King Diamond. His black and white face paint. His human bone mic stand and his absolutely bewildering vocal range, from glass-shattering operatic to guttural, malevolent roar.
Many a young metalhead was seduced by the sheer volume, weight and power of their music, none more so than Metallica. Aside from their shared Danish connections, when you hear Metallica play their Fate medley, it is roaringly obvious that this music fits their bill almost to perfection; think of a more devil-directed …Justice perhaps.
When such things are put to him, Kim (the King) is cheerfully humble and enthusiastically appreciative. Indeed, he carries the air of a man who really was delighted to simply be there. At the time it first ran into the fit and healthy-looking King during rehearsals, SW! did not have any clue as to his quadruple bypass surgery, but during a warm and candid conversation about the show, King Diamond delved deeply into true matters of the heart. It made for the sort of extraordinary conversation that was as unique as Fate’s music.
STEFFAN CHIRAZI: Can you give me your first recollections of meeting this motley crew of individuals? There’s this perception that because you’re Danish and Lars is Danish, you’ve known each other since you were both babies! Is that true?
KING DIAMOND: No, not quite! As for our mutual past, without knowing it, we had both actually been at the same Deep Purple concert in ’72 or ’73. It was one of the early Deep Purple concerts in Copenhagen that was filmed by the Danish for National TV. It was called Denmark Radio, but it was actually a TV station. We both started going to concerts pretty early. My first was Grand Funk Railroad in 1970, actually. But the first time Lars and I met was in ’84 when Mercyful Fate was playing at the Kabuki Theater in San Francisco. There was this DJ. What was his name?
SC: Ron Quintana.
KD: He’s the one that came up to us and said, “there’s a band called Metallica outside. They’d like to come in and say hello.” Then he said, “the drummer is from Denmark. You might have heard of him. His name is Lars Ulrich.” I didn’t know him but his dad is a famous Danish tennis player named Torben Ulrich – and of course everybody knew him – so I said, “bring him in! Of course I’ll talk to Ulrich’s son.”
We hit it off , and we became very good friends instantaneously. At least that’s how I felt. So for this anniversary, it’s been just as much about seeing Metallica as people as it is seeing these amazing musicians 30 years later. It is also such a great thing to see that everyone’s doing well. That means so very much to me. Not just that they are playing well and they’re doing fantastic music-wise but that they are doing good as people.
SC: I’d like it if you could clear up something for me. I first met Lars in 1984 as well. The one thing I thought then seems equally true today; that Lars has always been a fan. Do you think that’s true?
KD: Absolutely true. Maybe he’s a little calmer now. I think it has a lot to do with his family life. He’s not so over-the-top wild like he was in the old days. But the best thing is that it’s always such a nice experience to be able to just talk straight with him. He never puts up any façades, any airs, it doesn’t have to be this way or that way. And I’m like that too. No matter where it is, we can talk and it’s just two Danish guys.
SC: I’ve always thought with Lars, what you see is what you get. But I’d like to ask you a nationalistic question. What is it about the Danish people that make them so hardy? I was in Denmark with them this last time when they did five nights and I dropped off the radar after two days. I couldn’t handle that pace of just sheer socializing. I’m not even talking about the drinking and the late nights, I mean it was insane. Is this a national trait?
KD: It is. You see that we are all very open. I don’t know if you got the chance to talk to Michael Denner, or Timi Hansen or Hank Shermann when they were there in San Francisco, but they’re all exactly the same way. You see some people playing rock stars – and I would never mention names. But you don’t see these guys doing that. You just don’t. They are happy, they are grateful for the company and the situation that they are in, and there’s no pretense. There’s no need for that. The one thing that I have seen with Metallica, from when I first got to meet them until now, is that they have not changed at all. It’s mind blowing to me how they have been able to stay so centred with the kind of pressure and all that stuff that goes with being the most successful metal band in the world. You’d think it would have changed them. But it hasn’t.
The last time I saw Lars, I told him that I really, really respected him for being able to be that grounded. I cannot believe how that is possible, but they make it possible. Part of it is that they have so many good people working for them. Another thing that is incredible about Metallica is they attract so many good people. People who want to be there with them. Just like I am now. I can tell you when I’m invited to go to these kinds of things, it’s always such an honour. Not only because they are the biggest band in the world, but because there’s a genuine respect that goes beyond the musicianship. That goes very deeply into who we all are as people.
SC: It’s interesting you touch on who they surround themselves with. That brings me to the epicentre of what this event really was. It’s rather remarkable, the maintenance of contact between Metallica, their friends and the people who are important to them. The age of your friends, in terms of how long you have known them and kept them, says a lot. Plus, they pay the biggest tribute when they cover songs by artists they respect and those who have inspired them over the years.
