Very few true heavy metal acts manage to remain popular in a world that sees a swamp of pop and hip-hop music being churned out like confetti, and this is particularly true of bands who get little airplay. As a matter of fact, with few exceptions, it is pretty safe to say that King Diamond gets virtually no airplay... ever.

Just the same, the Edgar Allan Poe of operatic technical thrash metal (with just a dash of Lovecraft when needed for flow) filled the Cleveland Agora to capacity. It was impossible to move and the generous Agora mosh/standing area - which they are famous for leaving open to everyone - was so full that it was a wait to get even remotely close to it or the stage.

One simply could not move, the balcony was packed, and the flustered security had a nightmare almost as grim as King's demented tales as people clustered like sardines to see and hear the musical wizardry, causing endless logjams in walkways.

Such is the theatrics and acting that comes with a King Diamond performance that it was well into "Halloween" and a visit from "Them" - a few songs in - before the mosh even remembered to erupt. Once it did, however, it did so with a fury, even though many of most diehard moshers still could not bear to look away for too long.

That said, nothing is quite as funny as listening to fans try to sing along with King and his wife as they hit the most impossible notes ever to find their way onto sheet music.

'The Institution'

While King Diamond is often associated with the occult, the music of the band itself is made up entirely of fictional horror stories, sung with or without standard rhyming conventions, by a lead singer with a four to five-octave range. While the King himself (which is both the singer's stage name as well as the band's name) is 63-years-old, his voice is as ageless, as flawless and as stunning as ever.

Only Rob Halford of Judas Priest pops into mind when it comes to such impressive vocal abilities, and King has survived a triple bypass procedure back in 2010 (of which he has made a full recovery).

From the moment that the horror master crept onto the stage, which was revealed to reflect the decor of the band's coming CD, "The Institution," both he and wife/vocalist Livia Zita didn't miss a single vocal note during the whole evening's performance, regardless of how complicated the demands were. Zita handles not only many of the harmonies and impossibly high notes with King but she also handles many of the vocal duties which overdubbing or studio tracking may make impossible for one person to sing.

She was a real asset to the delivery and the two sounded simply splendid together.

During the night, King Diamond visited many different stories and albums spanning a very wide birth of their impressive career. Tales from "Voodoo," "Them," Abigail," and others were told, often with one of the frightening interludes from the CD playing to set the tone and mood. The only thing that would have made the show more powerful would have been the addition of a live keyboardist, particularly considering some of the songs where they were tracked.

Also adding a great deal to the live show was Jodi Cachia, the actress who was used to perform as many of the characters portrayed in Kings often horrifying yarns. During the night, she became a murderess who pushed her husband down the stairs and gave horrific birth for the telling's from "Abigail," the tortured girl cast away in the band's newest single, "Masquerade of Madness," and even the evil grandmother from King Diamond's legendary "Them" and "Conspiracy" CD's, along with other characters from the band's impressive catalog.

Cachia's acting helped convey the mood of the stories in much the same way that a silent movie star would... if told to do so by "other-worldly" voices, of course.

Top-notch musicianship: the soundtrack to the horror

While the stories which are told by King Diamond are certainly a driving reason why the band had a rather large venue filled to overflowing despite the fact that they debuted back in 1985, it is the impeccable and practically flawless musical delivery of the entire band which causes their music to be timeless, ageless, and to transcend genre.

With very few exceptions, no music from the band's catalog sounds dated, but rather, each CD seems to somehow remain cutting edge while adhering to the technical craftiness that the band is so well-known for.

For example, one of the treats during the night was watching the interplay between guitarists Mike Wead and ax master, Andy LaRocque. While the latter tends to have a style faintly reminiscent of the "melodic meets flurry" technique of Testament legend, Alex Skolnick in some ways (and is able to work in just as many influences), the former is certainly one of the cleanest high-speed guitar players extant today.

During songs like "Sleepless Nights" (where King predicted a that everyone would, tonight, "have a sleepless night") and perhaps the band's most popular song, "Welcome Home," it was inspiring to see how almost every section of music was handled as each solo was handed to the next and then back. This idea, though clearly influenced by bands like Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, sounded nothing like either band, embracing a style all their own.

As for the rhythm section, longtime bassist Pontus Egberg (who has been with King Diamond since 2001, according to King's site while others say 2014) held up the quality musicianship on the low-end.

It was before the band tore into "Halloween" that King himself announced that former King Diamond bassist Timi Hansen (also the bassist with King in Merciful Fate), who died after battling cancer on November 4th, 2019, was laid to rest in Denmark on this day. The theatrical singer then added that "this song is for him for as long as we play it."

Not only did Egberg deliver the goods on that track, but his playing style is much heavier than one would expect from a bassist who does not use a pick. At the same time, since the bass movements in King Diamond often have counter melodies and other nuances cleverly crafted into the music, this style allowed songs like "Arrival" to gallop while others, like "The Invisible Guests" showed a completely different approach and execution.

Prior to the guitar lead start off for "The Invisible Guests," King announced, "Andy gets to pick the next song," and then it simply exploded and much of that force was delivered by Egberg.

When it came to the drums, not only did Matt Thompson show an amazing ability to reproduce the rather tricky percussion patterns found on CD's like "Them" (first performed by Mickey Dee who also joined Motorhead), but he also had a delivery which allowed his musical style to shine for all of the classic releases that he has been a part of.

A particular Thompson highlight was the stunning accuracy that he displayed playing over-programmed tribal drums during the aforementioned "Voodoo" and during other synth loops.

Playing over such sequences can be pure murder to do in a live environment yet Thompson displayed a timing that would be envied by most industrial bands where such playing is often a requirement. This is also a testament to the ability of the stage monitoring knowledge found within the King Diamond road crew.

Also, the new single showed that there is much to be excited about on the new music, as well. Having been with the band since 2000, it can be argued that a very large part of who King Diamond the band became over the years would have been quite different if his prowess had not been present.

This truth was clearly on display at the Agora.

Songs like "The Lake" and "Burn" were not expected by many in attendance and by the time that the band played their closer, "Black Horsemen" (which, like "Sleepless Nights" showcased some of the most beautifully gothic acoustic guitar lines in rock history) some fans were surprised to see that "The Family Ghost" was not performed since it was the first song that countless longtime fans recall hearing due to the nature of late-night radio at the time of its release.

Perhaps the only low-point of the evening was after the curtain had closed. Outside in the freezing tundra known as Cleveland Ohio in November, 5 to 7 fans waited, one as young as perhaps 12, hoping to meet the band.

Still in makeup, King exited the building, entered his waiting van and departed, stopping to talk to no one.

Then again, is that not how a phantom comes and goes? What better way to depart the venue than with a whisp in the cold, only to vanish in the night?

... or, maybe... he was not allowed to talk to anyone. Maybe King was just being taken back to "The Institution." We may never know for sure...

*The author would like to thank the King Diamond tour manager, Ole, for his help.

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