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'Sequel albums', like sequel films, are always a risky proposition, especially when they come after such a broad gulf from the first (or earlier) work in a particular series. If they were being released at normal intervals, like a serial or chain of episodes, then that would be one thing, but in the case of King Diamond's Abigail II: The Revenge, you're looking at a 15 year gap after the beloved 1987 original, which stands as one of the band's finest albums and, if I'm being honest, one of the best of the 80s, period. As we've all no doubt learned, the idea of such a sequel often runs counter to common sense. After all, there's a strong chance of alienating what might be the most important weapon in an established act's arsenal: the installed fan base. For example, look at the abortion that was Operation: Mindcrime II, which came after an even broader span of time (18 years) and failed utterly to capture the magic of the first album.
There is no doubt that, while the very notion of a followup to Abigail album might have been brewing inside the minds of Petersen and LaRocque for awhile, that nostalgia and the diminishing returns of their recent albums leading into the 21st century played their parts in the ultimate manifestation of The Revenge. It's not a bad thing that a band would want to return to the roots of their greatness, and I can hardly blame the duo for cashing in the roster of the last album and seeking to reconnect with earlier members from an age when the 'magic' was happening, but it's hardly a formula for automatic success as we've seen from a goodly number of reunions in the genre. This time out, it happens to work out for the Danes. They brought back bassist Hal Patino after a 12 year absence, and Hexenhaus/Mercyful Fate alumnus Mike Wead to replace Glen Drover, who was busy with his own band Eidolon, and eventually Megadeth. Prolific US drummer Matt Thompson was hired on to fill John Luke Hebert's seat, and they had Kol Marshall, who co-produced this record with King and Andy themselves, to contribute keys.
Abigail II is, thankfully, a rousing success, and the best of the band's albums since The Eye in 1990, slightly edging out The Spider's Lullabye. To some extent, this is due to the fact that the band have more or less returned to those aforementioned roots in terms of filling out a conceptual work with some due atmosphere, and catchier licks than they'd been creating in over a decade. This is a 'total package' sort of record, where the production, artwork/layout, track pacing and musicianship all converge to provide nearly an hour of escape to all the wayward souls who might have been turned off the band since the later 80s. Hell, just look at the cover art courtesy of Travis Smith, which is the best the band had used since "Them" or the original Abigail. Unlike the dullard cover images of works like House of God or The Graveyard, this one actually beckons the viewer back to the realm of the twilight, campy supernatural horror that King Diamond built this career on.
It helps that it sounds so magnificent, capturing the clarity of its polished predecessors but with a guitar tone that had me pining for the early years, though fully capable of entertaining a younger crowd who had, unbeknownst to their knowledge, been spoiled with a decade or more of studio enhancements. Patino never skips a beat, his lines floating like a corpse-painted manta ray beneath the rhythmic balance of Wead and LaRocque. Thompson is perhaps not a vastly more technical drummer than the two before him, but he certainly lends the album some reliable power and the production of the kick and snare seems far more vibrant here. The leads and dual guitar harmonies are out in full force, and King himself doesn't sound a day older than when he releases The Eye or The Spider's Lullabye. As I'm sure its creators were hoping, the whole affair seems like a 'second wind' had been breathed into the stagnating project's lungs.
Which would amount to squat, if the songs weren't also quite damned catchy. Abigail II doesn't fuck around with a lot of cheesy interludes pieces. You've got the intro "Spare This Life", a brief outro in "Sorry Dear", and the meat of the record is 11 tracks straight of metal-driven narrative, with not a stinker among them even if they're not written at the memorable level of some of the 80s records. A lot of the tunes are intro'd with these synth and string sections that strike like a crystal rain before the thundering surge of the guitars. "The Storm" is a fair power metal piece to get the blood rushing, but once they zip into the acrobatics of "Mansion in Sorrow" this disc picks up steam with Diamond's layered falsetto/midrange tracking and a strong momentum of the guitars. But the album thankfully never lets up, with the winding "Slippery Stairs", the freakish stop/start antics that slice through "Broken Glass" or the straight drive of "Miriam" or "The Wheelchair".
As for the story behind the record, it's the usual mayhem and murder with a supernatural undercurrent. It offers some twists and turns on the original Abigail, picking up when she's an 18-year old woman and then 'tying some loose ends', though I can't promise she comes out unscathed herself. Like many of the other King Diamond albums, it's about bad things happening to a person of the female persuasion, par for the course, though as usual it's not presented in a particularly tasteless or misogynistic way. The lyrics are fair, certainly nothing masterful but a lot better than most of the 90s records whether they're being told through brief, descriptive passages or the first person character perspective.
Abigail II: The Revenge is one of those albums I'd categorize as 'great', but never perfect. As rich and fulfilling as the compositions feel, they certainly don't breed the same 'instant classic' atmosphere that was pervasive on the 1986-90 records. It'd be hard to recognize anything here at the level of a "Burn", or a "Welcome Home", or "The Family Ghost". But nonetheless, it was a cause for some celebration: King Diamond had once again become fluent in what it does best. Crystalline, spectral horror delivered with some goddamned class and maturity, and though it's not doing anything truly original with a formula that was mastered 15 years in its past, it provided ample enough reason to get excited, once more, for what these gentlemen could summon from the shadows and the forgotten.