“I might have to bring Grandma back some day. I use her a lot on stage. Not just during “Welcome Home”. She stays around and we do something horrible to her (laughing). You’ll experience that. It’s almost like going back to the Inquisition. For a few minutes I feel like that. It’s all in good spirits, y’know, but it feels like the whole crowd WANTS something bad to happen.” – King Diamond
When you hear the phrase “Hail to the King” some people think of Elvis. Others think of Bruce Campbell’s character Ash from the Evil Dead films. Mall kids think of Avenged Sevenfold. But for old school metal heads there is only one king…King fucking Diamond.
Pop culture has occasional moments of shadowed fringe brilliance like the horror/fantasy comic The Lords Of Misrule (which also has an evil old Granny w tea cups full of blood, perhaps not incidentally). True Blood was mainstream but sometimes had some inspired Nocturnal Poisoning’s Doomgrass album finds Xasthur experimenting with a compelling mix of poverty ghost blues and watery darkness. 1349 are named after the year the black plague came to Norway, so that is pretty darn metal. But only King Diamond has truly married high concept horror of both the low brow and literary minded historical varieties to classic metal sounds for decades with such consistent vision, death defying vocal heights and an all encompassing approach that goes beyond shock rock tactics.
Now King Diamond is back from near death with a North American tour (including Fun Fun Fun Fest) and a new lease on life. It was an honor to speak with, in my opinion, the greatest living metal singer about his recent years, career highlights and how it feels to do nasty things to his characters.
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Do you prefer Kim or King these days?
King Diamond: It’s kind of strange that the band I’ve been in for thirty years, they don’t say Kim. If someone said Kim on the tour bus I probably wouldn’t turn around.
Not used to it anymore?
Yeah, it’s so weird. If you think about it, it is really strange. My wife says Kim, of course. She doesn’t say King. She says King if she talks to other people, if it’s business.
If you’re nice to her she calls you “King”?
(chuckling) I’ve gotten so used to King from many years in the business.
Many people think, now that Ronnie James Dio has passed, that you are the greatest living classic metal singer who “still has it”. Some people like Halford and I love Judas Priest but I am in the King Diamond camp on this vote.
There are great singers out there. Of course, there are. It gets harder with age. But I’ve been lucky. The bad thing that happened to me, I came out of it. The triple bypass in 2010. A lot of things changed. I had to learn how to breathe again. It’s a tough road back and you have to change a lot of things. I quit smoking and have no urge to do it, at all. So that part takes willpower but then the change of diet…everything is concentrated on being healthy.
It’s very important. I wish my father would do that. He still smokes and has cancer.And it’s bad for your voice, too.
That’s the thing for me. I knew I had to do that. But now my voice is better as I am older. It’s not logic. It should be the other way (chuckling). I should be asking the band,”Hey, do you think we can de-tune a little?” but we aren’t that at all, y’know? It’s interesting. It’s easier to sing those notes. Of course, if I have a sore throat then it doesn’t work. That’s a whole different area, but the new setlists will maybe have “Tea”, which has some high stuff in it. “The Family Ghost” is in there and it moves so much around.
The song “Omens” is perhaps my favorite song on Abigail. It has some very high notes in it. Do you think the heart attack was an omen? Do you believe in that?
There was positive as well as bad. There are certain things I pay more attention to. I didn’t change my philosophy at all, but I pay more attention to what’s around me. It’s like living in a house with ten windows and now I have twenty. I see much more. I don’t take anything for granted anymore. When I wake up I don’t take that for granted. I was given a second chance, big time. I was gone for a couple hours. I was not here. When I had the operation it was supposed to be four and a half hours. It was seven hours. The way my body looked afterwards, my God…it was like the body had started to decompose. It sounds crazy but the face, hands and back were black, bluish brown.
Did you experience anything like “From The Other Side” off The Spider’s Lullabye where you were floating above your body?
Yeah, pretty much. The whole experience of these things, horrific things that happened…I could only see black & white. I’m so grateful for the surgeons. I want to go back there again and thank them more but we have been so busy. But it’s been a gradual thing, recovering. Also, I walk miles every day. Power walks. It’s all based on what it best for the heart. I see the results with all the blood figures. They say “how on earth do you get these numbers”? And I can say ,”I do what you told me.” I don’t eat bad stuff. I don’t do anything that’s not good.
You are heavy metal so they think you are going to be badly behaved.
I have more metal now in me than I had before. I have a metal rod in me to keep the ribcage together so it could grow back together. I was opened like a double door. So there’s lots of stuff you have to look out for. There were times right after where I wasn’t convinced I was still here. Psychological things. You see cars and people go by but you don’t know if they see you. I said goodbye to my wife when I went to the surgery because I didn’t know if I was going to come out of it. All that stuff, there’s nothing good about any of it. Some people don’t ever come back. Everybody’s different. It’s a matter of luck and circumstance, all kinds of things.
Do you want to do really normal things now like eat chinese take out food but you can’t?
No, I don’t eat Chinese food. It’s all heart healthy now. We did a nutrition class and then my wife went way beyond that.
My aunt Nancy Evans Bush has a book called Dancing Past The Dark about distressing near death experiences.You should check it out. It is for people who didn’t see just a nice light at the end of the tunnel and had a more stressful time. How to deal with that.
