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King Diamond has had a big year. Mercyful Fate and King Diamond placed songs in Guitar Hero and Brütal Legend, respectively. A picture disc single emerged from the former. C1rca made shoes of both bands. DVD's from both bands are in the works. Finally, Metal Blade reissued four albums from King Diamond's middle period: The Spider's Lullabye (1995), The Graveyard (1996), Voodoo (1998), and House of God (2000). King Diamond guitarist Andy LaRocque remastered these records, with great results. Their improved sound warrants a second look at them — which we've done below.

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The Spider's Lullabye

King's long discography can be confusing, so here's a quick summary. Mercyful Fate release Melissa and Don't Break the Oath in 1983 and 1984, respectively. They break up in 1985. King forms a solo band, retaining two former Mercyful Fate members. From 1986 to 1990, King Diamond puts out a record per year. Mercyful Fate reform in 1992, which greatly increases King's productivity. He starts alternating between Mercyful Fate and King Diamond releases; together the bands release nine albums between 1993 and 2000. Mercyful Fate then goes quiet, and King Diamond puts out three more solo albums, the last one in 2007.

Six Feet Under (from The Spider's Lullabye)

The Spider's Lullabye is the first King Diamond record in the 1993-2000 phase. By this point, the Mercyful Fate members have left the band, so it no longer sounds like a continuation of Mercyful Fate. Its lineup is King Diamond, Andy LaRocque, and three guys who need not be named. In his solo band, King Diamond's guitar foil is LaRocque. In Mercyful Fate, it's Hank Shermann. (Aside from King, LaRoque and Shermann are the only constants in their respective bands.) LaRocque's playing is modern and technical, while Shermann's is more rooted in classic metal, though their styles sometimes overlap. The other big difference between King Diamond's solo band and Mercyful Fate is the horror-oriented storytelling of the former, as opposed to the Satanic themes of the latter.

Ironically, The Spider's Lullabye bucks these trends. In contrast to the complexity of its predecessors, it's relatively straightforward and aggressive. It's also the only King Diamond record aside from Fatal Portrait not to be a full-blown concept album. The last four songs do form a story, though it's pretty lame. An arachnophobe named Harry visits a doctor for his phobia. The doctor's nurse scares Harry to death with a spider. The end. Well, it's more colorful than that, but not by much. LaRocque is the reason to listen to this record. He packs it with NWOBHM/speed metal riffing and ripping leads. King obliges with catchy choruses and a powerhouse vocal performance. Most King Diamond records demand close reading for their complicated storytelling. This one is for rocking out.

The Graveyard

The Graveyard is probably King Diamond's least-loved record aside from Give Me Your Soul...Please. The production is ragged, the artwork is weak, and the drumming is rudimentary. But LaRocque's remastering gives the material new life. There are some great songs here. The story involves an insane asylum escapee and a mayor who molests his own child. It's B-movie fare, but King Diamond makes it come alive. He imbues multiple characters with multiple voices and singlehandedly gives the story atmosphere. King puts us inside the "Black Hill Sanitarium"; we practically feel the narrator's fists pounding on walls, trying to escape. It's a vocal tour de force. Abigail is the only King Diamond story with real legs, but even these lesser ones are pleasures. This record is for diehards — but King Diamond fans are all diehards. With King Diamond, there is no in between.

Black Hill Sanitarium (from The Graveyard)

- Cosmo Lee

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King Diamond has adopted the image of voodoo loa Baron Samedi — black hat, corpse paint, nasal voice — so the subject of this album is fitting. Voodoo borrows heavily from the plot of Abigail. But instead of driving across the countryside, it oozes through the swamp, the title becoming a primordial chant. There are forces here that are older and bigger than you or the Lafayette family can understand.

Voodoo (from Voodoo)

Where you draw the line in King Diamond's discography depends on how committed you are to the horror story concept album format, rather than the actual quality of the albums. As lame as it is to say that King Diamond is a matter of taste, it's the easiest way for me to explain why there's so little consensus about when King Diamond stops being good. Some people quit after Mercyful Fate, while others are in for the long haul. I'm a glutton for horror — my idea of heaven is infinite booze and a stack of big box VHS tapes — and King Diamond and Andy LaRocque are the Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing of metal. Hence, I am a fan even on the bad days. "Cheese" isn't a question for me. I don't like it when people heckle good horror, and I don't like it when people condescend to like "bad" movies. I like King Diamond. I find his work moving, entertaining, and often scary.

Voodoo is a great album, full of powerful songs. The riffs thrash, and Andy LaRocque's guitar and King Diamond's vocals narrate a compelling story, alternately taking the voices of characters and mourning or mocking their foibles. Of the four Metal Blade rereleases, this seems stylistically closest to Abigail or Them, which are the usual favorites. While some of Voodoo does admittedly sound retreaded — "LOA House" is reminiscent of "The Arrival" from Abigail — most of the album spins surprising variations on King Diamond's style. The title track uses groove riffs and a hooky chorus that are almost dance worthy, but the song is too complex and ugly to be pop. The lyrics deal with spiritual possession and drinking chicken blood, yet they sound pornographic. King Diamond beckons and gloats and tells Lula to swallow. Dimebag Darrell's solo is like Damballah settling into your brainpan. The dead will not rest in their graves.

House of God (2000)

House of God is a haunted house story, but it also brings back some of King Diamond's blasphemy. The production and songwriting have adapted to match the hubris — guitar tones are thicker, the bass is more conspicuous, keyboards throb. "Follow the Wolf" and "The Pact" are tanks with riffs that recall Mercyful Fate's sublime evil.

Help!!! (from House of God)

For better or worse, the melodies are a cleaner, too. King Diamond's voice has always been able to jump from falsettos to growls without losing the melody. The effect is disquieting and atmospheric. As King gets older, he spends more time singing in a middle range, and his vocal leaps are less jarring, which makes the melody easier to understand. It also runs the risk of having the music sound more sanitary, but because of how King layers vocal tracks with contrasting pitches, the results aren't simplistic.

Thematically, King Diamond remains a LaVeyan Satanist. His blasphemy is decidedly humanist. Christ could be a sympathetic figure if he were more than a corpse. In place of salvation, we're bound to the flesh of our narrator: the horror of the wilderness, the allure of wolves, a literal and figurative screwing that ends with him trapped eternally in the House of God(s). When he pleads for mercy, there's pathos in it — the chorus of "Help" is layered and beautiful in a way that's reminiscent of goth rock — but as in Voodoo, religion offers no succor. It's puppetmasters all the way.

- Anthony Abboreno