King Diamond

Fatal Portrait

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King Diamond's first solo effort, 1985's Fatal Portrait, was a transitional album: still rooted in the satanically-bent heavy metal of his former group Mercyful Fate, but already showing signs of the theatrical and conceptual elements that the King would soon master like few before him. Indeed, the album's opening four-song suite: "The Candle," "The Jonah," "The Portrait," and "Dressed in White," denote King Diamond's first efforts to weave his horror stories over multiple, interrelated tracks. But compared to future triumphs in gothic storytelling, these are merely rough sketches, a simple dress rehearsal performed rather covertly -- just in case the idea didn't succeed as planned. Sure enough, Fatal Portrait's original second vinyl side returned to a more familiar (and safe) track-by-track approach, and it must be said standout numbers like "Lurking in the Dark," "Halloween," and "Haunted" are arguably the better for it. Diamond can be heard experimenting with ever more vocal styles, spread across ever expanding layers of harmony lines with himself; but it's the new lead guitar tandem of Swedish "axepert" Andy LaRocque and former Fate member Michael Denner who take center stage here, their distinctive riffs and solos well and truly carrying the day. A fine album by any definition, Fatal Portrait is also required listening -- a bridge, really -- for MF fans, who will enjoy this final glimpse at glories past while getting a smoother transition into the ensuing operas of terror. [CD reissues of Fatal Portrait were enhanced by the excellent bonus cut "The Lake" and, depending on the version, the hilariously twisted holiday send-up "No Presents for Christmas."]

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