King Diamond on rocking corpse paint, his ‘final tour’, and why there are No Presents For Christmas

Long one of the true legends of heavy metal, King Diamond has influenced bands old and new with his over the top stage theatrics (which include a microphone stand made of two leg bones intersecting to make a cross and his ubiquitous corpse paint), an age-defying falsetto, and an abundance of crushing riffs typically built around the innovative horror theme concept.

Born Kim Bendix Petersen, the 59-year-old Dane led Mercyful Fate through much of the ’80s before striking out under his own name. It hasn’t been an entirely smooth ride; five years ago, almost to the day, the singer was rushed to the hospital and ended up undergoing triple-bypass surgery due, in part, to years of smoking cigarettes. The arduous recovery process was a wake-up call, and these days the King is taking care of himself like never before, claiming he feels 15 years younger.

Tonight, he comes to the Orpheum Theatre in Boston to perform the landmark King Diamond album (and fan favorite) Abigail in its entirety. The shows on this tour are being filmed for a home video to be released at some point next year. Vanyaland caught up with the man behind the mask, who let us in on Abigail’s legacy, the future of Mercyful Fate, and why there are No Presents For Christmas.

Michael Christopher: Why Abigail, why now?

King Diamond: I don’t know; it’s not like some big thing came around. We planned on doing a headline tour and after we did Mayhem [Festival] and we were like, “Do we do this and not do our headline tour?” And then it was, “No fucking way,” we had to do our headline tour that we talked about doing. It was there I came up that it would be nice to do a very different set and that would be the right way to do it. We have never done it. And I know some people are writing in comments, “Oh, I saw it back in 1987,” well you really didn’t, because we never played all the songs in one go — never. Not even when the album first came out.

It’s become a thing that is really good seeing, and I don’t think we ever did anything that was this awesome to watch. It’s turned out to be amazing.

It’s a whole new production, and all of that will be on display on the DVD that is coming out…

Nothing in the setlist has been made for the DVD; it’s just, “Let’s shoot this.” It took a lot of work to put it together, and that was just the set for the tour. Then the label said, “Yes, we would like to shoot this.” So it was not put together for the video in any way. There were no songs that were selected to be there just because we were shooting the video. It was the other way around; the setlist was up for this tour, and then the label said, “We want to shoot this.” And it’s great to do. It’s definitely a challenge every night and it’s a lot of fun.

What do you think about Abigail that is so enduring?

It was the first concert we ever did. Fatal Portrait, half the album, say, was a mini-concert. But that was the first concert where we jumped in with both feet, you know? It had a heavy impact as such, and it was the first horror concert — ever — I don’t know any other band that had a horror concert as an album. And no band still sounds like us, in my opinion. It’s like the first time I ever heard Black Sabbath, I had never heard anything close to it; such a heavy band, that first album. But after you do the he second, the third, the fourth the impact is less, even though the albums may be just as striking. That’s how it is, so it has a lot to do with that, I’m sure.

And as you mentioned, some of these songs you’ve never played before. But other than the Abigail album, some of the other songs are fresh to the setlist to; how did you go about picking them?

This turned out to be, in the end, we play and we find out what works and what doesn’t when you go live. The strange thing is, when you do get it, it’s all very old material. Nothing is newer than The Eye [1990], I guess. So it’s all old stuff; and that’s how it turned out. My voice is so much better for what we’re doing, and I can’t wait go into studio mode as well and see what we come up with; it’s very busy times.

Was there a point, maybe early in your career, where you’re known for this incredibly distinctive sound and vocals, we’re you ever worried, “Gosh, when I get older, I’m never going to be able to hit these notes?”

No… if that happened, I would stop. I mean, I would not do that and try to [do a lower tuning] that I could not do to myself. I’m not saying it’s wrong for anyone else to do, but for me that would never be right. So I wasn’t that worried about that, but I can tell you that since I had the operation, almost five years ago, I haven’t had a drag — and I don’t miss it, not even one bit. I can’t believe that I even did it [laughs]. The way everything cleared up with lung capacity and the way my voice sounds? It was like better than it ever was and the best live and easier to do the things that before was tough. I do everything the doctor’s tell me; I’ve gone hardcore.

