some money, which was much needed at the time and they done a really good job with promotions.”
So you’ve formed the new King Diamond band. How does it differ from Mercyful Fate? “Well, the appearance on stage is a lot different; there’s a lot more movement which is mainly due to the new guys in the band, guitarist Andy La Rocque and drummer Mikkey Dee. Mikkey is very much influenced by Tommy Lee’s showmanship, and Andy is really moving about a lot, whereas Hank used to stand around like a rock on stage. Also, everyone is 100% into this project.
“The live show is gonna be built more with illusions and mystery than all this ‘Hail Satan’ stuff like in Mercyful Fate. People will see me being burned alive before their eyes and won’t understand a fuck what’s going on. We’re also gonna have these Roman pillars either side of the stage, and this large gate is gonna drop down at the end of the show and the spikes are gonna go right through me; the lights go out and the audience won’t know if it’s an accident or what, until we come back and do the encore. We want to make the stage show a good horror story.”
Okay King, don’t give too much away! Your stage show sounds very dramatic and obviously is gonna cost a lot of money, especially as you’re planning on an extensive tour? “Well, we’ve already contacted a company in Denmark called Scandinavian Stage Designers; they’ve constructed stages for Rod Stewart and a lot of other people and they’re really experienced. They’ve told us that what we want will cost a certain price and it’s acceptable to us; we can afford that, so we will definitely have this stage set built.”
Does the old Mercyful Fate Satanic image fit in anywhere in your new stage act? “No, we’re gonna put all that Satanic stuff a little in the background. It will still be there in the lyrics, although you would have noticed on the new Fatal Portrait album that we don’t use the words ‘Satan’ or ‘Lucifer’ at all. That’s because it’s been misunderstood so many times before. It seems just natural that as soon as people hear those words they think of evil, and some people won’t even listen to our albums because of that. But for me the words ‘Satan’ and ‘Lucifer’ do not mean evil. I go by The Satanic Bible and I believe 100% in that. It was written by Anton LaVey and two thirds of that book is pure life philosophy and the other third is pure magic. The word ‘Satan’ for me has always stood for the powers of darkness and not a guy with horns in hell. I don’t believe in hell or heaven. I believe in a place called beyond where I think we all go when our life is over here on Earth.”
So you’re trying to get away from the black metal reputation of Mercyful Fate by refining the lyrics. But you’re still going to keep your make-up, which was more the Fate trademark than the lyrics ever were. So why are you keeping it? “Why? Because it has a very good effect on the audience. People like to be scared and I like to scare them, and that’s possible with that make-up when you suddenly go towards someone in the front row and they back off a little and are momentarily scared.
“Also, with the new stage show – the magical stuff and the illusions – it will help if people can see my face further down the hall.
“I’ve always had make-up onstage. It goes back ten years when I just played guitar in my first band and was inspired by Alice Cooper all the way.”
But if you’re gonna go on stage with this inverted cross on your forehead then you will immediately get people labeling you as a Satanist and evil? “Yeah, yeah, I know, but I’m still gonna wear the crosses because I believe in what they really stand for. In the States, because of their morality, there was this big fuss about it with Mercyful Fate, but with Fate or us it’s not dangerous really. The youngsters see it ten times as heavier in the movies with blood and gore and everything, like in The Exorcist or The Omen, and nobody walks out and kills somebody on the street because they’ve seen those movies. People just like to pin this evil tag on rock bands – just look at what happened to Ozzy Osbourne recently.”
Let’s talk a bit more about the new members in your line-up. Drummer Mikkey Dee came from Geisha, another Danish-based band, but how did you get your Swedish guitarist Andy La Rocque? “Before Andy, we had another Swedish guitarist, Floyd Konstantin, but two weeks before we were due to record the album we had to get rid of him because he was not dedicated enough; he was more interested in going to the bars in Copenhagen and watching girls than he was in rehearsing.
“Andy is a friend of Mikkey’s and was working in Gothenburg. We phoned him one night at three in the morning and asked if he was interested in joining the band and if he could be in Copenhagen by ten the following morning. Anyway, he caught a flight down and we first asked him to play a solo on the song ‘Dressed In White’. So he listened to the song three times and then the first solo he played is the solo you hear on the album; it just fit perfectly. Andy’s a very nice guy with no show-off tendencies. He’s quiet but on stage he’s really wild, which is perfect for the band.”
