"GRAANDMAAAAAAAAAA, WELCOME HOME!"
Out of the twelve King Diamond albums so far, there are two that will probably always be considered the best. Unfortunately, both of these albums were released more than 20 years ago, meaning perhaps that the King has lost his touch. Over the years there have been good releases and bad releases, but there aren't many fans who dispute Abigail's position at the top of the list. Those who do, usually align themselves with "Them".
"Them" is a concept album that, like most King Diamond albums, tells an original horror story from beginning to end and sets it to heavy metal. King's trademark banshee vocals get a lot of play on this particular release, being one of the band's earlier works. In later albums, his thrilling screech is seldom heard, and replacing it is a gravelly growl that bears no resemblance to the wails that defined Abigail. Accompanying King here as usual is Andy LaRoque on guitar, and the other band members were Pete Blakk on rhythm guitar, Hal Patino on bass, and eventual Motorhead member Mikkey Dee on drums.
The album tells a strange story. In the first and second track, the setting and characters are established. There is the protagonist, a boy named King, who narrates the story as it unfolds. He has a younger sister named Missy who he is very fond of, and lives with his mother, who he simply refers to as Mother. The story begins with the arrival of his Grandma, who has apparently been away on vacation for a number of years. Be warned: all is not as innocent as it seems.
The first track is spoken word
, mostly by scratchy unidentified voices who are watching Grandma make her way to the door. They whisper excitedly amongst themselves, saying that it's about time They had some company again. The track is called Out From the Asylum, although as far as the children know, Grandma has just been on a long trip to somewhere tropical. When Grandma reaches the house, the story begins. King welcomes her home, pestering her with questions
and showing her the house. Her room has been set up in the attic, with the teapot and rocking chair
she had requested. Near the end of the second song, Grandma mentions "Them" singing, and King asks her who she means, only to be scolded to mind his own business.
That night, King wakes up to the sound of voices. They are coming from Grandma's room. He investigates by peeking in through the keyhole, finding the room empty except for Grandma who at that moment opens the door. She invites him in and says she'll let him in on the secret of the house if he goes back to sleep. However, all she says is that the house is called Amon, and sends him to bed. Grandma had been drinking tea, and some cups were floating in the air, but she doesn't explain a thing.
Grandma comes to King's room later that week before he falls asleep, and brings him to her room in the attic. He is surprised to find his mother unconscious in the rocking chair. Grandma says she "made her sleep," and then cuts Mother's hand and catches the blood in a teapot, saying "a bit of this in a cup of tea is what it takes to set Them free." King and Grandma drink the bloody tea, and They appear. Or rather, They remain invisible, but make Their presence known, drinking tea and telling beautiful stories of other worlds. King falls under Their spell and experiences a euphoria unlike anything he has known. It is never explained exactly who "They" are but a good guess would be, given Their ties to the house of Amon, that they are long-dead relatives who never left. This is only hinted at in the final track.
Grandma and King continue their wretched tea parties, every night secretly draining more of Mother's blood until she can no longer get out of bed during the day. King doesn't care; all he can think about is the tea. His sister Missy is worried about their mother, and begs King to call someone for help. He cuts the phone line.
Everything falls apart one night when Grandma interrupts their tea session and goes to the door. Missy is standing there. When she sees Mother unconscious in the chair she begins to cry. Grandma conspires to "get rid of her," and King of course does not oppose the suggestion. He goes along with whatever will allow him his tea, and Their stories. Grandma starts choking her, and Missy breaks the teapot, sending Them into a frenzy. They carry her off, down the stairs to the kitchen. King waves her goodbye from the top of the staircase.
With the teapot broken, the spell slowly begins to leave him. He manages to stumble outside where They have no power. Through the windows, he watches as They go down into the cellar and carry an axe to the kitchen where Missy is being held. As the chimney connected to the kitchen fireplace starts to smoke, King loses consciousness. When he wakes up, the spell has left him completely, and he realizes what has happened. Missy is dead - dismembered and cremated in the fireplace - and he had done nothing to stop it. And it was all Grandma's idea. Immediately his mind jumps to revenge.
