Since 1985 and the demise of Mercyful Fate, King Diamond has released a long string of theatrical albums, of course many remember indisputable classics “Abigail,” “Them” and “The Eye” 20 years back. But truth is the band continued making high quality records all the way through the difficult 1990’s, even when Mercyful Fate reunited and released several albums at the same time. MF returned to obscurity after awesome “9” album, but King Diamond seems to have picked up the mantle again. During this decade, there have been four CD’s so far (plus a double live album).
Originally released five years ago, this album saw the band return to form after somewhat disappointing (for me personally) “Abigail 2: The Revenge.” The album before that one of course was the criminally underrated “House Of God” which remains this writer’s favourite King Diamond album since the halcyon days of “The Eye”.
I had high hopes for “The Puppet Master” and sure enough King with his cohorts did not disappoint. The story is set in Budapest 18th century, the locals are standing in line for a Christmas puppet show outside a theatre. They witness a puppet show with the stars looking unbelievably real. Later on a man searches for his lost lover and stumbles on Puppet Master’s wife Emerencia stabbing the homeless people on the streets and carrying their bodies back to the cellar beneath the theatre.
The man is caught and after some gruesome acts turned into one of the puppets in the monster show. More atrocities follow but let’s leave it at that, it is more fun for the listener to pick up the little details while playing the songs. What can be said though, there is a certain sadness and melancholy nature in the tale that possibly brings something new to the King Diamond storytelling table. Besides the horrible aspect of it, there is also a touching love story beneath the monstrosity. The whole concept is very interesting indeed and makes you want to return to the album.
After chillingly effective intro “Midnight”, the title track properly opens the game and a listener is first crabbed by pleasantly crisp and clear production and in your face guitar riffs, trademark KD sounds of guitarists Andy LaRoque and Mike Wead in full style. This number is a good demonstration of all best elements featured on this record; great guitar riffs infused with King’s trademark operatic vocal style, horror story told in effective manner. “Magic” continues in similar manner, slightly faster pace and has King singing in smoother style.
Other stand-outs include “Blood To Walk.” This one is really powerful, you can almost feel the needle injecting the helpless victim. King’s double tracked vocals give away to a more mid-range delivery. Classic metal guitars behind a catchy chorus and later on before the second verse ensure this is one of the best moments on the CD. They follow this with “Darkness”; a mid-tempo grinder, with another excellent chorus King singing duet with Livia Zita – as on the next number “So Sad,” which like the title implies is a haunting ballad.
“Christmas” has parts of the old yuletide song “Little Drummer Boy” in between grotesque stage story. After this “Living Dead” concludes the album in almost despair-like nature, the outro just fades away like snow in the story is falling on the ground. Like on many King’s stories, this one hardly has a happy ending.
The production is not as heavy as on recent King albums but has more variety which fits the record’s many different moods and melancholic atmosphere perfectly. Also the use of keyboards and female voice in selected parts enhance the overall picture and work well in carrying the story forward.
LaRoque and Wead play with their usual finesse, delivering a classic styled lead solos on all tracks. Guitar riffs on “The Puppet Master” and “Blood To Walk” are especially impressive. Bass player Hal Patino and drummer Matt Thompson complete the line-up and do a solid background work, there is nothing overdone or flashy. Just what the compositions require.
The album also contains a bonus DVD, where King Diamond tells the story of “The Puppet Master.” It is worth watching because he adds small details and anecdotes not heard on the album. Those are useful in putting the music and lyrics together.
To sum it up, this along with “House Of God” remains a highlight of King’s latter day material, and deserves a place in any serious metal fan’s collection. Let’s hope King’s back eases up and they return to tour these shores soon.
2. The Puppet Master
5. Blue Eyes
6. The Ritual
7. No More Me
8. Blood To Walk
10. So Sad
12. Living Dead