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Mercyful Fate interview

Interview with King Diamond conducted by Bill Zebub for Issue #16 of THE GRIMOIRE OF EXALTED DEEDS MAGAZINE.

EDITOR’S INTRODUCTION:  I had run a contest for readers to make their version of the cover of the NUNS HAVE NO FUN EP, using photographs.  It was meant for humans to imitate the drawing on the album, but the winner actually used dolls.  This picture was later used for movie covers – twice, actually.


You’re aware of the contest for the front cover.
Yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing that.
I received some very strange photos. Some person (Damian Pring from Yardley, PA) depicted the Nuns Have No Fun cover with dolls. When I first looked at the pictures I was asking myself what sort of strange effect was on the photographs. Then I realized they were dolls.
That’s creepy, in a way, isn’t it?
It’s more creepy than a real life photo could be.
The King Diamond album The Graveyard has this lunatic in it. He’s killing off people and hanging their heads on the wall. He suddenly sees them as dolls.
There is an instrumental version of The Immigrant Song done by Mercyful Fate somewhere on this planet that you haven’t found yet.
I think either they threw the tape out or they went over it. I remember us trying it, and it didn’t work. It just would not sound right. So I doubt that it actually exists.
In those days they tried to save as much space on the reels as possible. It might have been an expense-cutting maneuver.
Yeah, and also, for the reissues Hank went into the studio where we recorded those albums and asked them for the master tapes. They said, “No, we sent them to Roadrunner”.  What? When? Then we spoke to Roadrunner, and they never received any tapes. So in between people they just disappeared. I do have some really old stuff. I told you about that before… that Black Rose stuff. Every time I play it I say, “God man, this sounds pretty fuckin’ cool”. Even though it’s a rehearsal recording, everything’s so clear. I joke with Brian Slagel. I say I have this thing that no one has ever heard. And he says, “Any time. Just say the word and i’ll release it.” 

You’re too much of a perfectionist for your fans, because there is a wealth of older stuff that you don’t want to officially sanction because of the drop outs and unstable recording levels.
You’re talking about the bootlegs.
Right. The song Nightmare, in its earlier stage…
The very first version was called Shadow Nights. Then it changed into Nightmare – the old version. Parts of that were mixed in with the Nightmare you hear on Don’t Break the Oath.
I have the recording of the concert with Shadow Nights, and that was when you yelled, “I hate disco!”
We were booked in a very wrong place. We were booked in a school, and it was the school’s last night. They thought they were getting a disco band. So there were ten people in the middle. The rest were boo-ing us, giving us the finger.
Truck Driver…
That was in a Michael Denner 3-piece band.
Danger Zone?
Yeah. That was when I was singing Mission: Destroy Aliens. It was written about this game where you shoot down these little things. You know what I’m talking about? Like an arcade game?
So it’s actually a song about a video game?
Yeah! That’s why it’s so horrible! I could not relate to it. What the hell was the other song? Of course, Truck Driver comes to mind. I almost refused. I asked, “Are you serious? You want me to sing this? Can I change some words?” I ride down the highway in my truck. I’m a truck driver. God! Where does that come from? You know? He’s never driven in a truck himself. Where would he get an idea like that?
I heard that Scandinavians have some sort of romantic notion of the cowboy subculture. And you are living in Texas…
(laughs) There you go. No, but serious, man… it was horrible. There was not 1% feeling behind it. It was a rock ‘n roll song first of all. It was not even metal. It was so not belonging anywhere.
The song Persecution came from that era too.
But that had feeling to it.
Well it was better than singing Truck Driver. So you might have gotten 25% out of me there.
I want to get back to the song A Dangerous Nightmare. Supposedly it came from a London performance. It has the catchy part of the version on Don’t Break the Oath.  Over it you sang the words “Eyes of Fire”. Does that ring a bell?
It might be something that John Kibble recorded, you know.
That’s where I got it.
Well, there you go. He didn’t tell us about everything that was going on. Believe me. We didn’t know about certain shirts that were sold. Then we saw one. What the hell was that? “Hello dude. What are you making on that?” Then he had to explain that it was just for promotion and no profit. Yeah, right.
I bought 7 cassettes from him for $40. But I am not accusing him, because if it weren’t for him, the world would never have these songs.
As long as people know these are bootlegs. That’s what bothers me. When some of it came out, also with him involved, it was presented as real albums. They even convinced some chains to carry the album. They (the F.B.I.) found the storage in London, and destroyed the whole shit. 5,000 or 10,000 copies were destroyed.

That’s quite a lot of copies.
He was selling to normal stores! I could go to Blockbuster and find it. You’re selling bootleg albums? “No, no. It’s from this record label here.” Three months after they destroyed it it was in the market again, but not in the shops though. It was presented as a genuine release, and that’s where you go really wrong. A person coming in for the first time, picking it up… “God, this really sucks!”

