Destructoid interview: King Diamond

Guitar Hero: Metallica has the same teeth-gnashing, muscle-tightening attitude of the popular metal band its named after. After I played the game last week, I came home with the impression that the killer motion capture, visual effects, camera effects, and even the menus had the distinct flavor of Metallica. What more could a fan want?

However, Guitar Hero: Metallica isn’t just Metallica’s music. Other bands, hand-picked by the Metallica, make an appearance in the game. One of those bands is Mercyful Fate, led by the creepy on-stage persona of King Diamond.

Yesterday, I interviewed Diamond over the phone about his involvement with the game. He spoke about his back injury (which prevented him from doing motion-capture work), seeing his digital likeness for the first time, getting the phone call from Lars Ulrich to be in the game, and even Fallout 3.

And you know what? He isn’t as scary as the facepaint and crucifix microphone led me to believe. Hit the break for the interview.

I went to see Guitar Hero a few weeks ago and I spoke to a [Neversoft] developer and he said you hurt your back. Are you doing alright?

King Diamond:
Yeah, it’s getting better and better, you know? It’s a herniated disc in the lower spine. It’s been over a year-and-a-half now, almost two years ago. It was so bad in the beginning that I couldn’t sit for the first year. So I stood up for the first year after I got the injury. I had to eat my dinner standing everyday, you know? It definitely sidelined us for a while. We’ve been able to do some other things and pick up everything, you know, without being out touring. I expect us to be out at sometime next year. In the meantime we’ve had a lot of projects to stay busy with. It’s been good. No lack of fan support there, and we have the best fans you can dream of. They’re all there, anticipating whatever is coming. Now the next thing that here is, of course, Guitar Hero.

There’s two songs we recorded actually, for [Activision] to pick between. So there’s one more song — there will be others eventually — after the game is out, they’ll be available at iTunes and stuff like that, you know. The song “Evil” and “Curse of the Pharoahs.” The same line-up, we did two songs so they could choose between. They chose “Evil” probably because it has, I think it has, more playability with a videogame.
We’ve done a lot of stuff. I’m working presently on some old, old footage, old private recordings of both King Diamond and Mercyful Fate that’s going to be released — King Diamond is going to be a double-DVD set. Old, rare stuff you know? And the same with Mercyful Fate. There might even be a three-disc Mercyful Fate. We’ll see how much material is good enough to put on. And that’s mainly for the fans, there’s stuff from Mercyful Fate before we even got signed.

So, are you doing any downloadable content?

No, no — we did two songs, when Lars called me you know, when he invited us to be a part of it he suggested either “Evil” or “Curse of the Pharoahs.” Then we started looking for the masters. They were nowhere to be found. I was thinking, “Oh god, can’t be true. We’re going to miss out on such a great opportunity.” So I talked to the other guys, and it turned out to be a re-recording by four out of five original members […] Otherwise, it’s all the old guys that did that song the first time 25 years ago. We went in and re-recorded them and they sounded so much better. [laughs]

But they stay totally true to the original. The guitar solo by one guitarist, Michael Denna, I would say is 100 percent identical. Every bend, every harmony that he puts on a solo and stuff like that is identical. The other guitarist Hank Sherman, is 98 percent identical. Those two percent that aren’t identical is because there were so few notes back in the old solos, “gah, you can’t do those, we have to do it better.” So we fixed those few things.

Otherwise, of course, it’s a more in-your-face sound than on the old album. It was interesting also for me to go in and do vocals and then go back and pick out some of these harmonies and say, “What was it that I did back then?” And then recreate that stuff.

So we did two songs and they picked “Evil” for the game, you know. But I guess that those songs, you’ll be able to get them on iTunes and and stuff like that. They’ll be made available by the record label.

What do you think about Guitar Hero in general?

Well, I’ve heard nothing but good stuff, you know. I’ve heard so much good for all the different versions that have come out. It’s an honor to be picked to be part of this, both by Metallica and Activision. All the support and all the stuff that has gone into it — it was a whole new experience because the recording was diff-, I would say maybe not the recording, but we still had to make sure we were recording in a specific way so make sure that they had everything separated properly. But the mixing phase was really different because each thing you record — snare drum, high hat, one guitar — each of these things had to have their own stereo track. It’s a weird thing. Normally you have a snare, you just have it on a single track and then you pan it whenever you want that track to line in the stereo picture. It’s really different. They had to get it into these, they called it “stem mixes” and I’m like, “hmm, okay, explain?” Then we got explained. Then we did it. And we couldn’t master it, because, that of course, that’s done by Activision because they have to make all the different songs sound comparable to each other in volume and stuff.

