Almost every band has that album: you know, the critically and/or commercially reviled dud in an otherwise pretty damn good back catalog. In “Justify Your Shitty Taste,” a Decibel staffer or special guest will take to the Deciblog to bitch and moan at length as to why everybody’s full of shit and said dud is, in fact, The Shit. Today, Matt Solis gives it up for King Diamond’s The Graveyard.
I’m going to give my editors the benefit of the doubt here and assume they meant Verify Your Awesome Taste. I mean, come on, everybody knows there’s no such thing as a shitty King Diamond record. Some might be less memorable than others based on your personal criteria and/or schlock tolerance, but I’ll be goddamned if King has ever had a “St. Anger” moment in the span of his career. He knows what the people want—traditional metal with a progressive edge, dark theatrics, tales of the macabre, tons of falsetto—and he’s been delivering it on a consistent basis for nearly three decades.
So, it’s safe to say I’m a little peeved that I’m being called on to defend King Diamond’s 1996 LP The Graveyard. It’s like having an argument with a child about why they have to brush their teeth every night—a logical and immediate conclusion that must be patiently spelled out to benefit the greater good. But I suppose there are worse things in life to be dealing with. Grab a toothbrush and come with me.
Like most of King Diamond’s work, The Graveyard is based on a single concept that plays out over the course of the record. This time, we find King trapped in an insane asylum called Black Hill Sanitarium, where he spends his days and nights getting prodded by the dreaded “men in white.” One night, he ices an unsuspecting nurse and escapes, but his mind has become so compromised after years of isolation that he can only think of one place to hide from the fuzz: the local graveyard.
King’s graveyard activities include killing random passersby and obsessing over a strange rumor: if you get decapitated inside a graveyard, your soul is trapped inside your head for all eternity. Seems plausible. He’s also preoccupied with kidnapping a local girl named Lucy, and after he sneaks into town to do the deed, we learn the truth of his incarceration. Lucy is the daughter of the dreaded Mayor McKenzie, the scourge of the city and an all-around bastard. King used to work for the Mayor, but after witnessing him molest his own daughter, he reported him to the authorities. But the Mayor wasn’t one to go out like that—he testified that it was King who had molested Lucy and used his dickish power to have him committed to Black Hill.
So King has Lucy in the graveyard, and he tells the Mayor that if he wants to save his daughter, he’ll have to play a little game (spoiler alert: not backgammon). Lucy is buried in one of seven empty graves, and the Mayor has three chances to guess which one she’s in before King kills them both. The Mayor actually guesses correctly on the third try, but King is kind of an asshole and KOs him before he can celebrate.
This dick move turns out to be King’s downfall: while he’s torturing the Mayor, Lucy pulls a cord that triggers a huge sheet of broken glass to fall from a chapel window, which, naturally, chops his head the fuck off. And wouldn’t you know it, that damn rumor is actually true! King’s head is alive and well, and he begs Lucy not to leave him in the graveyard. Luckily, Lucy abides and stuffs King’s talking head in her backpack, presumably to scare the shit out of her classmates the next day.
That’s all awesome and you know it.
The Graveyard is notable for being one of King Diamond’s slowest records—not in terms of plot development, but of the music itself. Previous albums weren’t exactly known for being speed demons, but there’s something extra doomy about most of the songs on this record, from the death waltz of “Heads on the Wall” to the dirge-like crawl of “Digging Graves” and “Sleep Tight Little Baby.” It’s like King spent a few months drinking whiskey with Leif Edling and said, “Fuck it, let’s try it your way.”
This mid-paced approach to songwriting creates an unmistakably somber atmosphere throughout The Graveyard: you can almost smell the freshly dug graves and feel the cold fog on your warm skin. The “Phantom of the Opera” keyboards add some great aesthetic touches, and the slower music is a perfect backdrop for Andy LaRocque to drop some of his tastiest solo work of the ’90s, like the face rippers in “Black Hill Sanitarium,” “Meet Me at Midnight” and “Daddy.”
And then there’s King’s vocal performance, which should be credited as one of the most ambitious of his career. His character has ostensibly lost his mind and given his psyche over to the darkness, so he’s able to explore an extremely broad range of voices and sounds, all of which are meant to convey the essence of true insanity. It’s the ultimate treasure chest to open for a theatrical performer like King Diamond: a man whose madness rules his actions, and whose only recourse is to SING! I mean, check out the ending of “I Am”—the dude is basically losing his marbles in front of a microphone. Respect.
Odds and ends
- The opening drum fill of “Waiting” is hilariously similar to that of “Welcome Home.” Fuck it.
- A lot of people seem to have a problem with The Graveyard’s relatively flat production, but Andy LaRocque remastered that shit in 2009 so it’s kind of a moot point.
- It seems like Mayor McKenzie should be a character in King Diamond’s live show by now, doesn’t it? They played “Digging Graves” on the last tour, maybe he could wander on stage and get decapitated during the final chorus. The fucker deserves it.
- Remember, this album came out in 1996, when the landscape of mainstream metal was shifting toward floppy bass strings and backward hats. King Diamond didn’t give a fuck about trends—he put out another solid album that has more in common with late ’80s doom than late ’90s Bizkit-tude.
If you think The Graveyard sucks, there’s not much that can be done for you. The only thing that might work is committing you to the one and only Black Hill Sanitarium, where you’ll spend the rest of your days clawing at the walls, mumbling to yourself and incessantly hearing the distant wails of a distinctive falsetto. Does that mean that I am insane? Yes. Yes it does.