KD: Absolutely. The feeling is indescribable for me to be on-stage with Metallica playing Mercyful Fate songs.
SC: What did you first think when you heard the Mercyful Fate medley on Garage Inc.?
KD: Lars called me and told me about it. I had no clue they were doing that. It came from left field. Lars and I were on the phone and he asked: “how’s it’s going?” We just talked about this and that. He told me about the tour they were doing and then out of nowhere he said, “hey, I have something I’d like to play for you.”
“OK. I know you’ve been in the studio, man. I’m dying to hear what this new stuff is going to sound like,” I told him. Then he starts to play the medley. I was about to drop from my chair to the floor. “What! Are you kidding me? Whoa. This is amazing,” I told him. “But what the hell?” They had not even talked to the publishers yet to try to get the rights to cover the songs. He played it for me straight from the studio and wanted to hear my thoughts about it. The version of our stuff that they’d done was done so well. They did their thing, and it was very true to the music. James did not sing falsetto [like I do] but there was that junk he put into creating the mood that needed to be there. Hearing it still blows me away.
SC: But nobody could sing those songs better than you.
KD: No, probably not. But that’s also why it’s so much more amazing to hear it that way because of the way that James approaches it. It works so good that James and I can sing it at the same time onstage, in each our way, and it works. It fits.
SC: I think one thing that a lot of fans are unaware of is that you haven’t done much lately due to health issues. I understand performing at the Metallica 30th anniversary shows was one of the first things you’ve done.
KD: It was the first time I had sung since I had open heart surgery.
SC: Right, which is no small issue.
KD: No, I was literally on the operating table for four hours the first day and seven-and-a-half hours the second day. For five hours during the second day they thought I was dead. You’re actually [clinically] dead when they operate, nothing’s going on, your lungs are collapsed, and you’re in pretty nasty shape. Then it’s a matter of “what are the risks restarting the heart?” Electroshocking the heart to get it up and running again afterwards. Then you start learning to breathe again, doing exercises to get your lungs up and working again after they have been collapsed for the operation.
Being on a machine [to keep you alive] is probably as major as it gets. I had to learn how to hold a cup in my hand, because when they operate they saw into the chest and open up the whole ribcage. It’s a horrible thing. Luckily the surgeons took care of me and they glued me back together. It’s a whole different thing, and there are not stitches all over the place.
SC: Wow, so you’re actually a real live action figure at this point.
KD: I’ve got a real needle in my chest now because they had to tie my ribcage together so it could grow back together. It has grown back together.
SC: That’s fucking crazy.
KD: But it fits in there differently than it did before. Things don’t work the same. I didn’t even know if I could sing when I went out there [with Metallica]. That was my big test. I can tell you one thing, you know the band Volbeat that was out with Metallica? They were here [in Denmark] and did a show three months after I had the operation. I went down to say “hi” to everybody and I went up onstage when they did sound-check to do a song with them and I had to get out of there because my chest inside was rattling very uncomfortably. When I came to San Francisco, I was really anticipating that my chest would feel very uncomfortable again, but it had grown (fused) so much “together” at that point that there was no rattling.
SC: I’m sure you also had to alter aspects of your daily lifestyle?
KD: After the heart attack [Nov. 29, 2010] I stopped smoking completely. I haven’t had one drag. The same for my wife. There’s no room for it now. Usually I get a dry throat from flying but now I had no problem whatsoever. I talked with so many people and they say the voice is still there. Under normal circumstances I shouldn’t have a voice. But instead, the voice got a lot stronger. I have to bring it a little bit diff erently now, but I didn’t have any problem singing. So all is good now.
We actually will have some very big announcements in the very near future about some possible live situations. A lot of things are going to be happening here that will show our fans that we are definitely – if we can say it – back from the dead. We are definitely still here and we’re going to continue on [as a band]. Celebrating Metallica’s 30th anniversary was my first test to see if I could still do something.
SC: Do you remember what happened from the last moment that you were put out for the operation to the first moment that you were electro-shocked back to life?
KD: I had to say “goodbye” to my wife, and that was a tough thing because you’re told about the risks and you don’t know what’s really going to happen. There was no time do a whole lot of things. So we did things like improvise wills and stuff like that. It affects you because you are suddenly dealing with death and it’s right in your face. It’s not just something that can happen like a car crash down the road. It’s now and it’s here. That certainly gives you thoughts that you otherwise have never had. It was tough and I really wanted to say, “let me get back to you, and I hope I do get back to you and wake up on this side, because I’m not ready for the other stuff yet. I have more living to do.”
