Diamonds & Rust: 35 Years Of King Diamond’s Abigail

[Cover artwork by Studio Dzyan // Thomas Holm, Torbjörn Jörgenson]

July 7, 1777: An individual called Count de LaFey hurls his pregnant wife down a flight of stairs upon discovering the unborn child she carries in fact belongs to another man. Sadly, mother and baby do not survive the fall, and in a final act of uninhibited contempt, the overwrought Count burns his wife, and for reasons no one could possibly begin to fathom, he entombs the hapless stillborn child in a crypt buried deep in the recesses of the estate cellar. Being a terrifically stable individual, the Count decides to name the baby Abigail, then he curses her forevermore. Nice fellow, that Count.

68 years later, the Count croaks, and his chateau exchanges hands to an heir, Jonathan, who promptly whisks himself and a vulnerable new bride, Miriam Natias, onto the estate, ignoring a terrifically absurd caution from seven shadowy riders related to the number 18 somehow transforming into 9 if the two actually hole up in the looming LaFey mansion. Jonathan laughs and says, “Get out of my way! There ain’t no way those numbers chaaa-aaa-AAANGE!”

Okay, it’s 1845: A great many people on planet Earth are hardly living their best lives, and any one individual is likely to believe they’re doing A-okay if some distant relative suddenly drops a giant mansion into their lap for nothing, even with a handful of creepy riders warning that the entire realm of mathematics hangs in the balance with your very next move. So, it appears as if the neighbors might suck, but 18 becoming 9 might actually work to a person’s advantage when considering the price tag of a slightly less sour cask of sour brown ale down at the Witch’s Tit Tavern, so maybe the gamble’s worth it.

As expected, the shit totally hits the not-at-all electric and therefore hand-held fan pretty much the moment Jonathan and Miriam move in. Shadows are jumping, and the house itself very literally appears to be alive. Of course, Poe has only just released “The Raven,” and everyone who’s worth a speck has read it and likely has a newly fired-up imagination as a result, so maybe everyone’s house is breathing in 1845. Thanks for the widespread heebie-jeebies, Ed.

Count de LaFey

A few nights later, the hammer fricken drops. Jonathan is visited by the ghost of the Count, and for some absolutely outrageous reason he accepts an invitation to drift down into the cellar in the middle of the flipping night to investigate the sarcophagus of a long dead baby the Count himself killed and stuffed down there. “Don’t be scared. Don’t be scared now, my friend,” presses the apparently friendly ghost. Sure! Why on earth would anyone who’s visited by an actual ghost be afraid once that ghost reveals he murdered a baby, crammed it into a coffin in the basement, and then proceeds to warn you that this very same baby will soon be reborn through your wife and wreak unholy havoc on humankind if you don’t, you know, murder her in the very same way he did his own wife 68 years prior. Just another night in paradise, Jon. Have a blast getting back to sleep.

Soon after, all sorts of weird shit starts going down. Church bells ring out on their own at all hours (big deal back then), the dining room table sets itself (not gonna lie, pretty convenient), flowers immediately wither and die (ever heard of water?), the house smells like John Madden dropped multiple upper-deckers throughout the entire crib, and then BOOM: A cradle magically appears and starts swinging in the air. “Did you bring this creepy-ass cradle down here from Scranton, dear? Because I sure as fuck didn’t.” ~ Jonathan LaFey, probably.

Jonathan & Miriam LaFey

At this point, poor Jonathan and Miriam LaFey are likely at their wits’ end. The house sucks, the town sucks, and they can’t even imagine how things could possibly get worse. They hit the hay, praying some grievous ghost won’t drift through in the middle of the night and—oh, I dunno—slime some irreplaceable heirlooms. When morning finally breaks, Jonathan suddenly realizes Miriam is very pregnant. “You got some splainin’ to do, Lucy,” Jonathan snipes, without the benefit of Ricky Ricardo even existing yet. Miriam is totally thunderstruck, because she’s pretty sure she didn’t just sleep for eight months. “Oh, great,” reflects Jonathan. “So this is 9.” Wait, what? What’s 9 again? 18? Unable to do the math, Jonathan and Miriam have little choice but to believe the grim forewarning from the ghost of the Count, which, you know, totally sucks, because the only way out of that whole mess apparently ends with Miriam at the bottom of those friggin’ slippery stairs. Super bummed, Miriam suddenly realizes that might not actually be the worst thing. She’s got a devil baby wriggling in her uterus, and Jonathan can’t even hold down a job as a beat reporter for the Scranton Fightin’ Beavers, let alone figure out how to handle a house that’s very literally possessed by the ultimate evil. Moreover, with any luck, Miriam will meet some hot dead colonel from the War of 1812 up in Heaven. Wouldn’t that be nice? Heck, even a handful of speed dates with Robespierre in Hell would be better than this nightmare.

