King Diamond/Jess and the Ancient Ones at The Fillmore Silver Spring

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Thursday, October 16, 2014

It’s always interesting to see what the turnout is like whenever a long running heavy metal act comes through the area. Sometimes bands that I consider to be legends of the genre receive only a small crowd of diehards, while other times they get a packed house. I was curious about what the turnout for King Diamond’s latest North American tour would be. On the one hand, he hasn’t done a proper North American tour in quite a few years and this comes after a long period of time recovering from triple bypass surgery. But on the other, it has been seven years since the last King Diamond full length and this run coincides with the announcement of a new best of collection rather than another studio effort. As it turned out, the metal fans were out in force when the tour came through Silver Spring as the venue was packed to the brim, and those that were in attendance were able to witness one of the best heavy metal performances of the year.

There was only one opener for the show, which tends to be fairly rare these days. King Diamond had handpicked Finland’s Jess and the Ancient Ones to be the opening band for the entire run, and while I was familiar with the name I have to admit that they were one of those groups that got lost in the retro/psychedelic rock explosion a few years back. When they released their debut full length back in 2012 my attention was turned to a number of different albums in the same genre, so I decided to use this live performance as a way to familiarize myself with their material. Jess and the Ancient Ones has three guitarists, and some of the instrumentalists in the group have been a part of Finnish metal acts like Demilich and Deathchain. But this doesn’t mean that they play straightforward heavy metal, as the overall sound is much closer to 60s/70s psychedelic rock with the occasional heavy metal guitar lead. Admittedly this description could probably be used to describe a dozen other Scandinavian bands, but there were two areas where Jess and the Ancient Ones stood out to me. First, their instrumental work has more variation than most. I’ve noticed that a lot of the groups who go for this retro psychedelic rock vibe have a few strong songs, but then the riffs all start to blur together. This wasn’t the case here, as I felt like each piece they played had a fairly different sound and there was a nice balance between louder psychedelic hazes and soft melodies. Additionally, vocalist Jess has a great voice that soars over the instrumentals and demands your attention, and she also has a good deal of stage presence. One would hope that a band that bears the singer’s name has the talent to support it, and this did appear to be the case. At the same time though, while Jess and the Ancient Ones had good stage presence and catchy tunes, they were missing that little extra burst that headline caliber acts have to offer and I did find my attention wavering ever so slightly by the end. I don’t know that at this point I would specifically go just to see them, but this group still made a strong first impression on me and I wouldn’t mind catching another set if they came back through supporting another tour.

After Jess and the Ancient Ones finished there was a lengthy changeover, but the wait was definitely worth it. King Diamond provided one of the most elaborate stage shows I’ve seen that wasn’t a GWAR or Rammstein concert, and this makes sense as each of the albums he has released has focused on telling a story and stirring up imagery in the minds of each listener. A long set of stairs led up to a higher level, where King would pace around and sing with his trademark cross microphone. At the beginning the stage backdrop had brightly illuminated upside down crosses and a Satanic symbol, which later gave way to a giant portrait of King Diamond. There were other stage props in use, and during the first few songs the band had large gates at the front to make it look like they were performing in a graveyard. Once these were removed additional elements were added in, and different performers would come on-stage to represent various characters that have been a part of the albums. It was a treat to watch, and while this was the first time I had seen King Diamond live from what I’ve heard it sounds like this was the biggest stage production he’s done for a full North American tour. It really caught your attention and made the performance that much more memorable.

Elaborate stage setups are great, but it wouldn’t mean much if the music hadn’t lived up to my expectations. Thankfully they were exceeded in almost every way, as not only has King Diamond not lost any of his vocal range over the past two decades but his backing band still has some impressive chops. Rather than telling a cohesive story on-stage by focusing on one particular album from their extensive discography, the group went for more of a greatest hits approach and played material that went from past to present. The set began with “The Candle” from 1986’s Fatal Portrait, and also included select songs from Abigail, “Them,” Conspiracy, and The Eye along with more recent albums like The Puppet Master and Give Me Your Soul….Please. King Diamond still sounds absolutely fantastic and can pull off falsettos without breaking a sweat. It was impressive to see that every high pitched wail can still be perfectly replicated live, especially for songs that were originally recorded over two decades ago. The backing instrumentalists are impressive as well, and I appreciated the fact that the band picked some songs that gave long-time guitarist Andy LaRocque the chance to show off his stuff. For those of you who are wondering, they did play two Mercyful Fate songs, choosing to do “Evil” and “Come to the Sabbath” back to back which whipped the crowd up into a frenzy.

I went into this performance with very high expectations, as King Diamond has released plenty of incredible albums over the years and I was hopeful that they could be replicated live. But I was blown away, as not only is the instrumental work spot on and King’s vocals still at a peak level, but the stage show brought some of the lyrical content to life and had me completely entranced to what was happening in front of me. Baltimore was the second date of the tour and it runs until November 8th where King Diamond will perform at Fun Fun Fun Fest, and if it’s coming to your city and you have any interest whatsoever in the band’s music don’t miss out. Despite the sheer number of incredible shows I have been to in 2014, this one is going to end up near the top.

King Diamond Tour

 

Music:

 

Links:

King Diamond- http://www.kingdiamondcoven.com and http://www.metalblade.com/kingdiamond/
Jess and the Ancient Ones- http://www.jessandtheancientones.com/

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