Friday, October 21, 2011

October 21: King Diamond, "Abigail"

Artist: King Diamond
Song: "Abigail"
Album: Abigail
Year: 1987

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Throughout the course of music history, even long before it was a recorded commodity, the link between the art of musical creation and that of theatrical performance were closely linked.  As far back in history as one can find, there are songs for both entertainment, as well as historical documentation, and yet one can argue that over the past century, much of the "theatrics" within music has been lost.  While such a style would not have fit into many current musical trends, it is strange that given its history, those who do attempt to create a dramatic sense within their music are often looked down upon.  However, there are a handful of artists over the past few decades that have mastered this approach, and few are as unmistakable in every sense of the word than the one and only King Diamond.  Having made his name as a solo artist after creating quite a stir with his previous band, Mercyful Fate, there are few performers form any period of recorded music that have shown as much sheer charisma and creativity as one finds in King Diamond, and this works perfectly along with his truly unparalleled vocal range.  Perfecting the idea of "the concept album," there are few records as outright disturbing, yet flawlessly crafted as one can experience all across his 1987 release, Abigail, and it is the soaring, extravagant, and yet unquestionably haunting title track that stands as the definitive moment in the entire career of King Diamond.

In every aspect, the opening notes to "Abigail" make the entire intent and purpose of both the song and album completely clear.  The speed and ferocity with which every note is played finds perfect balance in the delicate drama that it suggests, and it is this equilibrium that in many ways defines the brilliance of King Diamond's songs.  There is no question that the core of the song revolves around the dual guitars of Andy LaRocque and Michael Denner, as they spin their sound in an almost dizzying manner, yet ensure that not a single note is lost in the process.  The tone with which they play perfectly match the overall intent of the song, as there is a looming, almost angry sound to be found, and yet the technical expertise they show pushes "Abigail" far beyond almost any other heavy metal recording.  It is also on this track that one can begin to hear LaRocque truly coming into his own as a player, and being a bit more aggressive, which would be a sign of things to come within the band.  However, it is also the almost maddening bassline from Timi Hansen that allows "Abigail" to have so much musical character.  Hansen seems to pummel the listener over and over, with a slightly slower, more methodical speed than might be expected, and it is this unique approach that sets the song further aside from those of their peers.  Finishing off the musical assault is drummer Mikkey Dee, and it is within his playing that one can hear a superb "second vocal," as he seems to push King Diamond further than any other backing musician in history.

But as is the case with every track that he touches, there is rarely a moment on "Abigail" where the focus moves from the vocal performance from King Diamond himself, and this is without question the definitive song from his entire career.  Simply put, King Diamond (real name: Kim Bendix Petersen) possesses a vocal range and dynamic that has never been matched in even the slightest by any singer from any genre or time period, and it is the control that he shows over this skill that makes him such a magnificent performer.  In terms of both pitch and mood, Diamond is an absolute master of singing, as he is able to jump all around the vocal scale with ease, and uses these different sounds to create a tone and atmosphere on "Abigail" that must be heard to be completely understood.  It is the way that Diamond is able to spin such a dark and disturbing tale, yet never come off as cliché as so many of his peers do, that makes his songs so unique, and on many levels, "Abigail" is the most unsettling set of lyrics he ever delivered.  Taking the story that was already in place by this point on the album, the character of Abigail manages to possess the unborn child of the parents within the story, and after experiencing this track, the plot and imagery of the film Rosemary's Baby seems rather mild.  At every turn, King Diamond allows the spirit and sound of the song to dictate his pace and pitch, and it is this reality that pushes his vocals on "Abigail" to stand as the finest moment of his long recording career.

While the ideas that King Diamond expresses throughout the entire sequence that is the Abigail record was not a new idea, it is the precision with which he carries out each song that sets it so far beyond similar works.  One can easily make the case that this album is the ultimate "goth-metal" achievement, as most other attempts at such a recording sound as if the band in question is "trying too hard," where this album has a potency and raw edge that cannot be denied.  It is the way that the musicians create such a massive wall out sound, and yet manage to find their own individual space to perform that makes "Abigail" stand out from other tracks on the record, and there is no question that each of these performers is at the top of their musical form.  Furthermore, King Diamond himself is at his finest throughout the entire five-minute run-time, and his singing here would redefine the standard for all heavy metal vocalists.  Yet while many have attempted to mimic his sound and style, the reality is that the talents of King Diamond are so unique that none other has come even remotely close on either front.  Along with the brilliant music and singing, the image and idea of the character of "Abigail" have made their way into culture, and from other songs referencing the character to video games taking a similar tact, she stands as one of the most iconic figures in heavy metal history.  While he recorded many great songs both before and after this, there is no question that King Diamond reached his creative apex in the form of his stunning 1987 song, "Abigail."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This was fun to read, and I share your enthusiasm for the album. However, there are many that would argue "Them" is just as good, "Conspiracy" not far behind, and Fate's "Don't Break the Oath" as better than any of them, including "Abigail".