The version that go up on iTunes and other places will, of course, be mastered by us like, you know, we would normally do it. Very interesting to see these different ways they do it. I remember after we attended one of the [inaudible] over at Activision. “Hey wait a minute there is a” — I can’t remember what solo it might be, it might be solo 2 or 3, by one of the guitarists in that song because it has a lot of solos in it, they said — “there’s a harmony there” — he recorded both a normal lead and then he put a harmony on the second half of it — “we would like to have those split up, too.” We’re like, ‘okay, we can do that.’ [Activision said] “Well then people can play each solo in harmony for the playability of it.”

That was interesting. Then it got even more interesting to see, when I was told, that I could be an enemy, playable character in the game. That was weird, then seeing the first draft that came. It was eerie, man, to see yourself that way. I’ve seen fans draw pictures before, of course, I’ve seen footage of ourselves, you know. This was so different. And then when you start seeing that character created in such detail. The detail was absolutely mind blowing. Each ring on my fingers are on the right finger where they belong. I had to take photos of those rings, close-ups, so they could totally make them correct. The eye necklace that I’m wearing is perfect. Each button on the coat is there. Each bullet on the bulletbelt is there. The leather pants, the leather vest, the old coat, the boot — everything is just so detailed. Then when you see the character in that little trailer they did when I saw the character move I was like, ‘Wow.’ And the one thing you should keep in mind here, Metallica was wearing these suits and recorded like that. I couldn’t do that. They asked me to come out in LA and do that, but I couldn’t sit on the plane at that time — I didn’t have that option. One of those situations like when we couldn’t find the master tapes and I was thinking, “Oh, don’t let this be something that could obstruct the whole thing from happening.” But they’re so skilled, they said “Well, we have good footage of yourself and stuff. No problem, when can do it without those suits on.”

So they got our latest King Diamond video, “Give me your Soul” and I got some other footage, you know, and some stills. Like I said they asked for close-ups of rings, my necklace, and stuff like that. The coat was up in a certain way when I took pictures from front to pack. They just work from that stuff, you know, and create the character. […]

I was actually going to ask you because the person I spoke to said you were blown away so I suppose it’s safe to say that then, right?

Totally. I mean the details are mind-blowing.  A lot of things went forth and back.  I mostly dealt with a guy called Scott McDaniel out at Activision, you know.  And — amazing people to work with — just seeing what they do, you know, all the little things forth and back, and “what about?” and “can this be like this way?”  We were forth and back very quick and to the point, you know, and there was one point where I got, there was footage — it was actually the animated versions of my rings, just the rings — and I get this thing, there was just like four squares, you know, and one of them — “oh, wait a minute, I don’t know why he sent me this, but that one ring there, it looks like I can’t see that it’s a  cross…” Except the others, I thought were just photos, but then I realized, now wait a minutes, why would they send me photos back? I sent them photos.  And then it was the animated versions of the rings and, like, oh my God, I couldn’t tell the difference.

Amazing. Absolutely.

Let’s take a step back again for a second.  What kind of impact do you think games like Guitar Hero are having on the music industry or on the kids that play them in terms of and how they relate to your music or anyone else’s?

I mean, I think it’s all good. — I don’t see anything negative in it whatsoever.  I can only see good stuff in it, you know. I mean, it must be awesome.  Had I had that opportunity, even though I haven’t tried playing Guitar Hero, but I certainly will now.  You know, we have two 360s, hi-def setups here.  One for my wife and one for me, you know. I use “game-playing” for relaxing you know. I mean, it’s the best way for me to relax.

