Live review: King Diamond comes back to Pittsburgh, brings the great Jess and the Ancient Ones

King Diamond at Stage AE  (Photo by Brian Krasman)

King Diamond at Stage AE (Photo by Brian Krasman)

Most of us never will be in the presence of royalty. We wouldn’t be allowed that close anyway. Most of us never will be in the room with a U.S. president or world leader. I have been before, and it’s really not a big deal to me at all. But being in the room with some of the most important figures in the history of metal is attainable, and I was able to be within arm’s length of one over the weekend.

This entry is a pivotal one for this site, for we never have run a live show review before. For the most part, those bore me and I don’t see the point in them. But when you’re in a photo pit mere feet away from King Diamond and you get to see an artist who shaped your taste in metal and that you never saw in the flesh before, things change. So here I was, this past Sunday at Stage AE on Pittsburgh’s North Shore, a stone’s throw from Heinz Field where the Steelers play (badly) watching King Diamond’s crew assemble the cemetery gates that adorn the front of his stage. I couldn’t believe my luck. Here I am, this guy who runs a metal site that pales in comparison to the big ones out there, and I’m going to be able to witness King Diamond, with no barriers in front of me and with me being able to document the evening. How can you ask for more than that?

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Jess from Jess and the Ancient Ones at Stage AE (Photo by Brian Krasman)

Well, before we get to the King, we had openers Jess and the Ancient Ones, a band we’ve made no bones about loving thoroughly and who I was really excited to see live. This is a band that, if they did their own U.S. tour, likely and understandably would not hit Pittsburgh. But luckily our headliner has good taste as he hand-picked the group to open his tour. The Finnish band, led by the alluring and powerful singer Jess, looked totally up to the challenge of playing before a roomful of rabid King Diamond fans, and they seemed to do a killer job converting the masses. Jess wailed, let the moment strike her as she seemed caught in a trance some moments, in the throes of dark magic the others, while her band blistered away, delivering their unique brand of occult rock that’s sticky and totally intoxicating. This has to raise the band’s U.S. profile.

When their time came around 8:15, the band wasted no time launching into “Prayer for Fire and Death,” the first track on their self-titled debut from 2012, a record I’ve pretty much overdosed on ever since getting the music. They play with a great amount of confidence, with Jess stomping the floor, her body writhing, and her voice taking command. From there it was into the great “Astral Sabbat” from the EP of the same name, and the thing has a restless spirit and mysterious fire to it that could sweep you right up. “Sulfur Giants,” the best song in their canon and also from their debut, brought the place to the ground, with Jess constantly returning to her infectious refrain of, “I wish I’d never been born.” A brand new track “Casteneda” followed, and it was well tempered and made a nice impact on the set. The band finished off their rousing set with two more from their debut record with “Devil (in G Minor)” and “Come Crimson Death.” It was pretty obvious milling through the crowd that the band turned a ton of heads, and they had a decent amount of customers at their merch table. Also, retreating to the back of the room for the end of their set, it was stunning how the band’s sound and Jess’ incredible voice had no problem making it to the back of the hall with force. Can’t wait to see them again.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.jessandtheancientones.com/

To buy their albums, go here: http://svartrecords.com/shoppe/en/

For more on their label, go here: http://www.svartrecords.com/

King Diamond and Andy Larocque (Photo by Brian Krasman)

King Diamond and Andy Larocque (Photo by Brian Krasman)

The excitement was obvious for the arrival of King Diamond who, on his own, had not played in Pittsburgh since 1998 (though he had been in town since then with Mercyful Fate). An imposing set of cemetery gates were assembled at the front of the stage, and when the curtain dropped, it revealed a huge, elaborate set that looked like a horribly haunted house, with stairways on each end for the band members to enter and frequently use during the set. Opener “The Candle” from the King’s debut album “Fatal Portrait” kicked off with great dramatics, with our star appearing at the top of the set to unleash his unmistakable and still powerful falsetto. The whole band was jammed full of energy, with King Diamond looking like he is more than enjoying his second chance at life. He reached through the gates, played air guitar on his skeletal microphone stand, and barely stood still for a second while he sounded like a man half his age. By the time the band rolled into “Sleepless Nights,” the machine was absolutely on fire, channeling their heathen best and pounding through the beloved basher from the “Conspiracy” album. Then the song most people probably came to hear arrived early, as the King belted into “Welcome Home,” complete with Jodi Cachia under the grandma mask, as she and her grandson tussled, taunted one another, and finally ended their battle with our face-painted hero coming out the victor. It was a haunting and fun moment, where you get a little sense of humor with your horror.

(Photo by Brian Krasman)

(Photo by Brian Krasman)

From there, the band dashed through classic after classic, touching on “Never Ending Hill” from “Give Me Your Soul … Please”; the title track from “The Puppet Master”; and a jaunt though “Tea,” “Digging Graves” and “A Visit From the Dead.” When the opening strains of Mercyful Fate staple “Evil” launched, the crowd burst to life again, as King sounded a great as he did 30 years ago on this thing, with longtime guitarist Andy LaRocque blazing and completely dominating the song. It was his finest moment of the night, which is saying something because he was awesome throughout. Another Fate cut “Come to the Sabbath” fed off the momentum, and once again, everyone just nailed the thing, with a ritual going on behind the King as he wailed away. “Shapes of Black” and “Eye of the Witch” put the finishing touches on the main set, before all the morons who apparently never have been to a live show and had no idea an encore was coming started to file out of Stage AE. Their loss, as “Cremation” followed a brief break by the band, with the song feeling both liturgical and utterly evil. From there, the band headed into two cuts from “Abigail” with “The Family Ghost” and tremendous “Black Horsemen,” before reflective, eerie “Insanity” from “The Eye” sent the audience home happy and wonderfully enchanted.

It was an amazing night for a life-long metal fan such as me, as well as the mix of young and old (and everyone in between). It was a spirited evening, the people seemed well behaved and genuinely happy to be there, and both bands more than delivered. If you have a chance to see this tour, absolutely go. It’s always a great night when you can spend it listening to one of the most storied acts in metal in King Diamond. Plus, to hear an up-and-coming band such as Jess and the Ancient Ones prove the stage wasn’t too big for them and that they utterly belong bodes well for the future.

(Thanks a ton to Earsplit PR for their help with getting photo access and media privileges for the show.)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.kingdiamondcoven.com/

To buy their albums, go here: http://www.indiemerchstore.com/b/king-diamond/

For more on their label, go here: http://www.metalblade.com/us/