I want to ask you about the face paint. It seems like in recent years, the amount of bands that are using corpse paint has increased substantially. Do you think it’s been cheapened a little bit by its prevalence?

Mmmm… no. It all depends on how the various bands use it and how it comes across to an audience; but we’ve never changed our approach to it. For me, most people have seen that I’ve gone back to the old classic makeup around the time where from Mercyful Fate to Abigail. There’s a little bit of a mix in there; it’s not exactly one of them, but is a nice blend of that time period. That also fits the songs we are playing on this tour.

And what about Mercyful Fate; is there a future for the band touring again?

It’s impossible to say now. Like I’ve said for many years, I wouldn’t be able to say no, because there’s always a chance — of course there is, you know? It depends on whether all the starts are aligning properly and that people would be serious enough to want it to happen, because I’m not going to do some cheap ass thing; I’m not going to soil that name — ever. Either it’s done proper, or it’s not done.

Are you surprised how influential Mercyful Fate and King Diamond have been to bands both massive and those just getting started?

Yeah of course! I don’t think much about it in everyday life, you know? But when I hear it, I think a lot about it. When someone says something about it, absolutely. More and more people I run into tell me stories how they came to know and how it influenced their lives. It’s such an amazing and really good feeling. And it is surprising in some ways, but on the other hand, it is unique what we’ve done. When Sabbath first came out it was very unique at that time and it had a big influence. And the old Uriah Heep with David Byron, he is still my favorite singer of all time. We play a Uriah Heep song right before we go onstage.

Right, you play “The Wizard.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s just… it gives such a great feel.

One of the things that’s been happening in recent years in heavy music is bands doing their so-called “final tour.” You have Mötley Crüe wrapping theirs up now, Black Sabbath is calling it a day next year. But you seem to be getting stronger with your touring while these bands are hanging it up.

I think a lot of it has to do with how it feels at this time; touring is tough for us, too. You probably remember I had a herniated disc awhile back; I was trying to get through that period without having to go and being operated on. I was lucky the way I could do things the way I did; I had to either stand up or lie down; I simply could not sit. Eventually I got a Temper-Pedic mattress and did all the right things. But the bus rides and all that shit? It sucks hardcore. I feel sometimes like I’m wasting my life [laughs], wasting some time, because you can’t do anything constructive — nothing. Most of the time you can’t get that. So it gets tough.

Then comes that hour and a half, just over the top. But it can get harder and harder so I can see how some bands there comes a point where you don’t have to do it. Maybe they think they’d like to see their kids more — and I don’t have kids — or they want to do this or that more. People retire at their jobs, you know? It’s very different from band to band and who’s in the band and how their health is, or family.

So King. There’s something I need to ask you, because it’s that time of year, why are there “No Presents for Christmas?”

It is a very unique song, and there’s not a lot of horror in it. It’s kind of poking a little fun at Christmas, you know?

How did you come with, lyrically, the idea that there would be no presents for Christmas?

It was Michael Denner and me that wrote the music together, and I was always do all the lyrics of course, but I had just started King Diamond and I was fooling around with lines and stuff together. We also did “Halloween” around then, and we were sitting around, fooling around and for some reason Michael started playing a little bit of “I Saw Santa Kissing Mom” or whatever. So he played that music and it was like, “Yeah, why don’t we do a Christmas song?” It was supposed to be a joke, so we were just fooling around with a joke, and then it was, “Wow, this is pretty heavy man.”

KING DIAMOND + EXODUS :: Tuesday, November 24 at the Orpheum, 1 Hamilton Place, in Boston, MA :: 8 p.m., all ages, $33.50 :: Advance tickets

King Diamond