I usually play action games or sports, racing and stuff like that, you know, but I haven’t really tried Guitar Hero — but, of course, I will try now. I’ll have to see how much of a fool I’ll make out of myself trying to do our own songs, you know. “Cause people say it’s very different if you’re a musician to actually try and play something you know on a real guitar to play and then to play that way, it’s quite different. […] It must be awesome to have that opportunity, to get to know the songs from a whole different perspective than just listening to them. I guess, you can easily end up appreciating some of the stuff that has been put into the song-writing when you find out, whoa, this is cryptic or “What kind of beat is that they put in there?” And then you have to kind of take that up to get a better insight into what has gone into writing the songs back when they were written and, you know. And I had that when I started computing with the Amiga computer, you know, many, many years ago — it would have been cool to have a thing like that.

A lot of bands are getting exposed to new generations, you know. I’ve noticed that — and we have such strong fans — but also it’s not just old fans that come to the shows, you know … I’ve seen this throughout our career, how new generations have shown up — seeing thirteen/fourteen-year-olds in the front row knowing every single word to songs that were written many years before they were born is an awesome feeling I can tell you.  And, it just shows that we have always been able to do as well as — we have a unique style and I think a lot of that has to do with we were always giving totally free hands, artistically, from the record labels we’ve been involved in. They never ask us, they don’t come to the studio and want demos first and listen to things and, “Eh, you need to write some other song.” They have nothing to do with it. It’s like they wait ‘til the next album is done and then they get the finished album. […]

So we have totally free hands and we never jumped on any of these bandwagons, what was fancy at the moment. We’ve never done that; that’s probably one of the reasons why we’ve never had a platinum album, too, but we can stay behind everything we ever did a hundred percent, you know, and I think it’s one of the reasons we are still here now. It’s creating that niche of a very unique style and sound. And, it’s almost like you’re driving on this [road] to a big highway, you know, the big highway where you can drive for awhile and drive much faster than others on this little […] road, but then suddenly you have rush hour and everything stops up there and it’s like a new style has taken over, but the feeder road still runs … I think it has a lot to do with that that we’re still here, creating a style that is so unique, it becomes timeless in a way. We were never following trends so it’s good and it’s always been there, you know. I’d much rather be in this situation than haven’t had platinum this and that, you know. Believe me, I can stand behind everything I ever did. It’s all come from the heart, and we’re still here. And it’s definitely not going downhill. On the contrary, it’s doing well.

Yeah, I would imagine. Okay, what do you think it’s going to be like for the kid that tries to sing one of your songs for the first time?

It’s going to be a challenge, of course. Maybe you know exactly how it works when there are vocals in there, too. You don’t have to hit exactly the notes, do you really? More like being in pitch. You could actually sing in an octave lower if you wanted to?


So there it’s like, well, you could get away with some of those high [notes], but they can be pretty [hard to hit]. Speaking of the first note, the first vocal note that comes in, is very, very high, and it’s very, very long. But, it’s almost worse, for me personally, it would be harder to sing that an octave down because down there you need to push even more air to create the sound. All the long notes with a lower voice take more breath than doing it with a falsetto, you know. For me, anyway. So that’s definitely a challenge right off the bat there. Good luck hitting the notes, you know.

Are there people who can do it? I’m sure. But, it’s a challenge, for sure. And then there’s a lot of guitar solos and stuff, you know, and there’s a lot going on in that song.

Then there’s, of course, Metallica’s version of the “Mercyful Fate” (medley). From what I understand, it’s the longest song that’s ever been on one of these games. I think it’s going to be eleven minutes or so.

Oh, I believe it.  I mean, when I played the game, you know, every song was very substantial.

And Metallica songs are very complicated, too. I mean, there’s going to be a lot of challenges there, lots of room for messing up, but people are so good at it, too, you’ll probably start seeing on the Internet all these different videogame players nailing these songs, you know. Where you think, ‘Wow.’

Will you be involved in Guitar Hero projects in the future?

I don’t know. There’s been no talk about that, but it’s been an extremely positive experience. There’s been nothing negative in it at all. On the contrary, very positive. I mean, the people, especially Scott McDaniel — because he’s the guy that I worked the most with out at Activision — has been absolutely amazing. All of them. The people when we were mixing the songs where we needed certain directions when we needed certain directions of ‘What is it we do here?’ They just got back to us very quick and totally pro, you know.

