King Diamond plays at 8:05 p.m. Saturday on the Black Stage. Andy O’Connor talked to King to preview his Fun Fun Fun set:
King Diamond has never been exactly shy about talking about the dead and the afterlife. The Danish-born metal singer who now lives in the Dallas area, famous for his distinctive falsetto and bringing the corpse-paint look to black metal, has spun many horror-laden tales in his career. "Abigail," his breakout record as a solo artist in 1987, tells the story of a dead child, stillborn when her mother was killed amid allegations of infidelity and whose spirits curses a house and destroys a marriage. "Melissa," a ballad he performed with his group Mercyful Fate on the 1983 album of the same name, has King lamenting over the death of his lover, a witch burned at the stake. He even had a skull named "Melissa" that he used on stage until it was stolen in the mid-’80s. King’s use of horror and occult themes has been massively influential on metal, and Metallica are among his fans, having done a medley of Mercyful Fate covers on 1998’s "Garage Inc." and even inviting King to perform those covers onstage from time to time.
King himself, though, had a brush with actual death recently. He underwent triple bypass surgery in 2010, and the operation forced him to take a brief break from the music business. Singing about the macabre is one thing, but as he discovered, getting close to resembling the macabre is a whole different world.
"When I woke up from the operation, I looked like a corpse," King said. "It looked like someone had beat me up — a mix between black, brown, and yellow bruises." This is coming from a guy whose microphone stand has actual bones in it. He commented that during the initial stages of his recovery "every breath for a while hurt like hell," which sounded like a curse a character in one of his songs might be afflicted with.
King has often sung about spirits and possession. In addition to "Abigail," two of his other popular solo records, 1988’s "Them" and 1989’s "Conspiracy," deal with a fictional King’s grandmother’s house and the spirits that inhabit it and fight with King and his family over control of said house. Still, he was awash with uneasy vibes about not making it out of the surgery.
"When you’re lying and they’re gonna put you out … there’s a chance that you don’t come out of it. To get that strange, strange feeling to accept it might be it. It’s not easy," he said.
Even legendary metal singers who’ve survived legal threats from Gene Simmons (you can probably guess why) have to change their habits after major medical events. King noted that powerwalks 5 days a week, are now part of his routine. More importantly, he quit smoking as a result of the operation, and considering that his voice is his identity, it was surprising to hear that he smoked in the first place. King said he was a smoker before he was a singer, but is over that now.
"My voice is better than it has been in my entire career, and that should not be the case in this time in your life," King said. "And it had to do with the cigarettes, I had no idea."
King was in the best of spirits during the interview, speaking in a glee that comes with a second chance. He’s boastful, but has reason to be excited. His current tour, of which his date at Fun Fun Fun Fest is the last show of the tour, is his first American run since 2005, and he’s upped the presentation, wanting to bring a European metal festival vibe to American audiences. There’s a huge pentagram at the center, and inverted crosses flank two big sets of stairs that he and his band gloriously strut. This stagecraft is something you don’t see in many shows anymore, and that, combined with the King’s absence, has fans thrilled. Some shows sold out well before their dates — King says New York sold out in three hours — which is a good sign for anyone, but an especially good sign for someone who hasn’t released a record since 2007.
"It doesn’t matter whether you’ve seen King Diamond or not before, this is the right time to see it, it really is," he said.
If you’re thinking about picking up a pack of cigarettes, kids, don’t. King Diamond said so, and he’s way cooler. With the money you spent on cigarettes, you could have spent to see him.