I actually heard that comment from someone who bought the Satan’s Nightmare bootleg album.
There was another one… Live From The Depths of Hell.

Yeah, that was the album that got me into Mercyful Fate. I’m sure you know the name Gene Khoury.
Oh yeah…
He played live Into the Coven on his radio show, and he’s kind of responsible for me knowing anything about real metal.
He’s one of the early guys.
Yeah. But the passion in your voice on that song (Into the Coven) was spellbinding.  On the song A Dangerous Nightmare, your voice is so powerful, and I think it would be such a novelty for it to be released in some official way. But I guess the person who has the master tape would be John Kibble.
I would imagine so.
I have not been able to track him down.
When you bought the tapes that long ago, did you buy them form a U.S. address?
I wrote to the fan club address on the back of the Melissa album. My letter was answered with a flier from England, and it listed a band bio as well as a menu of tapes, and I bought them all. But anyway, I tried to write him again because my tapes have degenerated over time, and I thought his would be the most pristine on earth. But what I now know, and it is quite a surprise to me, is that he has the master tapes to those live shows.
That’s because it was never intended to be recorded anywhere. He must have had a tape recorder set up somewhere without anybody knowing it.. just recording shit and then selling it. Suddenly these bootlegs appeared out of nowhere. Then when you track it down and start asking people where they got it… “Oh, John Kibble.”  What? He’s recording us? He’s supposed to work for us, but he records our stuff and releases them as bootlegs. Gee, that’s great. But I don’t know of a set from London recorded live. We played two shows back then in London… small clubs, while we were doing the B.B.C. sessions. He must have recorded one of those.
Yeah, the other two songs from that bootleg are a version of Satan’s Fall with different lyrics… instead of “I don’t need your god” you sing “Satan is better than god”.
Yeah, that’s right. That’s a super early version.
Then there was Nuns Have No Fun. There might have been a mike problem because the first verse wasn’t sung. But it’s so interesting for a fan. I can understand not wanting to have people listen to that stuff as a first-listen. But it’s extremely interesting.
Let’s say our fan club in Holland… if they had those things available for fans to buy through them, I wouldn’t care about that. But then, I know it’s a fan who already knows about the band, and it’s not going to be misunderstood. You know what I mean? If we had a good version of it and could mass produce it in a responsible way, then I’m sure that the record label wouldn’t bother if it was sold through the authorized fan club, because we don’t get any money – the fan club is run by some people in Holland who have been given the right to run the fan club. If they want to do something, they just have to ask us. They don’t have to account to us in any way.

Let’s talk about some of the changes in Mercyful Fate. I noticed you kind of dispensed the vibrato. Your voice does not waver so much anymore.
Oh it definitely does, Bill.  I remember making the songs on this last album, and it was so hard making the backing vocals vibrate the same way as I just did for the lead. I do it by feel, you know. I don’t think about it. I do it naturally. They say in the control room, “You’re vibrating a little off”. and I’m like, “Let me hear it again.” Then I’m like, “Ok, don’t think about it. Just sing it. Let it come by itself.” But there’s definitely vibrato still. Did you not listen to the new album?
I did, but I only got it today.
Oh ok, you’re excused. That’s a thing that, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t get rid of because I do it automatically.
Perhaps it is just a confusion of words. Perhaps I meant “operatic vocals”. There was such a heavy amount of sorrow in your voice in the early Mercyful Fate days.
You know what I think you’re talking about?  Vibrato will come in there to some degree no matter what I do, right?  You’re probably talking about the exaggerated vibrato.

Yes! The character singing that you invented in the King Diamond albums kind of loses the classical sound that the early Mercyful Fate albums had. The vocals seem more lively… more upbeat. In the past, you had a very dark way of singing. Did you notice the transition?
No… I can’t even relate to what you’re saying. Now I’m gonna go and listen to every album again.
It’s more like the color of the voice. You had such a tonal sadness.
Well, I was unhappy the day I sang the Melissa song. Now I’m so fucking happy all the time. But seriously, I have not noticed any difference. I think that it has a lot to do with what kind of music you’re presented with. It might be the tempo of the song. Melissa is a slow one. It depends on how much of that music there is to sing it to. It could also be the choruses of A Dangerous Meeting. It opens up for choirs because it’s so melodic… and it’s slow tempo. If you sang it straight, without vibrato, it sounds lame. I don’t think that any of what I’m doing today sounds lame or uninspired. But I am going to listen to the albums because you brought it up. I don’t take it as bad criticism. I always take it as good. I might be missing out on something here.
I will never ask you anything out of disrespect, or out of criticism.
I’m positively going to go back and listen to some of it because… you might have a point is what I am saying. I mean it, seriously. That’s how I started singing falsetto, you know. Some guy told me, “Hey, you should work more on that.” Yeah, I think I will do that.

king diamond
King Diamond