I came to and my wife was there so she could tell me what did happen. How what I saw was different from what did happen. I tried to pull the tube out that was choking me. I came awake too early. I was choking to death on that thing. It was absolutely the worst. I tried to communicate and just wanted to get off that thing. I couldn’t say anything, of course. And it was way too early and was all wrong. I saw doctors all over me in black & white, like I woke up in a spaceship or something like that. It looked abolutely surreal. My wife called for the nurses and they came running and then they tied me down. My hands and my legs down. I felt like the character in Metallica’s “One” video. No means to communicate. Had they been able to hear me, they would have heard me wish for them to kill me. I don’t care. Just stop it. It was much worse than that. All the rest, the first week after waking up I slept in a chair in the hospital. My wife was there most of the time when she wasnt home feeding cats and stuff. The whole experience was lots of stuff to be grateful for but I was also reliving some of my own lyrics. Walking the halls at night like The Graveyard album. Walking at night, I couldn’t sleep. I’m there walking the halls at night. Then the experience of being down in the cellars of the hospital. Door after door that says staff only. And there’s no one there! They could do anything they wanted. No one would know.
American Horror Story: Asylum, right?
There would be just one person working on a machine. Then they told me later they wanted to make sure I wouldn’t get a bloodclot on the brain. They do a test and can’t tell you how bad it is and make you wait. “Is it that bad?” “It doesn’t need to be bad, but I can’t tell you anything until tomorrow morning when the doctor does his rounds.”
So you slept great that night, right?
Yeah, no way. I didn’t sleep. A roller coaster. They say the tests looked good and then you hope they are right and I wasn’t going to get a big explosion on the brain when they pull all the tubes out (laughing). It is what it is, y’know? It gave me lots of ideas for albums. They were absolutely amazing, but there’s lots of stuff that comes with it. And I never will forget it. That’s for sure. It feels good to also talk about, really. It brought a lot of positive. I’m not tired after a show now. The show has stairs and a lot going on. It is a real production. It'[s being used totally, all the time. Now I go full blast. It’s not easy to sing those things live as a singer. When you sing like I do you take a big breath and have to let everything out slowly before you can take the next breath. Other guys in the band can just stand there and play guitar. I get 1/5th oxygen the others get during a show, but you don’t think about it, of course. That’s one of the things you need certain techniques for, to economize.
Your stuff isn’t easy to sing in your twenties!
Everyone feels bad you had to go through all this but it is good to know the next album wont be “I’m so glad to be alive” music. Cartoon bluebirds on your shoulder.
Oh no. It will be very dark. Might be black, not just dark. But it will be all King Diamond. Definitely King Diamond. That’s for sure.
Do you ever feel bad when you have had a character around a long time like Jonathan La Fey and you bring him back in Abigail 2: The Revenge just to have him eat a bunch of broken glass and get set on fire (laughing)?
You are laughing! Why would I be sorry about that? (chuckling) I can bring them back. I can always find a way. And I might have to bring Grandma back some day. I use her a lot on stage. Not just during “Welcome Home”. She stays around and we do something horrible to her (laughing). You’ll experience that. It’s almost like going back to the Inquisition. For a few minutes I feel like that. It’s all in good spirits, y’know, but it feels like the whole crowd WANTS something bad to happen. I look at them and think ,”You’ve got to be kidding!” It must have been like crowds in the Middle Ages. Screaming the words. It is so brutal. But they know we aren’t going to do it for real because we need her tomorrow, you know. But there’s a lot more in the songs than people know. A lot of stuff that is experiences or things I might have seen or heard from others. How people treat each other.
The Eye might be my favorite King album, in some ways. It was so historical and full of dread. The witch burnings. Everything.
It was 90% historically accurate. I put a few things in like characters but much of that happened. It exists. It’s not common knowledge but you can go and read those things.
How do you feel about occult symbols being used in pop culture more these days?
I respect all artists for entertaining. I don’t need to like it. It is subjective what is good and bad. I don’t listen to pop music. Music is interesting, though. Another guy can’t do what some people are playing in their sleep. But sometimes a slow and simple thing will be something you will never forget. (sings riff over the phone to “Smoke On The Water”)…”Bah-bah-bah-bah-bah-na-naaah”. It’s not very hard to do! But everybody knows it. Who came up with it? I can say personally I don’t listen to jazz but jazz musicians are amazing musicians.
Yeah and some jazz has a lot of darkness.
But I don’t like the saxophone. I just don’t like it. I get goosebumps in a bad way. In my book that sound should have never been invented. But that’s just how I feel. If I hear it I feel really bad. Sometimes if a band in metal was experimenting they might add a saxophone and I wouldn’t buy the album. It’s a personal thing.
Now we know how to haunt you. Play the saxophone over your grave (laughing).
It would be my hell! On the other side. All saxophone versions. I know there are good players and I don’t want to make them feel bad about music but I don’t like the sound.
I interviewed Fernando Ribeiro from the band Moonspell once and he said how he thinks you should make a movie of Abigail.
Yes, I would love that. Them and Conspiracy. It would have to be top notch stuff. It can’t be a B thing, then I just cannot do it.
Did you know Mercyful Fate’s Time is going to be twenty years old next month?
Mercy? Oh, the Time album. Someone said it is thirty year aniversarry of Dont Break the Oath this year. It’s cool. Wow. Special. But it doesn’t make the album better or worse. Wow, it’s been a long time. Y’know? I’m not so much on those things. I never was. If it was fifteen years ago ,”Oh, ok. It was fifteen years ago.” I don’t know how that sounds, but…if people want to hear old stories of what happened back then, of course I’ll do that. But why should it be now that a record is twenty or thirty years that it comes around? It doesn’t matter to me.
You still are doing your thing anyway. Time exists but you are working in the present.
Yeah. People give out awards and stuff and it’s nice but it doesn’t make it better or worse. It is nice to be recognized. I got a lifetime achievement award in Denmark a couple years ago, but I’ve never seen it. I think it is in a record shop somewhere in Denmark. It’s very nice that they recognize you but it stops there for me. It is what it is. I like to play music and see the world. Different things are more important to me, but it’s not meant as disrepect.