Baby Abigail was EATING…

In the end, the couple agrees to do the deed—one quick little shove and everything goes quiet again. As expected, though, evil is as evil does, and just before Jonathan gives the final push, he’s distracted by a star in the sky and gets shoved himself by “an unknown entity.” Surprise, you’re dead, Jonathan. Not the worst run, all things considered. Overwhelmed, poor Miriam finally surrenders herself and gives birth to cute lil Abigail, an act that of course kills her. Upon her fateful arrival, sweet baby Abigail immediately crawls to the sarcophagus and eats her own mummified corpse as a first meal, which is…absolutely and totally reasonable. Who needs farm to table delivery from DoorDash when there’s a mummified baby version of yourself in the basement, no?

Thankfully, the cloaked horsemen from the story’s opening—seven dudes who now reveal they were one-time servants of the Count from way back in the day—pretty much guessed Jonathan would screw everything up inside of a week, so they pull back up to the hizzy and decide the only sensible way of dealing with things is to drag Abigail kicking and screaming to a chapel in the forest and nail her down with seven silver spikes: One for each arm, hand and knee, and the last of the seven to be driven through her mouth, so she can never rise to cause evil again. Hey, if at first you don’t succeed, try driving seven silver spikes through whatever it is that’s annoying you, that’s what I always say. The moral of the story? Your ancestors are very possibly awful people, and the only reason anyone will ever give you a house for nothing is because there’s a dead baby in the basement.

October 21, 2022

The story above is real. It’s real for me in a very unique way that brings to mind any number of decades-old tales that have in some way helped shape me into the individual I am today. That’s when fantasy has its opportunity to slip into reality: when the words and images guide, caution, comfort or encourage people enduring everyday life. Among other things, every 7th day of July is marked on my calendar, “Arrival” immediately springs to mind whenever I see an Amish wagon (hey, it happens), and any woman named Abigail is given a wide berth and immediate respect. So, yes, the narrative surrounding the doomed LaFey family has been given a unique form of genuine (albeit terrifically gruesome) life for any number of us who have taken their story to heart and allowed it to flourish through the years. And as it happens, the only individual qualified enough to create that particular narrative and attach a truly masterful musical score to further drive the image home did so on this very day, 35 years ago.

Abigail landed on October 21, 1987, and with it came a swift understanding that the age-old speculation of a sophomore slump simply did not apply to one Kim Bendix Petersen. The record was immediately captivating, opting for a more contemporary sound that emphasized speed and increased complexity, thereby differentiating itself from 1986’s very fine Fatal Portrait that still made use of surplus Mercyful Fate-isms. Adding to its novelty, Abigail likewise renovated its predecessor’s blueprint for storytelling by going one step further and delivering what many consider to not only be metal’s first full concept album, but our greatest concept album. Or at least a preeminent challenger to equivalent dignitaries such as Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, Operation: Mindcrime, Nightfall in Middle Earth, and My Arms, Your Hearse.

