It was a hard and difficult road since the first ever concept album and I really don’t know if The Kinks or Frank Zappa were first or The Beatles and the Who but I guess Frank Sinatra was before all the aforementioned so the road was even larger, wider and adventurous up to 1987 in which Heavy Metal actually entered the challenge and adopted the uniform excellence, the lyrical theme or underlying musical motif probably with King Diamond’s sophomore studio album ‘Abigail’, as before that it concept albums were more or less interwoven with Progressive Rock as a sub-genre and the famous Rock Operas from the 70’s.
A concept album is an album whose tracks hold a larger purpose or meaning collectively than they do individually. A collection of songs written by a musician or group that is based around a central theme or concept. These themes can be compositional, lyrical, instrumental, or narrative. So you can see how difficult is to achieve top notch result at the same time in all these three or four different factors. Fortunately King Diamond is so blessed and gifted that managed to do it several times in his glorious career. Back in 1987 after the great success both commercially (250.000 sales only in U.S.A.) and artistic of ‘Abigail’ King Diamond and his band was ready to sail to U.S.A. and everything seemed almost perfect for the King and his gang. But King’s father died and that effected Diamond in a sentimental way while guitarist Michael Denner and bassist Timi Hansen were out of the band and been replaced by Pete Blakk and Hal Patino, cutting all ties to Mercyful Fate. They had one last job to do before sailing to the States so they entered M.M.C. Studio in Copenhagen, and recorded ‘Them’ their third studio album, released on 20 June 1988 through Roadrunner Records in Europe, and 13 September 1988 through Roadracer Records in United States.
Once again the haunted/ghost house is the background in which the album’s plot a genuine gothic horror story is thickening. As the album opens, a young King and his mother and sister are welcoming King’s grandmother home from a mental asylum. That night, King investigates strange voices and discovers his grandmother having a tea party seemingly alone, though with the teacups and kettles floating in the air. King is invited into the room, to sit in his grandmother’s chair. King is sent back to bed, but only after staring into his grandmother’s eyes, whereupon she instructed him to forget what he saw.
One day, Grandma awakens King and tells him that she will teach him about the house of “Amon”, over a cup of tea. “Amon” being the tea pot, “Their” item of power and importance that seemed to require a blood sacrifice. Through the blood they commutate or take control of those who drink it. Grandma cuts King’s sleeping mother’s hand and adds her blood to the teapot. After drinking the “tea” the voices haunting the house (“Them”) begin to affect King with a drug-like effect. King’s sister Missy tries to convince King that they should do something to help their mother, who is unconscious and weak due to “their” control and possible blood loss, but his judgment is clouded due to his altered state. He refuses to call for help and cuts the phone line. At tea, Missy interrupts and furiously expresses concern about her mother’s state, Missy being deemed a problem is attacked by Grandma and in spiteful retaliation, Missy breaks “Amon” the teapot. “They”, in furious response to the breaking of “their” beloved teapot “Amon”, chop Missy into bits with an axe and throw the remains into the fireplace in the kitchen. “Their” focus no longer on King, he snapped out of his “spell,” and he stumbles outside and pieces together the events that transpired.
After fainting and regaining consciousness, he decides to attack his grandmother. He notices that “their” power is weakened outside the house, so he lures his grandmother outside and kills her. The voices of Amon continue to haunt the boy as he is questioned by police and incarcerated in an asylum. Years later, he is released and returns home to find his grandmother and the voices of Amon are still very much alive. In the following album 1989’s ‘Conspiracy’, King is continuing the concept from, ‘Them’, thus concluding the eerie tale of Them, the House Amon and Grandma.
Ok, lyrics are not in the highest literature level but let’s be honest you don’t expect Jorge Luis Borges here, but the verses are so suitable in the spooky atmosphere and well written indeed. What is really extraordinary though and more than just well-crafted or worked methodically are the guitars that have a plethora of huge riffs upon riffs, dual harmonies and tons of tremendous shredding soloing, fast and mid-paced and loaded with hooks, and melodies (even some acoustic guitar passages) that seem to came 100% naturally as if the Andy LaRoque (who is also the co-writer of the album) was on a relentless divine inspiration jamming on studio. The drumming of Mikkey Dee may have not perfect sound as the reverb drenched production works fine if we speak about atmosphere but as for the drums is… mediocre holding them back, but probably they had to be sacrificed for the sake of the guitars, as King has told in several interviews in late 80’s. Still Dee delivers some great ideas and executes -full of energy- perfectly his parts (in ‘Welcome Home’ one of King’s career’s highlights Mickey’s playing and his drum solo is outstanding) having a leading role, not only holding the rhythm section which is rock solid and tight yet the bass lines sound weak too. Small details some would say. I agree. Too small I will add.
As for King Diamond, it’s 100% in his game taking advantage every second of the storytelling and the number of characters trying to use as many vocal forms he can, not only his signature falsetto, building on top of layers with his characteristic confidence and theatrical ability and skills.
Besides the great performance overall ‘Them’ has brilliant songs and so damned memorable too…You just can’t avoid banging your head, air playing the guitars and scream like there’s no tomorrow when you hear ‘Welcome Home’, ‘The Invisible Guests’, ‘A Broken Spell’, ‘Tea’ or ‘Bye, Bye, Missy’ and ‘The Accusation Chair’. You just can’t!