I mean, seeing what they put into creating my character — it’s an awesome feeling for me to see how meticulous they’ve been and how much they put into really doing something ‘cause they could just have slacked off, you know, but they’re not that kind of people. It’s just a very, very cool feeling, you know. And I think they have the same feeling with regards to us ‘cause we were really fast. We did everything we were asked as promptly as we could. We were given three weeks to do it, you know, but once we found out that we didn’t have the original masters and the idea came up, ‘Maybe we could re-record with almost the entire original line-up.’ We were told. ‘Yeah. That would be really interesting, but you have three weeks to deliver it.’  And that put some pressure on us, you know.

So we quickly recorded all the basic tracks, so we were in […] Copenhagen, in the studio over there, and then [Acitivision] sent that stuff over to me in Dallas and then I went in and did the vocals with a guy called J.T. Longoria — he’s an engineer at the […] recording Studio where  I do all vocals. And that’s where we mixed the two, you know.  And, yeah, I think it was on the day, three weeks later, they had the two songs to choose from out there. It was very quick turnaround. With the animation afterward it was very interesting to see how it progressed.

How did Metallica contact you or was it all through Activision?

No, no, no, Lars called me. I mean, we go back a long time. Mercyful Fate and Metallica. Back in 1984, Mercyful Fate, we were doing our first U.S. tour and when we played San Francisco there was a journalist, I think he was also on a radio station out there called Gene Coury who introduced us. We were sitting backstage before going on stage and he came in and say, “Hey, there’s some guys I know here from town, a local band, Metallica, and the drummer is Danish, you know, and would like to come in and say “Hi.” You might know his dad. He used to be a tennis player, Tom Mulag.” And everybody knows of Tom Mulag in Denmark so [we said], “Wow, wow, really?”

And then they came in and at the end of our show, they were on stage with us, headbanging out when we did the encores and stuff. Ever since, we just had this mutual respect, you know, not just as musicians, but also as human beings, and have met so many times under so many different circumstances and there are a ton of great memories, you know

So, Lars called me and said, “Hey, we’re doing this game. Have you heard of this game?” I was like, “Aw, you’re kidding me.” He said, “Hey, were thinking of having Mercyful Fate on there too.” He suggested “Evil” or “Curse of the Pharaohs.” That’s why we recorded those two and then they could choose between them. And then after we started all that and then suddenly came the outstretch and the mid-levels when Hank Shermann, the guitarist, was […] in Copenhagen to re-record. I hadn’t gotten the music yet to sing to, but other than that, just a few days notice. And then after that came the thing about being animated, you know. Like, wow, that would be totally awesome. So it was Lars that I talked to regarding those things with the original approach of ideas.

So, you said you have two 360s. What’s your favorite game?

There’s a lot, you know. I mean, there’s so many good games coming out it becomes — sometimes you’ve got the focusing as much on the graphics these days, you know, since you’ve got the hi-def and all that, as you do actual gameplay. If a game has great gameplay, but the graphics are not good, you’re like, ‘What is this? — But, the last game I got was the extension pack for Grand Theft Auto, you know The Lost and Damned, but otherwise it’s Battlefield: Bad Company, Grand Theft Auto, Fallout 3, Far Cry 2, you know, Brothers in Arms: Highway to Hell, Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon, Call of Duty, those kind of games.

But, then, I also like sports games, especially race games like Forza and GRID. And then a little saga here and there. I used to play soccer a long, long time ago. So, those are the kind of games, you know, that I play myself, and it’s like, for me, like the best way to relax, a way to take away daily stress.

When I played Fallout 3 — it’s hard to relax, to some degree, right? Because the world is so void of life, etc. What did you think about the game?

There is something eerie about that game because it could be what’s going to happen in a couple of hundred years, you know? It isn’t that far off. All those nations that are seeking nuclear weapons, a lot of them seem like they have very loose trigger fingers. Who knows what it’s going to look like? It’s not, like, the safest world that we’ve ever seen, I guess. So, it’s a scary scenario. Big nuclear war and that’s what’s left. And then you get all those little things on the news. The government. Even within those safety bolts, you know there are these experiments going on. Screwed up, man. You know. Really screwed up human kind.