King comes back into the house and takes the stairs up to the attic, where Grandma is waiting. He puts on an act, pretending that the broken teapot has not changed anything. Grandma asks if King will take her outside for some fresh air, and he pounces on the opportunity. Outside, They are helpless, and so is she. As Grandma screams a strangled "stop that!" King cuts her throat open and runs off into the woods. All he can think about is putting distance between this nightmare and himself. As he begins to see Their eyes in the tres, he faints.
At this point in the album, there is a lovely instrumental break from heavy metal that would not sound out of place in any horror film. Under the sinister acoustic guitar and synth, Their voices call out to King, and try to convince him to come home. They try different angles, first reminding him of the tea and then telling him They are stronger than he. He dreams that he is becoming one of Them.
King wakes up to find police around him, searching the house and asking him questions about Missy and Grandma. They can't find a trace of the little girl. King refuses to talk and seems to have lost his mind, so they bring in a doctor. King begins to hear Them singing at the twilight, something his grandmother had mentioned when she first arrived. When the doctor arrives, King babbles on about Them and the tea, and Dr. Landau has him taken to an asylum. Years seem to pass, and by the end of the song, King is finally released and allowed to see his mother again.
The final track is, like the first, a spoken-word skit taking place at the door of the house of Amon. This time, it is King who has returned after years in the asylum, and to his shock and terror it is Grandma who answers the door, slashed throat and all. She tells him to come in and see Missy, who is upstairs on Grandpa's lap. In a weak, raspy voice, she guesses that he must be dying for a cup of tea, and the heavy door slams shut.
At first King Diamond's voice seems silly to anyone who hears it. It's hard to believe that a man could make such a high, piercing shriek
, and it's even more strange that he ended up in "horror metal," if such a thing can be said to exist. I used to listen to them mostly as a joke band, but eventually that aspect faded as I grew used to it. When that happened, the subject matter went from tongue-in-cheek
to genuinely scary. "Them" is probably the scariest story, though some people question how that can be when the main villain is tea and an old lady. However, over his voice King Diamond has a degree of control that only contortionists
would be familiar with. He can get a lot of emotion into those screams, and you find yourself mourning for Missy and hating Grandma along with him. It's an unconventional idea, but tragic all the same.
The album's story could be considered a metaphor for debilitating addiction and the effects it can have on family. There is the innocent protagonist, the evil instigator, and the substance. King becomes concerned only with Them and the tea, watching it literally kill his family. Missy eventually gets through to him, but it is too late by then. King is left with only his mother, and is sent away from her. The story fits, but it actually takes the fun out of the whole experience. Music, literature, and film are usually meant to be analyzed, but between the two choices I prefer the simple, classic tale of a murderous lunatic Grandma and her invisible tea party.
1. Out from the Asylum (1:48)
2. Welcome Home (4:35)
3. The Invisible Guests (5:03)
4. Tea (5:13)
5. Mother's Getting Weaker (4:00)
6. Bye Bye Missy (5:06)
7. A Broken Spell (4:07)
8. The Accusation Chair (4:20)
9. "Them" (1:55)
10. Twilight Symphony (4:08)
11. Coming Home (1:11)
King, Them, Missy, and the house of Amon are revisited in 1989's Conspiracy. In this album, King hands over control of the house to Them in order to see his sister again. Missy warns him that Dr. Landau, the man who has kept King locked up for years, intends to marry Mother, who Landau has not permitted King to see the whole time. King tries to stop it from happening, knowing that Landau is only after the house. Unlike Abigail II, this sequel album was received by fans as warmly as the original, and the two work well together as a single tale of tragedy and the occult.
"Them" - King Diamond - 1988 - Roadrunner Records