Pearl: 30 Years of Abigail


King Diamond – Abigail

Released February 24th, 1987 on Roadrunner Records

Man, Mercyful Fate.  For an up-and-coming metalhead like I was in 1996-1997, there was nothing quite like discovering them.  My first exposure was either through Metallica’s Garage Inc. (where the band covered five Mercyful Fate songs) or through an old Metal Blade compilation we used to blast while playing euchre.  Either way, they were a quick favourite of mine, and why not?  They had great riffs, their imagery was over-the-top, and those vocals!  Kim Bendix Peterson, with his operatic range, seemed to summon up long-dead ghosts every time he opened his mouth.  I was a little defeated when I learned that the band had only recorded two albums before breaking up, but re-energized when I found out that the vocalist – the mighty King Diamond – had gone solo and taken the guitarist and bassist from Mercyful Fate with him.


The band’s first album – 1986’s Fatal Portrait – sold well, but Abigail is their first bona fide classic.  For one thing, it’s the band’s first concept album, a trope they would continue through the rest of their releases.  While some of their later stories would get a bit esoteric, Abigail is a classic ghost story, about a couple in the mid-Nineteenth Century who inherit a haunted house and are slowly destroyed by it over the course of the album.  Miriam, the woman who’d moved in, is pregnant with the spirit of the old owner’s stillborn child, Abigail, and the possessed child will wreak untold havoc.  After a series of bad omens, ominous foreboding, and ghostly encounters, all hell breaks loose.  It is, in short, metal as fuck.


Said metalness is borne out by the music the narration is carried on.  The band takes the basic sound of Mercyful Fate and expands on it.  Heavy guitar riffs are rendered heavier by space, reverb, and better production.  The drums punch through the mix in precisely the right fashion, and newcomer Andy LaRocque’s guitar work glows in the dark, like uranium fireflies in the darkest part of the forest.  The focus is, naturally, on King Diamond’s soaring voice, and despite what my Cannibal Corpse-loving guitar teacher once thought, there’s really no finer vehicle for ghostly destruction than his soured-opera-gone-Satanic delivery.  The fact that such a chilling, disturbing story can be paired with such a great package of post-thrash metal is exactly why King Diamond has continued to endure over three decades.


Megadeth – Dystopia


Megadeth – Dystopia

Released January 22nd, 2016 on Tradecraft Records


Fatal Illusion

The Threat Is Real


The addition of Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler and Angra guitarist Kiko Loureiro to Megadeth’s lineup seems to have galvanized them.  Dystopia is, musically, the first Megadeth album since 2004’s The System Has Failed to really embrace the aggressive thrash sound that made them famous in the first place.  “Thrash” here is used a bit incorrectly, of course.  Thrash metal implies that there is some awe-inspiring complexity that goes along with the speed, a blend of punk fury and metal heroics.  The speed isn’t quite there and the riffs mostly chunk along rather than get knotty; all of this is perhaps forgivable for a band that is aging and that has repeatedly lost and then found its way again over the course of its career.

Less forgivable is frontman Dave Mustaine.  His lead guitar skills are as slippery and quicksilver as they ever were, but the moment he opens his mouth everything gets dicier.  His voice is aging awfully, for one thing.  His signature howl has been reduced to an old man’s croak, and that croak is spewing things that would be embarrassing if they weren’t so damnably cliche.  Mustaine has always been lyrically one to rail against authority in a tiresomely John Galt fashion, but on Dystopia this railing has been reduced to stuff you can find on any Tea Party web forum:  Obama is a dictator, an emperor with no clothes, and he’s letting in Muslims who will destroy America from within.  Why can’t we stand up to him?  Why do we not face down the forces that oppose American interests?  Wow Dave, Arabic singing before “The Threat Is Real”, gee, what are you trying to say, so subtle.  And so on and so on into boredom.  It lends every song a curiously turgid quality, which is undesirable given that the mainly bottom-end trawling guitar riffs already make them pretty stiff.  It’s pretty bad when I would actually prefer the self-help sobfest of St. Anger to this, since it actually had some life (beyond that trashcan snare) and I could relate to it more.

Still, as far as Megadeth albums go, it’s less bad than Cryptic Writings and Risk, so at least Dystopia has that going for it.