Abigail turned heads immediately upon its arrival, with the terrifically grim and seductive cover artwork and King’s inimitable logo leading the charge, and a bonkers assemblage of one rocker, two marching band enthusiasts, and one sassy pirate surrounding an iconic image of King wielding an exploding femur pretty much closing the deal on its back cover. Simply put, the visual element behind Abigail delivered a slam dunk combination of gothic mystery and garbed whatthefuckery that was nearly impossible to flip past in those old record bins. I, for one, was extremely ready for it, having already devoted what felt like a lifetime obsessing over Fatal Portrait following an initial encounter with King one late Friday night in early ’86 via a college radio show that slipped “The Oath” through my careful bedside clock radio. Related observation: It’s strange to think how some bands almost require max volume for maximum impact, but something about the way Mercyful Fate mingled a unique form of melodic witchery with a sense of verboten ritual that made the results exceedingly potent at any volume—those dark covenants were just as powerful when whispered from a small speaker under the dark cloak of night.

I have spoken of King’s influence on me as a youth in these halls on several occasions, but the long and the short of it boils down to this: In the ‘80s, it was actually King’s solo work that conjured the greatest enthusiasm for me. That first encounter with Fate was impossibly tempting, but it took a while for me to build enough courage to actually bring Don’t Break the Oath into the house. My parents and I had a good thing going, and much to my surprise, they didn’t seem to mind my frequent metal reconnaissance because I very judiciously shared the prettiest portions of Fates Warning, Queensrÿche, and Iron Maiden to ensure my path remained 100% peril-free. Suddenly and brazenly welcoming the Devil under the roof, however—that was an entirely different ballgame, and I knew I’d be deadass-doomed if my parents ever discovered an album cover depicting the man downstairs pointing through the flames of Hell and warning anyone within eyeshot to heed his solemn oath. In short, Mercyful Fate had the potential of raising red flags early on in my metal journey, and I couldn’t risk that just yet. Plus, as ludicrous as it may seem today, Fate’s pathway concerning a very serious form of profanation quite literally felt as if it carried a genuine risk, particularly for those of us with religious cultivations and overactive imaginations. “Ohhhh, they should have known / not to play…with the powers of Hell.”

Solo King Diamond, on the other hand, was a little more covert about eeeeevil and dispensing wicked intentions, and putting the Devil in the details the way Fatal Portrait did, while still maintaining that unmistakable Fate atmosphere, was a brilliantly practical (and likely tactical) move. But as much as I fixated on tracks such as “Charon” and “Lurking in the Dark,” they did not fully prepare me for the leveling experience that was Abigail.

Gongs!

Gongs are amazing, and I do not understand why more metal bands don’t use them to their full potential. In person, the deep and resonant toll of a gong can wobble the blood, and their call is unique enough to immediately stir the emotions upon hearing them in any random recording. My personal introduction to the gong in a metal capacity was back in ’85 through Yngwie’s “I Am a Viking,” but King’s flawless utilization of them throughout Abigail’s opening “Funeral” sets the mood for the record like no other, particularly when paired with the sinister and fatally dark tone of the opening dialogue between the seven horsemen.

“Who will be the firrrrsssst…”

[The sound of your sanity suddenly collapsing], then ((GONNNNGGG))

“I… O’BRIIIIan of the black horsssemennnnn…”

From there, “Arrival” heaves onto the stage like a grave ghoul, opening with a doomy sashay that’s eventually broken upon Jonathan’s first glimpse of the LaFey manor. “That must be it,” he whoops, and then everything suddenly charges forward. Michael Denner is still in the Kingly picture in 1987, and Abigail is all the better for it. Where LaRocque’s lead guitar style throws down an ideal fusion of melodic fluidity and an alluring form of controlled bedlam, Denner’s offers an equal allowance of melody that’s 100% hard rocker just letting the fringe hang loose. His first lead of the record lands early—about 45s into “Arrival”—and it’s an absolute doozy.

The remainder of “Arrival” is a magnificent whirlwind of showmanship that makes it clear everyone in the camp has leveled up their game. Not only is the melody ferocious and swift, King’s theatrics and use of ever-changing articulations and timbres brings the story to grim life, and the tasty riff breakout just before the 3-minute mark not only does the job of leveling the joint, it opens the door to a playful and complex interplay that’s damn-near proggy a few moments later.