SC: I remember you said that when you were waking up, these were some of the things you thought about.
KD: First, I had to now realize that I wasn’t sure I was coming back. It’s tough to say, “I hope I’ll see you here.” Then really tapping into it. Something special happened to me and I’m not going to tell you the whole circumstances but my wife and I had a black cat for 18 years and her name was Magic. She had died a year earlier. Something happened there that was completely supernatural at the time she died, and we got some power from her in a freaky way. We actually had necklaces made, one for my wife and one for me, they had three rings for the three soul mates. She was more than an animal to us. She was a soul mate. It was so out there. I’m a reasonably strong person, but that power was what I relied on. That power was what fucking pulled me through. I knew my wife was going to be sitting out there, and because I couldn’t wear that chain around my neck, she was going to sit with both chains in her hand, just trying to feel that power.
When I woke up, it wasn’t just like I woke up in the bed. All I could think of was, “oh, God, I came through it.” The first things that happened when I woke up was I saw things in black and white and I had no idea where I was. I could have been on a spaceship with aliens poking me or some shit. Then I saw three doctors but they were not real doctors, but still doctors. They were standing over me and doing this stuff .
Then I got a thought in my brain that I had to let them know that I can breathe. Because there is nothing worse than being on a machine, having the machine doing the breathing for you. There is nothing worse, for me anyway. I felt like I was being choked slowly to death. I know this sounds crazy but I actually wished for them to kill me. That’s what my thoughts were like. “Will you please kill me to stop this?”
SC: Wow. Absolutely unimaginable for most of us.
KD: I can say I think all this stuff is going go in the King Diamond album. I’m going to try and see if I can’t get some of that horror out of my system. That’s what it felt like being in there. My wife was there, but I didn’t see her. She said that I tried to get my arm up because I wanted to rip that tube out of my throat. They had to hold me down, then they were tying my legs and hands down, all the while it felt like I was choking with this pipe in my throat.
I’m telling you this and I told Lars that too. I felt like the guy from Metallica’s One video. I was lying there, being aware of stuff , but I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t talk to them and let them know how I felt. Nothing. And they just tied me down. It was like a horror movie, man. Eventually at some point I came to and my wife was sitting there. I said, “oh my fucking God, I’m still on this side.” After that, we had the real fight on our hands, because I had to learn to do everything again.
SC: Do you have any memories of what happened when you were shut down? Any dreams?
KD: No, nothing. It’s almost like I don’t know what I saw there. I don’t know. They said I was dead for fi ve hours. Where was I during that time? I know that’s what happened but I don’t know if I was bringing something back from the other side. And everything has changed. I’ve not become a different person inside, but in some ways I have added to my storage of emotions. The horror of it all had a deep effect on me.
Plus, I’m doing a lot of things differently. I had to start eating different. I never ate bad, I just ate normal, straight-up food but I ate chocolate. I ate shrimp. I thought seafood was good, but it turned out shrimp has the most cholesterol in the world. I now walk 1.3 miles five to six days a week. Just to get the heart pumping a little. I joined an athletic center and do some weights, a little bit of this and that. So I’m probably in better shape now than before the heart attack. I go to the cardiologist and they check me there. I got checked three weeks ago and everything was fine with the heart. As for me as a person and [my relation to] the horror, there’s no change at all. On the contrary, now I feel like I’ve had a sniff of some more of that because what I’ve been through.
SC: So let me go back to music. All of you guys got back together for the Metallica anniversary shows. Will Mercyful Fate ever reform?
KD: I love Mercyful Fate. But King Diamond is my baby. We’ve had the same line-up for all 10 years on King Diamond. I mean it’s so rock solid. It’s the best lineup I’ve ever played with in my life. It’s so tight. And that’s exactly the same line-up that we’ll continue with when we’re getting ready to do all kinds of stuff
As for Mercyful Fate, the guys that were there really can’t continue it now. Timi works. He can’t just get away from his work and then start playing music, and Michael Denner, he has a shop and he has a son who’s 15 or 16. The original reasons why they dropped out were family reasons. That is totally understandable. Those things can happen, you know, but now there’s no way they could go out and tour. Hank [Shermann] could do it because he’s still into it that way. If we ever did Mercyful Fate again, it would be the Mercyful Fate line-up probably that actually did some shows with Metallica in ’99 in Europe. So you know, you could get that line-up together but only if it was the right thing.
