Q&A: King Diamond On the Return Of MERCYFUL FATE

Photo: Raymond Ahner

If you ever want to see Kim Bendix Petersen – better known as King Diamond – excited talk to him about the finer points of set design. “It’s almost like playing with Legos,” he says as he lists the stages, smoke machines, signets and more that will give Mercyful Fate‘s upcoming tour a majestic if sinister sweep. The Fate tour – their first in more than two decades – is arguably the biggest metal event of the year and one of the most notable reunions in the past decade. And with good reason: Fate’s early albums Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath are metal canon and the remainder of their work isn’t far behind.

Diamond says he never ruled out playing with Fate again but that if the band toured he had to be able to present his full theatrical version of the band. With new management and a world hungry for live music after two years of social distancing, his vision became reality. Decibel talked to King about how Fate reunited, his two bouts with COVID, tour bassist Becky Baldwin and more. The tour begins next week and tickets are still available although dwindling.

How did Mercyful Fate decide to start playing together again?

People kept asking us many times, even journalists. People wanted to know if Mercyful Fate would play and I always said “never say never.” I just said it had to be a full-on tour – not just a tour with a backdrop where we collected some money. It had to be right. With collaboration with 5B Artists some doors opened that were closed before. In the last few years, the stars aligned with the exception of Covid.

Was some of this in the works before Covid or did it come together later?

In 2019 we started booking a Mercyful Fate tour we just finished. All of that got canceled and postponed to 2021, then got postponed again. We are finally getting the chance to go out and do it. We’ve been working in the meantime getting home studios up and running since you never know what’s around the corner. Now we are set up better and it will be easier to be productive with both bands. Mercyful Fate has one song almost finished and things are going the right way. I don’t know if we could have done these tours without the right partners. Our production for Mercyful Fate is all out and we had to build two sets in Europe.

How did you, Livia, and the cats get through the pandemic?

We built a studio and worked on a graphic novel. We suffered from Covid because so much stuff just couldn’t get done. So many things went wrong and it made it difficult to do things properly. We just tried to stay busy and got started with Twitch. There will be a King Diamond Twitch. We used it in Europe to stream all of the shows – Livia just streamed them from her phone. We will also stream the shows in the US. Ultimately there will be a King Diamond Twitch channel where I’ll start doing weekly installments of an autobiography.

We were very lucky that we just moved to a much nicer house. It’s still not finished inside – there are still too many boxes in the rooms. But it will take more time because I’m busier now than ever. Livia also does a lot of voiceover work and is very good at it. If we didn’t have the space I might have gone insane. I actually caught Covid before they even knew what it was. I was super sick for New Year’s 2020.

Was it confirmed as Covid?

The doctors didn’t know. I could barely breathe. It got to a point where it didn’t look good – I didn’t want to eat or watch television or do anything. It was so hard. After five weeks it started easing up. I had no taste or sense of smell that whole time. At that point, we started to hear about the pandemic. I wanted to get a test to see if I’d had it.

No one could get any tests of any sort back then.

The doctor said I had all the signs. She was convinced I had it – I’ve never felt that way in my life.

Did your experience with your convalescence after heart surgery help you get through those health difficulties?

When I had the triple bypass I ended up with a bigger lung capacity. A year after the operation I sang for the first time. It was so different because my lung capacity had changed. Since then it’s been much easier. Stopping smoking has made my voice so much bigger.

With your previous health scares do you need to do anything different to tour?

I keep doing my walks. I just walked about 1.5 miles and it was nice weather today. It builds your stamina. I was at my cardiologist last week for a checkup before the tour. My EKG looked amazing. I just do whatever they tell me to do and I’ve done it for a long time. I did end up getting Covid during the tour in Europe but had all my shots and boosters and got over it in less than a week

Fate fans love the early material like Melissa and Don’t Break The Oath. But people also have favorites in the records that followed. How can you make everyone happy?

We’ll be doing the early stuff from when Timi (Hansen, original bassist) was in the band – the finger-playing stuff. I can guarantee you will never forget this show. There is such a mood and vibe to it. It will be the same set as Europe, which we changed. After the first leg of that tour, I changed some things around. I have like a minute at most to change between songs and it’s hyper-hectic to get it done. But the set is so fluid now.

How did you find tour bassist Becky Baldwin?

Joey (Vera, also of Armored Saint) is a full member of Mercyful Fate now. I totally respect his choice that he had to do this other tour. He’d love to be in both places. Joey was ok’d by not just me but by Timi when he was sick with cancer. Timi was part of choosing Joey. Timi’s daughter was there when we played Copenhagen to meet Joey. His bass sound and technique create the rumble that Timi had. He’s been an amazing fit and he’s an out-of-this-world musician.

Mercyful Fate doesn’t do anything that isn’t full-on quality. I went to an old friend first (about the touring bass position). He was super interested but had so many other projects going he couldn’t drop. He said if he did the tour he’d risk other projects. The bass player has to do Timi’s style because it’s all the old songs so that narrows things down a bit.

Finally, I said to management “we are just looking at men. Why can’t it be a woman?” Henk (Shermann, guitarist) was following Becky on the Internet. He said he knew this bass player from Birmingham and it was Becky. The way she plays stuff is very natural. We got to Bloodstock and knew we were going to ask her to do this tour. Livia has a mutual friend she talked to at Bloodtiock as we arrived. We called (Becky) backstage while I was doing a bunch of photos. I talked to her and said: “you wouldn’t be interested in standing in for a US tour, would you? She didn’t say much (laughs).”

I saw a video of her on social media covering “Come To The Sabbath.”

I told her to do it and show the fans! She actually sat with Joey long distance and they went through the whole set. Joey recorded himself playing all the material and it helped her pick out all the details.

Your music has always had a strong feminine presence with characters like Melissa and Abigail and it’s nice to see a woman on stage performing this material.

There are so many layers to it. This is historic for me because I’m doing my first-ever tour with a stand-in bass player. Becky can do all of it and we are excited. What’s cool for Becky is that she’ll never play with a band like Fate.

How will the US tour be different than Europe?

In Las Vegas (Psycho Vegas) the sets were the same measurements as the European shows. The Vegas show had this big Baphomet on an altar. We wanted a different cross that had more 3D depth. There are some things we couldn’t produce for the European tours because they couldn’t get the material or man hours. The US will get a full production. There will be big gothic arches that look amazing and we’ll perfect the look for these shows. There is even more in these shows than in European festivals.

Was the Vegas show a test run to see about the feasibility of a US tour or did you already have it in your back pocket?

We planned to play Vegas in 2020 and it just kept getting canceled. Then we had a week between this show and our tour in England.

How does it feel to be back on stage performing Mercyful Fate songs

It feels awesome. At first, I thought I made a mistake because we were practicing “The Oath” and god it (the singing) was so high. But all the old songs soon came back with the new technique. It’s extremely challenging to do but now I’m loving it.