“A Mansion in Darkness” continues the spell, quickly spotlighting the magnificent energy and panache of Mikkey Dee behind the kit. The way he packs the corners here with all that splashy cymbal play, and his overall approach to driving the tempo with potent fill after potent fill not only gives the song an absolutely irresistible hook, it solidifies the man as one of the more underrated drummers of our time. And who other than bassist Timi “Grabber” Hansen would be fit enough to rumble alongside Dee’s charge; so much of Abigail’s *POP* is the direct result of Hansen’s notably vigorous, finger-driven style. Right around “Mansion’s” 2-minute mark, the mood shifts to a somber and fluidly mellow run, braced by one of LaRocque’s more lengthy leads that’s as charming and honeyed as a mulled mead high. Of course the lead wildly crescendos towards its conclusion, pushing the song back to a vigorous gallop, but the final minute finds the song coming back to a more velvety spirit, this time at the behest of Denner’s clever fretwork.

“The Family Ghost” follows, and it’s likely the most recognizable song of the bunch, thanks to its role as the only offering from Abigail that was deemed “video worthy.” It admittedly feels rather strange to speak of this amidst a modern age where most everything is at our fingertips, but we had to be brutally patient for the “Family Ghost” vid back then, suffering through the usual menagerie of lightweights MTV’s Headgiver’s Ball always seemed to favor: Great White, Aerosmith, Faster Pussycat, Def Leppard and Ratt (many of which I have come to appreciate in my current withered state), even on the night King Diamond hosted the show. King reportedly hates the video, largely due to the fact that its narrative has absolutely nothing to do with the actual Abigail storyline, opting instead for some sort of strange “lord of the manor trying to enjoy a carnival” theme pushed by a label-approved outside producer. Luckily, the actual track is phenomenal, opening with tough riff laid down by LaRocque that’s quickly followed by an absolutely bananas solo before everything eventually falls into a comfortable strut. King is absolutely unhinged throughout the full song, with whispers and fiendish yowls interchanging without hesitation, and his trademark falsetto adding immeasurably to the overall mischievousness of the narrative.

King is equally loco in the video, pounding down a random sandwich (is that a sandwich? a catcher’s mitt?) and assuming the role of a stately lord who never seems satisfied with the available entertainment until heavy metal soloing enters the picture. That first lead is Denner’s, but it’s his replacement Michael Moon who assumes the role—a fine guitarist in his own right whose only other claim to metal fame was being a part of Madison, a band that laid down one of the lamest album covers of the ‘80s. Not exactly news at this point, but Denner left the band in late ‘87 due to touring stress, but his mark on Abigail was absolutely enormous. Great news: King in the role of a stately lord is extremely pleased with Denner’s solo, but he’s equally as enthusiastic upon being exposed to the more frenzied delivery of LaRocque that explodes through the halls a mere moment or two later.

Side A closes out with a flashback addressing the grisly night Count de LaFey decides to shove the mis’ess and a yet unhatched Abigail down the stairs. LaRocque opens “The 7th Day of July, 1777” with an absolutely stunning and gloomy acoustic stretch before the song fully kicks into a sashaying strut underscoring the speedy yet buttery tone that gives the record its modern edge. With the ensuing “Omens,” side B takes that slippery-smooth production down a sassy, almost playful path that nearly feels at odds with the narrative detailing ghostly antics and devilish cradles appearing out of nowhere. Here we also get full exposure to the more gothic face of the record—more specifically, that big keyboard / organ breakout (courtesy of engineer Roberto Falcao) that splashes an added sense of eeriness just after the song’s halfway point.

“The Possession” follows, and despite delivering the album’s shortest number outside of the intro, the song packs essentially everything that makes the whole of Abigail so enormous and ageless in a very tidy 3 and a half minutes. At its heart, “The Possession” is an absolute rocker (no surprise that Denner co-penned) that rumbles from the gate with a huge riff before King simply goes off the rails with his demented vocals. By now, Miriam is… well, possessed, and her dialogue is fittingly deranged and just short of cackling as she merrily threatens Jonathan with “I’m having YOUR baby, my love!” The mood is sinister and delightfully madcap—Dee’s drumming frolics around Denner’s early lead, and then things suddenly go mellow and deadly at the halfway point, with whissssspers from a yet to be reborn Abigail cautioning that she’ll get “what’s rightfully mine.” LaRocque then drops a long and spectacular solo before things circle back to the swaggering rocker vibes from the onset, and King punctuates the trip with a startling and prolonged “POSSSESSSSSSED!!!” that sticks with the listener long after the song comes to a rest.

