Thursday, October 18, 2012

13 Days of Halloween, 13 Wicked Albums: Day 1

Every October I break out some of my favorite horror-themed albums to get myself in the mood for Halloween. This year I've decided to do a list of thirteen of these albums over the course of thirteen days leading up to All Hallow's Eve. What constitutes a horror-themed record? For me, it's basically an album with music and lyrics that are dark and sinister. The lyrics revolve around anything from demons and Satanism to zombies, vampires, serial killers, and so forth. The music is almost always in a minor key or a key that sounds mysterious or eerie. Generally speaking, the record has to have a wicked feeling overall. That means no Green Day, no Justin Bieber, and no albums by other artists that would better be described as horri-ble rather than horror-themed. In terms of genre, however, this list is non-discriminatory, although most of it will probably be rock or metal, being that those genres are the ones I'm most familiar with, and they are arguably more dark and sinister than, say, polka or indie pop.

With that said, on to the first wicked album of the first day in the 13 days of Halloween!

King Diamond

Abigail (1987)

I'm not sure there's a better album to start this kind of list with. Released ten days before Halloween in 1987, Abigail is a spine-tingling tale of horror set to some quite macabre metal music. King Diamond is the eponymous solo project of the frontman from the Danish heavy metal band Mercyful Fate. King has quite possibly one of the most haunting falsettos in music history, like a cross between the creepy disembodied voice of a deceased child and the bone-chilling shriek of a banshee. While many musicians of today make use of falsetto in a soulful or feminine style of sorts, King's sounds downright evil and probably unlike anything you've heard before. As you might imagine, this suits the story and atmosphere of Abigail exceptionally well.

The album opens with a funeral speech informing us of the burial of Abigail la Fey, stillborn on the 7th of July, 1777, and nailed to her coffin with seven silver spikes. Years later, in 1845, a descendant of the family, Jonathan la Fey, comes to visit the mansion with his pregnant wife Miriam, and over the course of the record we are told of ghostly apparitions, supernatural signs, demonic possession, and murder. Like every good horror story, this one is chock full of occult symbolism, not just in the number 7, but in the family name as well, which is an obvious reference to Anton LaVey, infamous founder of the Church of Satan. Conceptually, Abigail has practically everything one could ask for from a gripping tale of terror, as the lyrics even work to build suspense. Take the second track, "Arrival," for example, telling of Jonathan and Miriam's journey to the mansion:

Through the summer rain of 1845
The coach had finally arrived.
To the valley where the crossroads meet below,
And where all darkness seems to grow.
People blame it on the hill....
The hill where no one dares to go....
The mansion...where no one dares to go.
The coach had stopped, and from the window you could see
Seven horsemen in the night.

I should note that the storyline and lyrics of the album are all written by King Diamond, which is an impressive feat to say the least. Admittedly, I'm a sucker for concept albums, but Abigail goes above and beyond any other horror-based concept albums I've heard. You can easily tell that King is a big fan of the genre and knows it well indeed.

Musically, the album is heavy metal in the vein of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Mercyful Fate, and other similar bands of the 80s. Lead/rhythm guitarist Andy LaRocque carved out quite a reputation for his work in King Diamond, seen in the infectious riffs of tracks like "A Mansion in Darkness" and the titletrack, as well as screaming neoclassical-influenced solos such as those on "The Family Ghost" and "Black Horsemen." While King Diamond's first solo effort, Fatal Portrait, is a good album in its own right, Abigail is arguably one of the best records of his entire career, thanks in part to the incredible songwriting that mixes hard rocking intensity with moments of twisted frightfulness and slow, creeping suspense. For a lot of metal fans - hell, for a lot of music fans - this is nothing short of a horror masterpiece that remains unrivaled after more than 20 years.

If there is one criticism I would direct at the album, it would have to be some of the "monster" voices, a few of which sound pretty goofy nowadays. It's nothing that will really detract from the overall feel or experience, but they are likely to elicit some laughs. I actually heard Abigail for the first time when I made an impulse buy at a store right before my family took the annual road trip to Kansas for Christmas. Listening to it in the dark of night on a long drive through open countryside is something that I'll never forget, since it made for a pretty chilling Christmas (pun intended). This is one album I will highly recommend to everyone willing to give it a chance. King's vocals may take a bit of getting used to for certain people, but if Abigail doesn't immediately catch your appreciation, she will grow on you... or is it in you?

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