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Over the past few years, yours truly has often expressed his negativity about King Diamond's vocals, including on the Encyclopaedia Metallum. Still, I am not at all keen on his vocals, but it goes without saying that his qualities as a songwriter are almost unmatched. In addition, he has the unbelievable ability to gather musicians who are also almost unmatched around him. Andy LaRocque, who plays on all of his albums, is one of my personal favorite guitarists, but through the years he has had his share of killer guitarists, bass players and drummers in his self-named band. In this case, the 2000 'House Of God' album, the second guitarist is Eidolon's Glen Drover, a highly respected musician by yours truly, while the rhythm section is made up by David Harbour (bass) and John Herbert (drums), a very solid rhythm section.
And all those musicians, as well as LaRocque and King himself, do the job very well! It's not a very popular opinion, but I personally think 'House Of God' is the best album King Diamond has ever made. The band went far across the point of stagnation in the nineties (the compilation 'Nightmares In The Nineties' seemed to be a painfully fitting title), but seems to have picked up where they have all left it in the new century. 'House Of God' sounds traditional and trusted, but doesn't sound "all the same" by any means. Instead, there is this refreshing approach to the whole thing that makes the album sound spontaneous and especially ready for the new century. For instance, the gothic/horror intros and interludes have been exchanged for things that take a slightly more industrial approach and that seems to fit the band quite well. Maybe a part of it is also that Glen Drover is one of the biggest King Diamond-fans on this planet, and therefore tried to push him into a direction he would love the most, as a fan...but that's just a theory.
And if that wasn't enough, 'House Of God' also houses the best story ever on King's concept albums. Although I must admit that I wasn't all that into his quite cheesy horror stories, the stories got interesting for me at the time when there was a more psychological approach ('Them', for example, was nothing but a really stupid story to me before it took a different twist on the 'Conspiracy' album) and that is exactly what happens on this album. The whole story is a bit more realistic than all the others (excluding 'The Eye') as well. I still don't understand all of it, but it contains all the trusted King Diamond elements, but adds something more human to the whole thing. There is even some romanticism thrown in, as well as the protagonist going insane near the end of the story. The music and, surprisingly, the vocals portray that perfectly.
Now that I mentioned them, the vocals aren't nearly as disturbing as on all the other albums to me. The high pitched screams actually seem to have a function when King tries to express the insanity of the protagonist in 'Help' and 'This Place Is Terrible'...in fact, the way he screams the very last words of the album ("THIS PLACE IS TERRIBLE!!! AAAAAHH!!! *insert dying sounds*) couldn't have been done better by anyone else. And his normal clean vocals aren't as off-key as in the early days either, King definitely seemed to have improved in that matter. He's still no Glenn Hughes or Paul Rodgers and he will never be, but at least there is some progression.
Surprisingly, it wasn't the first couple of tracks that were the very best of the album. Surprisingly, as this is usually the case with King Diamond's albums. Not that opener 'The Trees Have Eyes' is a bad song, not at all, it's a nice traditional Metal song with some nice gallops all throughout the song and some triumphant trumpets thrown into the chorus. And of course, there's the typical King Diamond aspect of mood-setting riffs that are only used in a song once, but set the mood perfectly. No one has ever died from a little complexity.
But the first real highlight of the album is the fourth track, the album's title track. 'House Of God' starts out with a beautiful guitar solo over some organ parts, which prove that this is one of the emotional highlights of the album. This is where the protagonist falls in love and the music fits that quite well. This is no ballad though! It's a powerful, emotional Metal song full of great guitar riffs, great solos and, who would have ever thought I'd ever say this about a King Diamond album, wonderful vocal lines! The way he screams for his "Angel" near the end of the song just tears your heart to shreds. Simply amazing!
What follows is a series of highlights, with here and there a song that is just good in between. Especially 'Black Devil' and 'Just A Shadow' are some of the best Heavy Metal tracks I have ever heard! As if the nineties had never taken place! Proud, forceful Heavy Metal like it sounded in the glorious eighties, except that these songs have a much better production. Both songs have some of the best riffs I have heard in a long time and once again, the vocal lines are surprisingly good. 'Black Devil' is blessed with some great transitions and Glen Drover's pre-chorus guitar fills and the riffs in 'Just A Shadow' should make every old-school headbanger smile with delight. That's what it did to me at least!
Another highlight for me personally is a song called 'Help!!!'. Don't let the simple AC/DC beat throw you off, or don't let it fool you anyway, this song has a lot more to offer than it might seem to have to offer in the first place. King once stated in an interview that he had the guitars switched off while singing his lines to this song and I can understand why, the protagonist's insanity which seems to build up throughout this song is breathtakingly displayed by a stellar build-up in the guitar work! It's a very nice song to mutilate the muscles in your neck to as well!
In the beginning of this review, I have mentioned the insanity that builds up near the end of the perfect closer 'This Place Is Terrible' in the vocals, but the instruments do that very nicely as well. But what is even more beautiful is the typical Andy LaRocque-instrumental 'Peace Of Mind' that follows. A moment of sheer beautiful tranquillity, decorated by some very nice guitar work like only Andy LaRocque can write it round off the album in style. 'Peace Of Mind' is also one of the highlights of King Diamond's discography, I don't care that it's just an outro, it needs to be said. It's beautiful!
But those are just highlights to an album of which the level is consistently high. I still think it would have sounded better if someone with a lower, more powerful voice would have sung this album, but the compositions are absolutely flawless and I can't say this enough: I think it's King's best album. Before 'House Of God', there was only 'Fatal Portrait' and 'Abigail' that in my opinion came close to this one and after 'House Of God', the band would continue the 'Abigail'-saga in a way that was interesting story-wise, but a weak attempt to copy the original musically. After that, there was 'The Puppet Master' which is actually nearly as good as 'House Of God', but the level is almost impossible to equal.