The title track is next, and it lays down the record’s grooviest stride following a very memorable and speedy opening riff. That strangely chipper spirit dominates the bulk of “Abigail,” but the song’s true highpoint lands just after Jonathan warns the unborn spirit renting Miriam’s womb that he plans to “get a priest—he will know how to get [Miriam’s] soul back.” Abigail abruptly bursts out laughing, her hysterical gabble accompanied by a playfully proggy measure that effortlessly shifts to a backend that’s loaded with fiery leads and yet another spooky bit of dramatic organ before fading out in preparation for the album’s theatrical conclusion.

“The Black Horsemen” isn’t just a great closer, it’s one of the finest epilogues in metal’s long and storied existence. The track opens with another beautifully dark and mellow stretch, this time thanks to Denner, and the shadowy mood is significantly augmented by some of King’s most gruesome vocals on the record. “So there they stood… At the top of the stairs,” rasps King, sounding like Regan MacNeil after a week’s worth of possession. It’s terrifically sorrowful, this portion of the story: Jonathan must doom his beloved bride to the very same unholy fate his dead ancestor first initiated 68 years ago, and the overall atmosphere of “The Black Horsemen” suits that frame of mind perfectly. The crux of the song is centered on a comfy form of sympathetic misery that’s melodic as the day is long—light orchestral elements are seamlessly folded in, the song’s midpoint throws down a massive LaRocque lead, and the final 2 minutes deliver an impossibly golden and melodic conclusion that’s capped by the last solo Denner ever did for King Diamond. And hey, no surprise: That last lead is the knockout punch the record absolutely deserves.

Despite the fact that it seems very right to refer to Abigail as the greatest King Diamond solo record to date, that sentiment also feels a bit…vulgar. King’s artistic output is invariably strong across the board, and he’s the sort of consistent musician who delivers “best” albums that often depend on precisely when and where the listener first stumbles into his macabre realm. After all, who in their right mind would discount “Them”, Conspiracy, the slyest fave The Eye, or even Fatal Portrait as all-timers? A grade-A fool, that’s who. But where Abigail wins the day for most any King Diamond fan is the manner in which it managed to blaze a new trail, doing for metal what Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare did for rock, and setting the horrific tone for everything King Diamond’s done since.

Cover to cover, top to bottom, and front to back: All things related to Abigail equates to a bonafide banger. There’s not a bad cut amongst the bunch, the interplay between each member is through the roof, and the way King weaves everything together renders a terrifically unique voyage that feels as timeless as it does classic. There is very literally no one quite like King Diamond, and with Abigail lifting from the speakers like the curling smoke from a somber grave candle, we are all treated to one of metal’s rare 10/10 records.

«»

Posted by Captain

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; I got the Wordle in 1 guess; Just get evil all the time.

  1. Amazing album, loved reading this and revisiting it. One of my first true loves in metal is Opeth, and as I was already familiar with them before I ever heard this album it was really interesting to see how King Diamond influenced opeth’s sound—the themes, leads, acoustic interludes in songs…so much of what I love about Opeth comes right from King Diamond. Fun fun

    Reply

  2. Great article on an absolute, monstrous classic, Cap’n. Listening to the album now, yet again, and as always it’s enthralling. It’s my favourite KD for sure.

    Reply

  3. That’s a great observation about how sometimes what you consider the best album is going to depend on when exactly you discovered the artist. Aside from his 80s work only Voodoo, House of God & The Puppet Master still really hold my attention; this is likely because Voodoo was his most recent album when I became a fan.

    At one point I collected & kept everything but sadly lost interest in some of what I feel to be his lesser output (or maybe I was just burnt out on KD.)

    An article ranking the albums in terms of music content vs the quality of the story concept would be interesting.

    Reply

  4. Exactly this album transcends nearly all metal….a Shakespeare like tale…it came out fall of my high school senior year and the magic of this album eventually inspired to make the music business my career!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.