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If Only... - 81%

pinpals, December 12th, 2008

I find it interesting that King Diamond decided to follow "Them" with a direct sequel when "Abigail" had an ending that seemed more ripe for a follow-up. Perhaps this was because "Them" was King Diamond's highest selling album (still is, I believe) and had a very successful video for "Welcome Home." However, I cannot understand the rationale behind the cover, which is at the same time scarier (unintentionally) and sillier than his previous album covers, including the one for "Fatal Portrait." It's a shame that the cover art is so bad because there is some great music contained within.

In fact, "Conspiracy" opens with the greatest one-two punch of the King's career (including "Arrival" and "Mansion in the Darkness"). "At the Graves" starts out creepily, and if you do not have the jewel case by your side to see that it is almost nine minutes long, one might think that it is only an intro on first listen. It soon proves to be an illusion, as the speakers explode with heavy guitars and King Diamond's trademark yell. What follows is seven minutes of music which borders on prog-metal with insane time signatures (especially for the time) and oddly-placed tempo changes. However, this isn't your typical Dream Theateresque prog-metal, this is an unholy marriage of prog, speed and neo-classical metal. Guitar duo Andy Larocque and Pete Blakk absolutely tear it up on guitar, both rhythm and lead, and King Diamond sounds genuinely insane. Following up this gem is the single of the album, "Sleepless Nights," which is pure speed metal. King Diamond again gives a performance of a lifetime, switching from low, to high, to higher at will; and that chorus is just so infectious despite the falsetto. However, the real treat is the godly guitar solo section in the middle. Both Black and Larocque shred it up, and between their solos there is a cool dual guitar section.

Sadly, the rest of the album just cannot measure up. There is a significant drop in quality between "Sleepless Nights" and its successor, "Lies." The main problem is the guitar riffs; they're just sort of there. The guitar leads are still phenomenal, but the surrounding riffs are lacking, although the guitarists seem to enjoy employing pinch-harmonics for a surprisingly powerful effect. King Diamond's vocal lines decline in quality as well, most of the choruses are forgettable at best. The one exception is "Wedding Dream" which starts out with an awesome intro; turning the traditional wedding march on its head, making it sound evil and epic at the same time. The guitar solos are really strong as well, but the song as a whole is hurt by the mundane riffs that are heard throughout.

"Conspiracy" is also a bit short, with two of the ten songs being interludes and one being an instrumental. That being said, "Cremation" really showcases Larocque's talent and is a jaw-dropping display of neo-classical skill. The story-line is fairly solid although it is a bit shallow. It is still dark and twisted like most of Diamond's tales. Special mention should go out to the drum-work of Mikkey Dee, who makes his technical work seem effortless. Sadly, he got bored with Diamond pushing him to be more and more technical with his work and soon departed for simpler fare with Dokken.

Had the majority of this album been able to live up to the opening two songs, this album would rank with "Abigail," which is considerable since I consider that album to be one of the best albums in the metal genre. Despite the criticisms, this album still is solid and worthwhile. This is especially true if you can get the remastered version, which gives all of the instruments and the vocals an added punch. Certainly not King's best, but the first two songs make this essential listening.