In early 1985, following the tour for Don't Break the Oath, Mercyful Fate split up. The prime reason seemed to be creative differences between King and Hank Shermann. Along with Michael Denner and Timi Hansen, King Diamond embarked upon a solo career that would carry on the same musical tradition, with some new elements, and also saw the Satanic Black Metal of Mercyful Fate replaced with a horror concept. King Diamond's debut album, Fatal Portrait, was written entirely by King and Michael Denner, with no input from new guitarist, Andy LaRocque.
This was the second King Diamond album that I obtained, just weeks after acquiring The Eye. It was a cold night in November, and I experienced this masterpiece, for the first time, with only a few candles illuminating the room. There was just enough light for me to follow along with the lyrics. It took several months before I gave this album even a moment's rest.
Several of the musical influences utilized by Mercyful Fate are still present on this album, particularly the complex song structures, inspired by early Black Sabbath, along with the speed metal that was typical of the era. “The Candle”, “Dressed in White” and “Haunted” all possess these highly complex structures. However, more straight-forward songs such as “Halloween”, “Lurking in the Dark” and “Charon” are a bit of a departure from the old days.
Fatal Portrait is unique, within the King Diamond catalogue, as it is not a full concept album. The story is only present in about half the songs, indicating that this may have been somewhat of an experiment. Of course, the works that followed this were full concept albums.
"The Candle" begins with sounds befitting a horror score. The keyboard intro goes well with the Hellish vocals that lead into a haunting organ piece. It very well may serve to raise the hair on the back of your neck. As the guitars and drums come in, it is apparent that this is the legacy of Mercyful Fate. King's vocals create an eerie effect before actually singing. Throughout the album, his mostly utilizes falsetto, and it really suits the music. The song is mid-paced, maintaining the atmosphere of horror. As with Mercyful Fate, the riffs are very epic, and listening to this gives one the feeling of going on some sort of journey back in time. The solo is beyond words.
"The Jonah" features another horrific intro and a demonic voice, continuing the same wicked mood as the previous song. Again, King uses his vocals as an instrument, in place of keyboards, to add an eerie melody. This song is mid-paced as well, and just as epic as its predecessor. The riffs are very memorable and the atmosphere is dark and haunting. After a few minutes, the pace picks up, accompanied by wicked solos. These brilliant riffs would not have been out of place on Don't Break the Oath.
"The Portrait" begins with a brief keyboard passage, for effect, before kicking in with a bit of a faster pace than the previous songs. Another hellish solo rears its head, rising from the flames. As the story progresses, this song carries a feeling of urgency and creates some tension. It is impossible for me to understand why many people consider this as the weakest King Diamond album. This is my personal favorite and, regarding the old albums, I'd say that "Them" is the true weak link (mostly due to the production). The vocal melodies here are just as important as the guitars and King does an excellent job here.
"Dressed In White" is next and continues with a similar pace as before, not quite fast but not as slow as the first two. The rhythm of the song is, somewhat, reminiscent of Iron Maiden. That is absolutely not a bad thing. The solos are incredible and the vocals are without fault.
The next song, "Charon", is a bit more raw than the previous ones, featuring a thrashy riff, early one. Again, due to the brilliant guitars and vocal melodies, this song maintains the same epic feeling that is present on the rest of the album, despite being relatively short. This song also features a riff that sounds very similar to the main riff in "Abigail", around the two minute mark. The solo, near the end, is godly. That seems to be a recurring theme with this band.
"Lurking in the Dark" has been a staple of my radio show, throughout the last seven years. It begins with a thrashy riff and inhuman howling, followed by a killer solo. King's high-pitched vocals are really the highlight of this song. The chorus is nothing short of amazing. One of the faster songs on the album, though not really that fast, this song also features some double bass, for a bit. It's also not short on great solos. This is great music for driving in the middle of the night, on a deserted road, with cold winds blowing in the open window.
"Ahh!!! It's Halloween!"
"Halloween" is fucking awesome. The riffs and the feeling in the vocals are incredible. It sounds as if this song, in particular, was quite enjoyable for them to record. There's an extra bit of passion that shows in King's vocals, on this one. Just listening to this makes me want to sit down, for several hours, as my eyes feast upon classic horror movies, such as the original Halloween, as well as anything with Bela Lugosi.
"Voices From the Past" is a short instrumental piece that serves to take the modd down a few notches, creating a darker atmosphere than the previous songs. The guitar on this one is played by King, himself, as Andy was just unable to master the riffs that were written. This song is eerie and leads, perfectly, into the next song.
"Haunted" returns to the storyline and concludes this horrific tale. It maintains the dark feeling and even features some acoustic sections. The solo work is very deep and adds yet another dimension to this classic album.
"The Lake" is one of my favorite King Diamond songs, ever. The galloping pace and the piercing vocals accompany some of the most memorable riffs on the album. The melodies are absolutely haunting and will remain in the dark recesses of your mind, long after the album has ended. Not featured on the original release, for some reason, this song possesses the same epic feeling as the rest. I can't fathom why this one was kept on the shelf. Even the way the song ends serves as a very appropriate way to conclude an album.
Fatal Portrait does well to carry on the spirit of Mercyful Fate, while giving birth to something new as well. This album is the bridge between Don't Break the Oath and Abigail. In my view, it's tied with the latter as the best King Diamond album ever recorded...far from being the 'weak' album that many seem to label it as. If you don't own this classic, throw yourself off a cliff. Hopefully, the jagged rocks, beneath, will knock some sense into you.