The first King Diamond vinyl release was the Christmas single ‘No Presents For Christmas’. How did that come about? “One day I was playing some stuff on the guitar and I came in on one of those Christmas tunes by mistake. So I started playing it for a joke and Michael Denner started playing along with some silly stuff and said why don’t we make a Christmas single; have some fun and show people that we’re not just a serious heavy metal band. So we wrote the song developed from this joke, but kept it a heavy, uptempo, metal song at the same time. I think the result is really good and I’m personally very satisfied with that song. It was also funny recording a Christmas song in the middle of June.”
If you recorded the song in June, why was it released so close to Christmas? Because I’m sure that most people missed out on it, unaware of its existence? “Yeah, you’re right, but the new Roadrunner deal wasn’t finalised until early December and the record was out on the 16th December, so they worked really quickly to get it released. But it will be re-released next year and will have a different b-side which will be a track not available elsewhere.”
Your first gig as the King Diamond band was at the Saga in Copenhagen. How did that go from your point of view? “We decided to play that gig just to see what we were like together on stage, so we knew where we needed to improve before we went on tour. Then all of a sudden we heard that all these magazines were coming and we thought ‘Oh Shit!’ But the gig went really well; the audience loved it and generally all the magazines have given us a very good review and they loved the new material.”
So why do you think that Howard Johnson gave you such a poor review in Kerrang!? “I just don’t know. I was so surprised when I saw it, because we spoke a lot at the gig and he didn’t give me the impression that he didn’t like us at all. The same with Dave Dickson. When he was at the Heavy Sound Festival in Belgium, he told us that he loved what Mercyful Fate had done and was amazed at our show at the festival. He said that if he had reviewed our Melissa album then he would have given it the same great review that Malcolm Dome had. But then he gets back home and… well, you saw what he wrote about us. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to hit him back for what he wrote. I had written a four-page reply to his article on how he was contradicting himself, and I spoke to Malcolm who promised to print it if I sent it over; but they never did anything with it. As for what Howard Johnson wrote, well that was just ridiculous.
“It just seems strange that all of a sudden out of nothing, Mercyful Fate were not worth a shit to them anymore. We were number two in their Metal Chart with Don’t Break The Oath just behind Ozzy Osbourne’s Bark At The Moon, which meant we were selling a lot of albums in England. So somebody must have liked the stuff we did. But anyway, we’ve totally finished with them now, that’s for sure.”
Okay, moving away from that subject. You mentioned to me earlier that King Diamond still intend to play some old Mercyful Fate numbers live. Which ones? “They’ll mostly be the songs that I wrote, like ‘The Oath’, ‘Gypsy’, ‘Come To The Sabbath’ and ‘Evil’. We’re also be playing all the stuff from the Fatal Portrait album plus ‘The Lake’, which is a track that will not be on any album, but it will be on the B-side of our next single, which will probably be ‘Dressed In White’. That will be released to coincide with our American tour in June.”
Do you see a place for the King Diamond band on a successful international level, competing with the major bands? Will there ever be enough people to take you that seriously? “Yes I do, especially with the new approach we’re taking now, and we’re really trying to open the gates to a bigger audience. No one can be offended by the new lyrics like they were time and time before.”
Well, despite the change in lyrical content I still feel that King Diamond will meet with a certain amount of abuse and criticism because of his beliefs. But hopefully this will not outshine the bands undoubted musical ability and a theatrical live show that promises to be the most spectacular in rock music since the shock-horror days of Alice Cooper in the early 70s.
By the time you read this, the King Diamond band will have already started on an extensive European tour, although as yet no British dates have been finalised. In the summer the band will tour the USA – possibly with labelmates Carnivore and Whiplash in support – before a visit to Japan towards the end of the year. During the tour, it is expected that a 60-minute video will be made of the band’s stage show for general release.
Anyone who has met King Diamond will know that behind the make-up lies a sincere person whose every action is taken straight from the heart. I personally hope that his musical talents are rewarded with international success and he leaves his critics to choke on their own words, instead of using him as a joke to prosper their own, pathetically selfish egos.
Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 17 (1986)
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