After the underground success of “Abigail”, the Master of Horror Metal is back! “Them” isn’t as brilliant as “Abigail”, but it is incredibly enjoyable, as King throws himself into his second epic album. King presents us with a story about his Grandmother returning from the nut house, and causing havoc to his mother and sister with horrifying results. Musically, it took me a little time to really get into it when it first came out, but “Them” has completely warmed up to me over the years. Although, Denner and Hansen have left Diamond, Pete Blakk is an excellent replacement for Denner, and Hal Patino ain’t no Timi! Mickey Dee is still in top form on the drums in every song! Songs like “Welcome Home”, “The Invisible Guests”, “Bye-Bye, Missy”, “A Broken Spell”, and “Them” really stand out. “Tea” has a nice 3/4 beat to it, and “Mother’s Getting Weaker” is only the first of things to come by the brilliant Andy LaRocque. Great keyboard effects only enhance the music. And “Conspiracy”, the sequel, is even better!
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“Them” is the best King Diamond release to date. I cannot agree with anyone who puts “Abigail” or “Conspiracy” above this album. “Them” contains an element that other K.D. releases lack. Each song has a fresh, non-repetitive sound in the structure. “Abigail” and “Conspiracy” are great albums, but “Them” reaches beyond great. “Abigail” was marketed extremely hard, which translates into much of its appeal. There is more depth, more attitude, and more velocity to “Them” than other albums. The crunch is harder, the melodies more complex, and King’s vocal range seems to cover a larger spectrum than other releases (he has mastered the deep, grunting vocal effects on this album that were missing on “Abigail” but were prevalent with early Mercyful Fate releases). The loss of Michael Denner seems to be in King’s best interest. Considering that Andy LaRoque is the premier guitarist for King, and that Michael Denner was never a terrific guitarist for King or M.F., the addition of Pete Blakk was a wise decision. Pete brought an innovative, outside conviction to King’s lineup that proved to satisfy the demands of an ever-changing style of music. Mickey Dee shines on this album better than any other work. Dee’s work on “Conspiracy” is almost as notable, even though he wasn’t given formal credit for recording “Conspiracy.” In short, “Abigail” is classic, largely due to the air time it received from a few well-produced and well-timed videos and singles. “Them” seems to be overlooked because it lacked the marketing that carried “Abigail” to popularity. This album will satisfy all speed/thrash enthusiasts who pine for the best that King Diamond’s solo career can offer.
The songs are great (as expected), but the sound quality isn’t great. I was hoping the remaster would fix some of it, but it didn’t. When I compare Them and Conspiracy – what a difference! Conspiracy is engineered much better.
Note that I am not rating the songs, because the songs on Them are great – just wish the sound quality was better. Take a listen to Conspiracy if you want to be able to crank it up and hear everything.
My introduction to King Diamond came with the high recommendations given by my former SEARS co-worker and friend, Richard. He told me of King Diamond’s ultra-screech, mysterious nature (relating to “the Devil’s Church”), and provocative, dark, conceptually-themed albums. But most importantly, he recommended a particular album, called “THEM.”
A couple of weeks later, I was in a Newbury Comics in Boston and purchasing “THEM.” My first couple of listens impressed me, but didn’t exactly grasp me. Now, as I write this review, four days before Halloween, I am listening to “THEM” again, and I’m quite in awe of just how awesome my first King Diamond experience has been.
Thematically, King Diamond likes to be mysterious and controversial. His heavy makeup, vague biographies, and talks of tales such as the one found on this album as having been true tales which happened to him! This, of course, makes it easy to assume his lyrics are of a similar nature. There are some pretty cheesy executions to Diamond’s nature, including his ear-grabbing vocals. In fact, VERY cheesy. So cheesy it’s hard to believe that the music is so good, not so much in spite of, but rather BECAUSE of, the overly-thematic cheese.
However, as cheesy as these material aspects go, the lyrics are quite the contrary. Although some word choices are perhaps a little overdone (“I hate that b—!,” for one), the story what’s within behind is very well-plotted and rather eerie. And when I say “plotted,” I mean there is actually a whole PLOT behind every story on the album. Yes, folks, this is a concept album (or “rock opera,” as many prefer). Every song (except for this edition’s last three tracks, which are bonuses) on “THEM” is a chapter in a rather eerie story. For those who have no imagination, the main plot is as follows.
