Almost 30 years ago, Danish expat King Diamond released Abigail, his second album after departing seminal black metal act Mercyful Fate. The concept record told the chilling fable of Miriam Natias and her husband, Jonathan LaFey, who are set to claim an ancestral mansion. A group of seven black-clad horsemen urges them to turn around and flee, but the pair ignores the warning and disaster ensues. Chockfull of horror story conventions, fervid guitars and King’s earsplitting falsetto, the album put him on the map as a skilled storyteller.
King has long re-enacted songs from Abigail and other albums with elaborate stage sets during his concerts. But the telling of Abigail — rife with such visuals as an abandoned mansion, a horse-drawn coach, a baby’s coffin and tolling church bells — in its entirely has been long overdue, an oversight King is finally rectifying. He announced in August that when he returns to the road on Oct. 29, his band will perform the whole album. Billboard can exclusively reveal that King will record a feature-length concert video for Blu-ray/DVD, which will contain footage from various shows during the Abigail in Concert 2015 tour. Denise Korycki (Killswitch Engage, Cannibal Corpse) will direct the release.
King’s extremely excited to bring the story to life. “We had so many ideas for how to present it live, and it’s going to be absolutely nuts,” he promises. “This is going to be the biggest challenge that we’ve given ourselves, for sure … the entire second half of the set is Abigail in chronological order from beginning to end, just as it should be, and presented extremely visually.”
Although he didn’t want to divulge too many details, he noted that there would be many changes to the lighting, backdrops and props he employs. Asked how he’s going to pull off bringing a horse-drawn carriage on stage, King laughs, saying, “That might be left outside.”
King is also enthusiastic about playing songs from Abigail that he hasn’t performed in years, like “A Mansion in Darkness,” “Arrival” and “Omens.” He believes that the last time he did the latter song was in 1992 during a New Year’s Eve concert at Savvy’s in Arlington, Texas, where he was joined by then-Pantera members Rex Brown, Vinnie Paul and the late “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott.
“We did ‘Omens,’ and we then we did ‘Green Manalishi’ and ‘The Ripper,’ and it worked great. It was amazing,” recalls King. “Dimebag, he found a nice blend of all the different harmonies of the guitars to play, and it did work. You didn’t really miss any of them. But again, he had that special gift, you know. I’ll never forget that.”
In honor of the album track “The 7th Day of July 1777,” Billboard chatted with King about Abigail and gleaned seven nuggets of little-known information about his landmark recording.
1. Abigail was written on a dark, stormy night.
King composed “75 percent of the storyline” after he was awoken one night by an unusually violent thunderstorm in Denmark. He says the creative spurt was “the only time that’s ever happened for me that so much was just done overnight.” He’d written down what he’d been dreaming about before the storm awoke him but, fearful he would forget the musical ideas the memories were inspiring, he brewed a pot of coffee and got back to work. Since his days in Mercyful Fate, King had repeatedly dreamed of 13 “cloak-dressed people” that surrounded a bed he was lying in, paralyzed and unable to scream for help. (The vision was so pervasive, in fact, that he turned it into the Mercyful Fate song “Nightmare.”) The figures reappeared in this dream, so for Abigail, he transformed them into the seven black horsemen. He also saw a horse-drawn coach and a child’s coffin in his dream — elements that worked their way into the story.
2. The date of July 7, 1777 and the album’s titular figure were inspired by a tombstone.
“The 7th Day of July 1777” is both the birth and death date of Abigail’s namesake character. However, it’s not a figment of King’s dream: He cribbed it, as well as her name, from a real-life grave marker. “Someone sent me a picture of a headstone, and I took that from there,” he says of Abigail’s moniker and her brief life span that began and ended on the seventh day of July in 1777. He believes the photograph was taken at a graveyard in Seattle.
3. The number nine that’s cited in the lyrics has special significance.
“We have cycles, and we have things with that number nine that is an eternal circle. It always comes back and is reborn,” says King of the number’s meaning, referencing the practice of numerology. Since Abigail is a tale about reincarnation, it makes sense that he incorporated the number into the story. For example, Natias’ character is 18-years-old; LaFey is 27 — one plus eight equals nine, and so does two plus seven. The black horsemen warn in the song “Arrival,” “Take our advice and go back on this night/If you refuse, 18 will become nine,” meaning the 18-year-old Natias would become nine months pregnant with Abigail’s spirit.
King does some more math for you: ” ‘7th Day of July 1777’ has [nine] in it too. The seventh day is one times seven. July’s the seventh month; that’s two [sevens]. Then you have another three [sevens] in the number, plus a one. That’s 35 plus one; 36. Three, six, nine — ah, yeah, here we go again.”
4. Abigail could be the first horror metal album.
Horror has long influenced the genre, with death metal its most obvious spawn. But King believes Abigail is the first metal album to tell a supernatural story. “You can say Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare, [but] that’s not a horror story,” explains King. “Others have done concept albums, The Who and many others, but never a horror story like this. I’m pretty sure it’s a first, and… because at that time it was so new, it was automatically going to have a heavy impact.”
5. Mixing the album was a painstaking task.
Abigail was recorded in the era of 24-track tape, and mixing such a multilayered album was an arduous process since Pro Tools and automated mixers didn’t exist. King says a lot of hands were needed. “[It was like], ‘OK, in this song here, go up to there in the drum roll with the tom, but no higher than two. And the guitar solo, no higher than one-plus,’ ” he remembers. “And then you’ll play it, and then you check: ‘I saw you went way too high on that solo. Now you have to do it again. It’s way too loud.’ ‘What? But I…’ ‘No. I saw you. You went up there.’ People started doing each other’s things, so that way you know people would not go over with it.” He laughs. “It was the only way we could get it mixed properly.”
6. The song “The Family Ghost” is “haunted” by two mysterious words.
“The Family Ghost” relates how a spirit named Count LaFey appears to warn Jonathan LaFey about Abigail’s impending reincarnation and shows him where her sarcophagus has been stored in the mansion’s basement. Right before the song’s last verse, a guttural voice audibly growls what King thinks are the words “Oh, damn!” But King never sang that line, and neither did anyone else. “I have absolutely no idea how it got there,” he insists. King noticed the phantom voice while he and engineer Robert Falcao were working on the vocal tracks. They couldn’t isolate the voice, nor could they get rid of it, so King embraced it: Whenever he performs the song live, he snarls, “Oh, damn!”
7. Speaking of “The Family Ghost”: King loathes the video for it.
There’s a juggler. There’s a dancer twirling around in flowing scarves. There’s King sitting on a throne, devouring a piece of chicken and dismissing minions who are trying to entertain him. And nothing in the video reflects the song’s content whatsoever. “I absolutely hate that video,” he says. He lays the blame on giving into the demands of the record label, which hired a producer that “took it upon himself to create a little circus.” “After we came back from that, it was like, ‘OK, if we ever do a video again, next time I decide what goes in it. It has to have to do with the lyrics,’ ” says King. “Every time I see it or suddenly I walk by, my wife plays it on a computer or something — ‘Oh, turn it off!’ Man, I can’t stand it!”