By the Great Sun Jester

KING DIAMOND’s sophomore solo album “Abigail” has long since passed into legend since its 1987 release. The onetime MERCYFUL FATE frontman turned to a conceptual conceit with his second solo collection—a calculated gamble for a style of album-making long out of commercial and critical favor alike.

The album reflects more than DIAMOND’s musical influences. “Abigail’s” mid-19th century setting is the stylistic nod of a songwriter well-versed in Hammer films, Gothic literature and classic horror. His much ballyhooed reputation as a performer precedes him and shapes much of the dialogue surrounding his songwriting; traditional metal is the guiding aesthetic behind DIAMOND’s music and few of his releases, solo or otherwise, illustrate it better than “Abigail”.

It opens with some scene setting. The atmospheric “Funeral” segues into the mid-tempo riffing of “Arrival”, but the second track soon takes off. The first of many blazing guitar solos lays groundwork for DIAMOND’s first vocals. Alternating between his ghoul-like almost spoken word delivery and shattering falsetto peaks enhances the inherent drama of this and other songs. “Arrival” is an outstanding blitzkrieg without ever blasting listeners out of their seats.

“A Mansion In Darkness” opts to flatten any opposition from the outset, but DIAMOND and his cohorts shift from the breakneck pace into far more considered passages. The contrast is crucial. Dynamics help drive any great metal song and few utilize the device on “Abigail” better than “A Mansion IN Darkness”. If the “Abigail” storyline is a slowly tightening fist, “The Family Ghost” is when DIAMOND and his mates crush listeners at last. Juxtaposing stark tempo shifts and juggernaut riffing against practically balladic passages is variety enough, but guitarists Michael Denner and Andy Larocque seldom stop there.

“The 7th Day of July, 1777” is another of the album and story’s central pieces. Obvious musical choices along the way are signs such as the acoustic guitar beginning this track. DIAMOND, however, doesn’t content himself for long with these softer textures and the song spirals into another dazzling descent into the maelstrom. DIAMOND’s vocals are arguably at their most dramatic yet during the song. Ferocious guitars are galloping during the introduction for “Omens” and the band maintains that clip even when the riffing changes gears.

DIAMOND sets the vocal bar high. Much of the album’s second half outright relies on his upper register and the nightly rigors of performing at such a level are clear. DIAMOND’s music concedes some to the times and embraces a smattering of synthesizer color during this song but it’s far from excessive. “The Possession” has swagger and a snarling riff pushing the song straight ahead but some listeners will hear him overplaying his hand during this track. It isn’t a fatal flaw. The black climactic heart of the album, in some ways, “The Possession” is a key moment in the album’s storylines and one of the album’s more musically daring moments.

The title song packs plenty of theatrical punch thirty years on. DIAMOND is a mad master of ceremonies, embracing his role to the hilt, and audibly confident in the thunder crashing around him. There are clear similarities between songs marking the “Abigail” material, without a doubt, but one key aspect dividing this track from others is another example of KING’s ingenious use of tempo. It’s one of the lessons you can take away from the finale “Black Horsemen” as well. His willingness to incorporate synth rears its polished head again without neutering the song’s power. Much of that comes from DIAMOND’s vocals, the song’s plentiful changes in tempo and texture, while always remaining true to the collection’s core identity. KING DIAMOND’s “Abigail”, over thirty years since its release, retains its position as one of metal’s most ambitious moments. Time has been kind to this one and we can expect it will retain its lofty status for generations to come.