The King is back after a near 10 year absence due to various health related issues (growing old sucks, even for devil worshipping metal singers). The good news is that at 58 years old, he’s stronger than ever, and since he stopped smoking, his voice is the strongest its ever been. This time around, he’s bringing his full theatrical production, something he hasn’t done in North America in a long time. To accommodate this, they’re playing playing bigger venues, and I feared the Olympia would be too big for him, but absence does make the heart grow fonder and the place was packed, with a significant part of the audience that probably wasn’t old enough to attend his show the last time he played Montreal (back in November 2003 at Club Soda)
The band arrived on the multi level stage, behind a gate, and kicked things off with The Candle, the opening track from his first solo album Fatal Portrait. That track sent me back to my high school days when I’d blast this album on my Walkman (that’s tape for you kids) on the bus. King’s voice was strong, loud and clear, and the band (featuring perennial sidekick Andy LaRoque and returning axe man Mike Wead who is also a one time member of Mercyful Fate) was tight. They followed with Sleepless Nights and Welcome Home, with the return of Grandma to the stage (and it was obvious things would not end well for the poor old thing). They avoided the temptation to simply play a greatest hits set, and revisited their last album (2007’s Give Me Your Soul…Please) with Never Ending Hill and Shapes of Black (unfortunately the PA cut out halfway through this one and they had to finish it with only the stage amplifiers). The show incorporates a lot of props and actors to hint at the storylines these songs are part of (most of King Diamond’s albums are concept albums), and the band used the opportunity to play several deep cuts like At the Graves which hadn’t been played in a long time.
The strongest moment of the show came when King revisited his old band Mercyful Fate and played Evil and Come to the Sabbath. The crowd sang along in unison and banged their heads to every musical 90 degree turn, and it really highlighted how important that band is to the story of heavy metal. King Diamond’s voice is, shall we say, an acquired taste, and the satanic lyrics may have cut them off from mainstream success, but there is no doubt they were pioneers in the genre. There seems to be little hope of a reunion, but at least if King Diamond keeps them alive, their legacy goes on.
The main set ended with the classic Eye of the Witch, followed by Cremation where the evil grandma got her comeuppance. (I hope all the assholes who held up their phones through the entire sequence will have the decency to upload their videos to Youtube so I can finally see it) The encore went back to what might just be his best album ever, Abigail and offered The Family Ghost and The Black Horsemen to finish the evening.
Despite the facepaint, the evil lyrics and occult imagery, King Diamond comes across a gentle soul, and more than ever he seems very appreciative of his fans, and of the opportunities to play for them. He told us how playing in Montreal has always been amazing for him (something he’s said every time I’ve seen him) even going back to the Mercyful Fate days, and it doesn’t come across as typical rock star bullshit. King Diamond is a true metal icon, and let’s hope he keep touring for many years.
The opening act was Jess and The Ancient Ones, a psychedelic band that was hand picked by King Diamond to be the support for this tour. On paper it seemed like a very odd match, but it worked quite well. It’s hard to describe their set, but I imagine it’s pretty much what a Jefferson Airplane show looked like in 1969. Psychedelic moods, with go go riffs and prog rock structures, and a lead singer that’s either in trance or stoned. It was really good, but after 45 minutes the songs were starting to blur into each other. Still, they’re worth checking out. They were very well received by the crowd, except for the drunk idiot in front of me who kept yelling “King Diamond!” every time the music got quiet and he thought he had a chance to be heard by the band. Dude, go get a beer if you don’t like it.
King Diamond’s setlist
Never Ending Hill
The Puppet Master
At the Graves
Tea / Digging Graves / A Visit from the Dead
Come to the Sabbath
Shapes of Black
Eye of the Witch
The Family Ghost
Jess and the Ancient Ones’ setlist
Prayer for Death and Fire
Devil (In G Minor)
Come Crimson Death