Ordinarily, I’m not much on live albums. For every Live After Death or Strangers In The Night or Live & Dangerous there are fifteen unnecessary catalog-fillers, most of them little more than a greatest hits compilation with poorer production values.
But of course, there are always exceptions…
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing King Diamond perform on two occasions now, and I’ll be the first in line whenever he comes back around. His recorded works speak for themselves, both inside Mercyful Fate and outside it. Any metalhead worth his or her battle jacket should know and love both solo King and Fate, from top to bottom. Live, the King Diamond experience is something special to behold, a face-painted banshee and his bad-ass band tossing out perfect heavy metal like it’s the easiest damned thing in the world.
Showing absolutely no signs of the health issues that sidelined him nearly a decade ago, King stalks the stage in his top hat and great coat, his voice in killer shape as he swings from that signature falsetto wail to that distinctive midrange to the occasional growl. Perpetually underrated guitar god and longtime King foil Andy LaRocque sticks to his stage-left area, throwing out those stunning melodic shred solos and dueling masterfully with his stage-right counterpart, the also unsung Mike Wead. Bassist Pontus Ekberg and drummer Matt Thompson are rock solid, whilst Livia Zita provides backing vocals. Tight as whips and professional, the King Diamond band is an ace heavy metal band, no question.
Still, as great as the players are, a King Diamond show is really about two things: the songs and the show. There’s no room to doubt the former part: The setlist for these two shows is identical, made up wholly of outright classics — “Welcome Home,” “Come To The Sabbath,” “Halloween,” “Sleepless Nights,” “Melissa,” and the entirety of Abigail, performed front to back. There are no real surprise song choices, aside from the tour’s basis, that performance of Abigail. As with any album of this type, there are countless songs any King fan would’ve loved to include, but there’s only so much time. I’ll admit that my personal King Diamond dream set would last about ten hours and leave the man exhausted and voiceless…
The show itself is stellar, with actress Jodi Cachia performing multiple roles throughout and the late Erling Sibbern playing the part of a priest, moving amongst the band to bring a live interpretation to King’s macabre tales of demons, devils, and darkness. (Sibbern passed away in 2017, and the video bears a dedication to him.) Equally importantly, the shows are recorded beautifully, with multiple camera angles (including several creative ones — atop Grandma’s wheelchair, inside Abigail’s coffin). I saw the tour just before this one, with a similar stage set but a different setlist, and of course a video is no substitute for being in the room… but damned if this doesn’t come really really close. (Plus, beers are cheaper at home.)
A die-hard’s dream, Songs For The Dead is honestly a bit overwhelming in its scope: It’s two full live shows, packed full of absolutely killer King music, performed by The Man and The Band impeccably, so it’s not necessarily geared for one sitting. But it’s nevertheless essential viewing for King fans, whether they saw this tour or not. As our wait for new King Diamond music now enters its twelfth year, Songs For The Dead is absolutely a grand offering. It’s the perfect means to look backwards at a catalog of classics from one of the gods of heavy metal, and it’s a chance to remember absolutely why we keep waiting patiently for King’s next classics to come.
King is king. Long live the King.