Concept albums have always impressed me. Maybe that’s why I’m such a big fan of underground metal master King Diamond. To create a concept album, a band has to have some serious confidence in their writing ability, and you rarely get an average concept album. It’s either incredible or a dud. King Diamond, which at this point included Andy LaRocque (guitar), Glenn Drover (guitar), Dave Harbour (bass), John Herbert (drums), and, of course, Diamond (vocals/keyboards), writes concept album after concept album, each telling a horror story through Diamond’s haunting lyrics. At this point in his career, Diamond had reunited with Mercyful Fate, the satanic-themed band that put him on the map back in the ‘80s. He decided, however, to continue putting out solo albums while he worked with Mercyful Fate. In 2000, Diamond’s solo project was coming off of, in my opinion, his two worst albums to date, 1996’s The Graveyard and 1998’s Voodoo, and the band needed a masterpiece to launch them into the new millennium. Though most fans overlook it, House Of God is that masterpiece.
The story is quite possibly the most disturbing and controversial that Diamond has put out so far. I won’t ruin it for you, but here are the basics. The story is set in the Rennes-le-Chateau in Southern France, which is the site of many conspiracy theories, the most famous of which is that Christ lived there after surviving the Crucifixion. Whether you believe in such stories is up to you, but Diamond even cautions in the liner notes that it is just a story, nothing more. If you are a practicing Christian, however, skip over this one, as it involves some extremely controversial views on God, Jesus Christ, and the whole belief system of humans. Let me just say that this may make you question just what you believe in.
That said, Diamond isn’t the same person as he was in the early days of Mercyful Fate. This is a plus for me, since I don’t particularly enjoy Mercyful Fate’s recordings. He’s older now, and though his glass-shattering falsetto is just as potent as ever, he uses it a lot less, choosing to growl far more often, giving House Of God a darker, heavier feel. However, if you’re a fan of Diamond’s high-pitched wail, you won’t be all that disappointed. Diamond still uses it, and when he does, it seems more powerful than ever. His keyboards, like the falsetto, are used less than in previous releases, and only to create a mood on some of the tracks, such as the entrancing title track.
Long-time Diamond guitarist and co-writer, Andy LaRocque delivers a breathtaking performance on House Of God, and the guitar acrobatics of Glen Drover, now of Megadeth fame, are quite impressive. Unlike some of Diamond’s previous works (most notably 1989’s Conspiracy), the guitars are placed perfectly throughout the album, and never take anything away from the story. Just listen to Catacomb, which is easily the best track here, to understand what I mean. The story really comes out in this one, and though there are multiple solos, each one is incredible and just makes you hold your breath until the next step in the plot is revealed. There are dozens of riffs on this album, and all of them are above and beyond average. Even though Diamond has given up his speed metal days, opting for a mid-tempo gallop, some of the best rhythm guitar I have ever heard is on this album. The intro to the album’s chilling climax, This Place Is Terrible, is absolutely awe-inspiring. Andy even plays some clean passages on Follow The Wolf and acoustic guitar on album-closing instrumental Piece Of Mind. Most importantly, the guitars are so top-notch, it gives the album replay value even after the immediate shock of the story has worn off.
Unfortunately, Dave Harbour and John Herbert just don’t impress in the same way. Sure, they both do their job, but there really isn’t much to say about their performance. Also, the album drags substantially in the middle section. I mean, seriously, Black Devil may just be the most useless song Diamond has ever released. And we’re talking about the man who gave us No Presents For Christmas. Luckily, it picks up in the end, and closes out in wonderful fashion with the powerful This Place Is Terrible and Piece Of Mind, which, despite being incredibly mellow and it’s lack of lyrics, manages to be just a powerful in the context of the album.
House Of God is easily Diamond’s best offering since the ‘80s. While it might not stack up to metal classics Abigail and Them, the story may be better than both of them. The guitars are amazing, and they really add to Diamond’s unique storytelling. The lack of power from the bass and drums and the dragging middle section really bring it down from being a classic, but it still stands out as one of the better selections in Diamond’s catalogue. On an unrelated note, if you’ve never seen Diamond live, it’s not something to be missed. The stage performance beats both Marilyn Manson's and Alice Cooper’s, and the music live is just as good, if not better than, the albums (unfortunately, no songs from House Of God made the current setlist).
Buy the whole thing. One single track can’t do this one justice.