But, I think it’s cool, man, all the graphics, you know. I mean, it’s really cool. It really looks cool. And you suddenly get into that little orchard area where’s there’s actually trees, you sit there as a gamer feeling like, ‘Oh, this is nice. They have trees with leaves on there.’

Yeah, it’s almost like a little break on its own, isn’t it?

Yeah, absolutely. […] Normally, I’m not too much into these futuristic things with monsters, this and that. I like the realistic looking games, but I didn’t mind Fallout 3. It actually caught me that “Okay, there are all these mutants and weird things and creatures.” I hate those goblins you run into out in the desert sometimes. When you get three of them coming at you, it’s like, ‘Okay.’ But, really cool, the speech options, all the different skills you can work on, I think it’s very deep, you know.

The first time, I ran through it too fast, though. I just did what they told me to do, pretty much, and ran through the game, and it was over reasonably quick, you know, just following the data all the way through. But to then realize, “Hey, I’m done. I can’t even go back in and run around and play.” All the side missions, that was just done. But then you find out by going to sites like yours and others, ‘Don’t play ‘til the end. Stop at some point if you want to do all the side quests.’ Then I started playing it again on a higher level, you know, and just tried it that way and see what was going to happen, took a different path, explored that first city, you know, and see what happens there.

But now it’s resting for the moment. Now, I had just played a little bit with Lost and Damned here. Battlefield: Bad Company I got not too long ago, but it’s been there for a while. I was thinking, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I should get it or not’, and then one day I just got it and, wow, pretty cool game. But the ones that have a lot of tactics in them are cool like Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six, you know. Or even that Highway to Hell: Brothers in Arms where you’re commander of up to three little squads, you know, I mean that’s really cool. You have to be really tactical, as well.

So, I take it that you’re open to do another Guitar Hero game. If you were asked.

It was entirely a good experience, you know. And, it was very interesting, too, because it’s an area we’ve never been invited into. You know, probably opened the door, there will be a lot of people who have not given us chance. They might have heard the name, but not given it a chance or a listen. And, here now, they get a chance to hear some of what we’re about. Some people will probably like it and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know they were sounding like that’ or ‘that was their style.’ So you also open that way ‘cause I know from hearing from friends and stuff, some of them have kids that are playing it.

I know the drummer of Mercyful who did the song here, you know, his son is a total Slayer fan, but he would have never been exposed to Slayer had it not been for playing Guitar Hero so, of course, there are people like that will be able to discover some of these bands they haven’t had a chance to know of. Some of them might have heard the name, but never game it a shot.

Is there anything else you wanted to talk about in regards to Guitar Hero: Metallica?

I just can’t wait to actually get it into my hands and see what the full song looks like, you know, all the hours, of course, but also all the rest. There’s so many cool bands in there and great music and seeing all of Metallica’s stuff, too.

All the stage recreations — some of that stuff just looks killer. And what else they put in there as bonus stuff ‘cause I’m sure there’s going to be all kinds of bonus footage in there, too.

There is a ton of bonus footage, I can promise you that. That’s one thing I really noticed when I got to play the game.

I know for a fact that they wanted to put Mercyful Fate Medley from Ozzfest that Metallica had themselves that they wanted to put in as bonus footage so there must be tons of stuff in there, you know. I’m sure you were behind the scenes and all kinds of stuff. You probably saw them with those special suits on recording some of it. That must be a lot of cool stuff.

We really appreciate your time. I can’t wait to play you in the game. This will be the first time I ever spoke to a superstar and then I’ll get to play their song. It’ll be awkward at first.

That sounds so weird, you know, but, yeah, ‘I look forward to playing you in the game.”’Yeah, that’s right.

And, playing yourself. That’s got to be weird.

Oh, man. I might stay with the guitar and not attempt singing. I’ll probably scare my cat with the singing at home. Stick with the guitar and I can sing for myself. So, it’s going to be interesting. Definitely, man. I think there’s a lot of anticipation for that game, too. Activision themselves told me [after I asked], ‘So, how do you feel about it?’ It’s the best game we’ve ever done,” they said, ‘Without a doubt. It’s the best we’ve ever done.’

So, they are very, very confident of how it looks and plays and everything else. It sounds really good, the whole thing.

[Destructoid would like to thank King Diamond for his time.]

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