A nine-year-old boy, King (supposedly King Diamond himself as a child), along with his older sister Missy and their mother, are getting a visit from their grandmother. Grandma was coming home after being released from a several-year sentence in a mental asylum (which she had been put into because she spoke of “invisible guests…”). As she settles in, King notices she’s acting very strangely…and one night comes into her room in the attic, only to find her drinking tea – with other mugs floating in the air, as if being held by invisible guests! At first terrified, King slowly falls to Grandma’s lulling words, and soon gets involved with her and…”Them.” Meanwhile, their mother was getting sick, and sicker and sicker, feeling weaker every day. Because of this and King’s strange new behavior, Missy, tries to figure out what’s going on, and deemed too inquisitive, is killed by “Them.” This horrific episode freaks King out and makes him come back to reality, and he rebels. He flips out in his fury at Grandma, now knowing what has really been going on. They get into a squabble, and he ends up killing her by biting her in the neck. Before he knows it, King is placed in that same asylum for the murders of his mother, sister, and grandmother, and he tries to tell them that “They” did it, that he’s not really crazy… And of the ending, I shall not speak. You can figure that out for yourself.
What a plot. That’s one half of why I love this album. Here’s the other half: the music.
King Diamond’s band includes guitarists Pete Blakk and Andy la Rocque (the work of whom I’m familiar with on Death’s album INDIVIDUAL THOUGHT PATTERNS) are a tight duo. Shredding like pure thrashers, incorporating lots of great melodies (fast and slow), and crossing solos left and right with such ease, they are a good team. There are great solos and leads in each song, and some great harmonies. I like. Oh yes, I like. Bassist Hal Patino lays down some good lines, mostly mirroring the guitar riffs but still being a much more prominent feature in the overall heaviness. And Mikkey Dee on drums…very good. Fast, complex, lots of double-bass, snare, and tom bashing. King Diamond’s got quite a good band to back his insane vocals.
Vocally, King Diamond outdoes even the great Rob Halford in how high-pitched a male soprano singer can be. Thankfully there are lyrics to read the story with, as well as to understand what Diamond is pronouncing. He has a bit of range, from alto growls and snarls to the more prominent shriek. He also performs all the vocals on the sound effects, performing young King, Missy, and even Grandma! It’s easy to see how he has influenced upon black metal vocalists.
There’s not much else to say about this album. Every song is very singular and original, telling another chapter in this horrifying episode. The music is more than often appropriate for the mood of each piece. There’s even an instrumental, the title track “Them,” which relies on acoustic guitar and clean electric leads, courtesy of Mr. La Rocque. Oh, and there’s an awesome acoustic break in “A Broken Spell,” with a brief bit of low-end alto vocals, which is a nice little breather.
Finally, there’s this new edition of “THEM,” which is remastered and recorded on a gold (yes, the metal gold) disc. I’ve not heard the original, un-mastered edition, so I can’t tell how much better the sound might be, but the sound here is crisp and yet with just enough mist to add an extra touch of atmosphere to the album’s vibe. As I mentioned before, there are three bonus tracks on this album. They include an outtake, “Phone Call,” which makes both a nice prologue or epilogue to the rest of the plot (it’s a phone conversation between King and Grandma), as well as demos of two songs on the album, “The Invisible Guests” and “Bye, Bye Missy.” These latter songs are not of particular interest to me, but they’re a nice look into the past.
At my friend Richie’s recommendation, I bought this album and fell in love. So now I am recommending to you, the reader, to buy this album, and enjoy it…but don’t listen to it after dark.
Now, would you care for some tea?
I love this record. To me, there are three essential King Diamond records: Abigail, Them, and Conspiracy. These three records comprise some of the best metal recorded in the late 80s. It’s hard to put King Diamond, the band, in a category. This is metal for sure, but may not appeal to die-hard thrash/death/speed metal fans who shy away from melody and harmonies. That’s not to say that this goes as far as Helloween or other such melodic-metal bands, but it’s more towards that ballpark.King Diamond, and these three records, work so well because of a perfect combination of great songwriting; inspired and extremely skillful playing; tight, well-rehearsed arrangements; and the chemistry and personality of the players. Mikkey Dee is one of the great unsung metal drummers. Andy LaRoque’s hooks and flourishes are always a joy. Earlier and later King Diamond records suffer from the lack of at least one of these qualities, or from the lack of some of the personnel. Mikkey Dee, especially, is sorely missed in the post-Conspiracy era. The songwriting on the later records is lacking the great hooks of the Abigail/Them/Conspiracy triumverate (but, after 1990, songwriting for most metal bands changed in a way I did not like). Also, King’s story conceptions on these three records have always seemed to me to be more inspired.The bottom line is that there are plenty of people who are never going to like Kind Diamond. Either they’re simply not into this kind of metal, or they can never get used to King’s singing style. For my money, though, these three records are important, inspired, and a must-have.