King Diamond – “Them”

Grandma Comes Home

There was no shortage of dark and thrilling metal albums in 1988. With releases like Blood Fire Death, Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part II, Operation: Mindcrime, Reek of Putrefaction and so very many more, heavy metal and thrash—as well as black and death metal—were well on their way to becoming the powerful, worldwide cultures they represent today. But amid all those now-legendary albums of 1988, one ridiculously awesome effort stands out from the rest. That album is King Diamond’s third solo LP, “Them.”

A concept album was hardly unheard of in metal back then (the Danes’ previous record qualified as well). But where 1987’s Abigail unfolds a supernatural story of cursed lovers that spans two centuries, “Them” revolves around a young boy named King and the event of his grandmother’s return from a psychiatric hospital. Even those familiar with King Diamond’s previous work could never expect songs with titles like “Tea,” “Welcome Home” and “Mother’s Getting Weaker” to be so relentlessly and technically over the top, so chaotic and maddening, and yet so exciting and catchy. In short, “Them” is arguably King Diamond’s best work ever.

And it was accomplished during the pandemonium of substantial lineup changes. We know that after Mercyful Fate broke up in 1985, guitarist Michael Denner and bassist Timi Hansen went on to form King Diamond’s solo band. King Diamond’s first two albums proved wildly successful (Abigail was inducted into Decibel’s Hall of Fame back in February 2012), but by the time King wrote and recorded his magnum opus, Denner had been replaced by Pete Blakk, while Timi Hansen had left amicably enough to teach bassist Hal Patino a set’s worth of material. With the reliably stellar Andy LaRocque splitting lead guitar duties with Blakk, and Mikkey Dee and Patino laying down the most locked-in rhythm section KD fans have ever enjoyed, “Them” also stands as King Diamond’s most personal album. In fact, the twinkling instrument you hear on the album’s opening and closing tracks is our man’s own childhood music box.

Not to mention King wrote the album in the middle of several life-changing events. He had lost his father only the year before, and this was the first record he’d written since. Meanwhile, his band was on their way to Los Angeles; “Them” was to be their last album recorded in Denmark. They were a band at the top of their career and rising, and “Them” sounds as effortless as it does unbelievable. For a record that’s at once silly and unnerving, reckless and tight, insane yet familiar, that makes perfect sense. As does King Diamond’s “Them” finally making its way into our Hall of Fame.

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