But with King Diamond, it is the right thing. Mercyful Fate doesn’t have the deals we have with King Diamond. I’m not going to say that there’s never going to be a Mercyful Fate again or whatever. I would love to do what Hank calls our masterpiece. “We have to do the masterpiece someday, you know,” he says. I mean, of course, but we can’t just do it and put King Diamond to the side, I’ll never do that.
The easiest thing for us would be going back and do another Abigail album, but why on earth would I do that? There’s no challenge there. If you want another, well, play it twice or something! I would expect that fans would always want to hear new, fresh stuff , to hear new avenues we’ve never explored before. A lot of times you have musicians in a band, they have this desire to go out and do a solo album because they can’t really get everything out that they have inside of them in the band that they’re a part of. For me, I have that ideal situation. That is King Diamond.
- What does King Diamond get up to on his day off?
- Watch Metallica write Moth Into Flame
- "I was begging the doctors to kill me": the confessions of King Diamond
- The 10 least-played Metallica songs
KD: This is exactly where anything goes. If we want to have a flute or a violin on something, or a cello or organs or harpsichord or whatever, we’ll do it if it fits the mood for these concept stories we do. That’s so much fun for me to do. There’s something special about that.
SC: We should talk about the fact that you and Metallica were in the same studio complex together in Denmark.
KD: Yes, that brings memories back for me of Ride the Lightning, but also Master of Puppets because they were both done at Sweet Silence. They were checking out ideas at our rehearsal because it was in the same building they were working in. We would be rehearsing and they would come in and take over the rehearsal place after we went. I think that they had a few amps and other stuff that they brought up to use. We would be up there hearing riffs before it was released to anybody. I remember one night James and Lars came back to my apartment and we were all getting drunk with Timi and this American girl that was visiting from California. That was at my haunted apartment.
SC: Your haunted apartment? Come on, spill it.
KD: I had a small apartment, it was up on the top floor and it was super haunted. I lived there for quite a few years and lots of people have experienced stuff up there. It’s not just like when you got drunk, it would happen at any time. But that specific night, Timi was with this girl that he had met in California. He didn’t tell her he had a girlfriend in Denmark, so when she came to visit she couldn’t stay with Timi, so she stayed in my apartment.
I slept on my couch in my living room and she slept in my bedroom. Timi came over and he was sitting with that girl on the couch in the living room, and there were bottles all over the coffee table. I had a foosball table in my bedroom and Lars, James and I were playing it. While we were playing, I heard this kabong sound, like things were being thrown around. It sounded like Timi had tried to get up and was so drunk he fell over the table and all the bottles flew everywhere.
I opened the door and said, “what the hell are you doing?” as I was looking straight over at him on the couch. He was sitting there with this girl, who’s whiter than a sheet. I asked them, “what’s going on, man? What’s going on in here?” Then I looked to the left of me, right in the corner there I had an altar with all kinds of stuff on. Everything from that altar was just spread all over the floor. I say, “it’s okay, it’s them. Just don’t worry. Everything’s fine. I’ll pick it up. Just continue whatever you’re doing.”
I started picking all the stuff up and putting it back where it belongs. An hour or two later, that girl – her name was Anita – went out to the bathroom and she was there for 20 minutes. I finally went out there to see if she was OK. I heard her crying in there, and I asked her, “what’s going on? Are you all right? What’s going on?” She says, “I can’t get out. Something’s growling at me and I can’t get out. The door’s stuck.” I tried the handle and it just opened. I walked in there and she told me again that there was something growling at her. We got her out of there. I bet James and Lars will never forget things flying off the shelves that night.
SC: Oh, I bet they remember. Do you still have the apartment?
KD: No, it was rented. I went back there in 2006 and I felt like at the part of The Exorcist where the priest is standing in front of the house looking up. It felt like that, standing and looking up at the windows. I felt like, “are you still up there, all you guys up there?”
SC: So you never went back in?
SC: And just to sum up the whole 30th anniversary experience, it sounds like this show was more than a celebration of old friends for you. It was a rebirth. A resurrection?
KD: Yeah it was. It was the first test whether I could actually do this. You can imagine, I was a little nervous at the rehearsal. That was the first time I’d sung onstage since that [heart surgery] happened. So it was a little scary not knowing what was going to happen up there. I stood there and felt the vibrations when they were playing and I said to myself, “OK, my chest is all right now. Go slowly. Step-by-step.” Then when we played later on, I had nothing to prove. You know, I just felt like “go in and enjoy it, man.” That’s what I did. I really enjoyed it. It’s such a relief for me to feel that I wasn’t finished doing this. Amazingly, I got it confirmed being onstage with these guys.