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Every song tells a story, and metal has an extensive history of serious scribes. Steve Harris, Dio, Peter Steele; fan or not, there’s no denying these guys evoke iconic imagery with their words. But when it comes to a truly cinematic feel, the horror tale as metal opera, nobody can touch the King. Abigail is still the standard against which any metal concept album must be measured, including King Diamond’s own subsequent output. A quarter century later this dark tale of haunting, possession, and betrayal still hits all the right notes.
Having recently discovered the Technicolor splendor of Hammer Studios’ back catalogue, it wasn’t hard for this writer’s 16-year-old self to get right into Abigail’s gothic narrative. The distance between the plot of To The Devil A Daughter and Abigail’s storyline is miniscule. I had already been blown away by Pantera, Sepultura and Skinless, but that type of “scary music” was for PTA meeting discussions. Abigail was a horror movie set to metal, complete with satanic overtones and a real sense of foreboding. My path was clear.
After the success of debut Fatal Portrait and its minor story cycle, King Diamond wanted to take the next step with a full-blown concept album. King’s identifying multi-octave range was made for the multiple roles that Abigail encompasses: an evil little girl, an old ghost, the foreboding black horsemen. All five members of the band were hitting a cohesive stride, and the presence of guitar virtuoso Andy La Roque led to innovative song structures and leads. The production is bright, but tempered by a minimalism that captures the horror vibe of King’s lyrical content and delivery.
“A Mansion In Darkness” represents everything that is going right on Abigail: memorable riffs that create a theme, dive-bombing solos, and a miniature H.P. Lovecraft story: “Everything inside was left untouched / Except for what the rats had got / And the dust of time that showed its mark / Armed with candlelight and open eyes”. The story is so detailed that a full description would only lessen the impact. Most concept albums end up leaning too hard on either story or music; Abigail succeeds in blending the two so as to be indistinguishable. “Omens” incorporates church bells and synthesizers for the first time to emphasize a turning point in the story. Vague shadows and ghosts are suddenly a very real possession. Coincidentally, “The Possession” is centered on a strong central riff and orchestral flourishes that usher in the final act.
Listening to Abigail in 2012 is probably an ironic affair for some. After two-plus decades of thrash, death, black, doom, and grind, is there room left to be entertained by a guy in makeup singing falsetto about demonic babies? Of course! There is the driving precision of Timi Hansen and Mikkey Dee’s rhythm section; Michael Denner’s classical guitar arrangement at the beginning of “Black Horsemen”; the gory details of infanticide in “The 7th Day of July 1777”. Above all, there is the acknowledgement of a well-crafted piece of music that continues to find fans, and probably will for another 25 years.
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King Diamond – “Arrival”
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