Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Puppet Master: The Finest Moments of King Diamond & Mercyful Fate - Part 6 of 7

The Puppet Master, from 2003, is a glorious little oddball of sorts in the King Diamond catalogue. It's a concept album on steroids, virtually a horror movie begging to be made (oh, if only there weren't already a basement-budget Charles Band franchise by the same name). Additionally, it's a divergence in sound, a proper power metal record with most lead vocals delivered in King Diamond's lower register. It's addicting, it's terrifying and, song for song, it sounds great. Likely largely unheard outside of King Diamond's own fanbase, it's a latter-era album from the man's career that deserves to be shelved alongside the acknowledged classics.

The Puppet Master is grisly stuff, even by King Diamond standards. An unfortunate narrator and puppet show attendee loses his love to a nefarious traveling puppeteer and, seeking to determine her fate, ends up with his soul - and human eyeballs - transplanted into a marionette, doomed to dance alongside his ill-fated lover, brought to life only by infusion of their own bottled blood and able to communicate only with their eyes. Nasty shit. Even the album notes offer a disclaimer for the adventurous listener: You cannot make puppets out of dead people's bodies and then bring them to life for real.

Each song on The Puppet Master unfolds as if a chapter in a novel and one would think it may be difficult to extract single passages as standalone listening. While I would agree that it is best to initially digest the album as a beginning-to-end whole the first few listens, I certainly have no difficulty whatsoever turning to individual songs when building a King Diamond playlist. "Emerencia," for example, which finds the narrator both discovering the Puppet Master's devious deeds via his massive spouse and then falling prey to the fate of previous victims, is a fantastic, keyboard-drenched, solo-sprinkled, multi-tempoed wonder of atmosphere complete with guest vocals from King's wife, Livia Zita.

"Blood to Walk," in which the Puppet Master and his wife reanimate their newly-created puppets, offers massive riffs and rhythmic complexity coupled with a single-worthy chorus and reminds this listener of all the elements associated with the most successful work of Alice Cooper. Mike Wead's solo mid-song cements his status as a worthy foil for Andy La Rocque. The third set of solos finds both shredding together and the end result is not only the best song on The Puppet Master but also one of the best in King Diamond's recorded output.

Finally, "Living Dead" is a fantastic closer, primarily speed-addled amidst varying tempos and, lyrically, sets up a potential sequel with the Puppet Master's offspring setting up a new shop. Andy and Mike trade solos again and the tracks outros with some classical acoustic guitars. All in all, The Puppet Master, in 2003, should have probably been treading water at best. King Diamond succeeds at more of the same because it is in no way the same. The superb storytelling combined with enough of a shift in style keeps the approach fans have come to know and love without even coming close to resorting to rehash.

Up next: Don't Break the Oath

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