Dreams of Horror is the title of King Diamond's career-spanning 2014 compilation — and it's a fitting one. The Danish heavy-metal vocalist, known for his shrieking falsetto, black top hat and unholy corpse paint, has long suffered from night terrors, which have inspired many of his greatest songs. "I've had so many bad dreams," he says. "I've had times where I woke up and thought I killed somebody. For 15 minutes I was lying there contemplating, 'How the fuck am I gonna cover this up?'"
It would indeed be a challenge for a public figure as iconic as King Diamond to get away with murder. The frontman for occult-metal pioneers Mercyful Fate and the eponymously named band responsible for such spooky conceptual classics as Abigail and "Them," he has one of the most recognizable voices in the history of the genre. He's also a card-carrying member of the Church of Satan (he famously met with founder Anton LaVey in the Eighties) and was one of the first metal musicians to perform in corpse paint, a look that directly inspired the miscreants behind Scandinavian black metal's infamous second wave. But his influence doesn't stop there. Metallica covered his songs. Phil Anselmo warms up to his albums. Kerry King even cites Mercyful Fate as the prime inspiration for Slayer's Hell Awaits.
All of which suits King Diamond just fine. But it's his dreams that compel him forward — and they are vivid. "A lot of the time, you are relieved when you wake up because it was not good stuff," he says. "You have all these bad things — people die, pets die, weird stuff happens, you run into people who smash your car, sometimes you get into a fight and you hit hard but nothing happens. It's usually these things that are not realistic. You take flight and then you feel this falling sensation. When you hit the ground, that's when you wake up. And you almost scream. You wake up sweating, maybe one arm is numb and you're like, 'What the fuck was that shit, man?'"
Exploring this hellish, ever-shifting dreamscape has become Diamond's lifelong mission and creative wellspring. "When you have a nightmare, you think, 'What caused this?'" he ventures. "And then you can sometimes get the same scenario two or three nights, back to back. Or something really bad happens and you feel absolutely sad and do not want it to be real. You don't want to fall asleep and get sucked back into that same dream. But sometimes I do feel like I want to go back into that nasty shit and see if I can fix it."
Diamond has spent much of his career writing songs about his blood-curdling dreams, dating back to "Nightmare" on Mercyful Fate's world-beating 1984 album, Don't Break the Oath. "That was about a recurring dream I had when I was a kid," he explains. "My brother was sleeping in a bed on the opposite wall of my bed in a room we shared. All of a sudden, the door opened and people in hooded cloaks started coming in. They stood around my bed, pointing at me and saying, 'You're living on borrowed time from your fate!' I was trying to scream to wake my brother up, but I had no voice, of course."
These days, KD lives in the Dallas suburbs with his Hungarian-born wife, Livia. He's just finished work on a forthcoming live DVD and is getting ready to start production on the first King Diamond album since 2007's Give Me Your Soul…Please. "This album is gonna be written in a very special way," he explains. "I have the title, and the storyline is 90 percent complete. I don't wanna give away too much, but I don't think I can fit it all in one album, so there will probably be a second one."
As far as the record's concept, he'll say only that it's a multi-layered story related to the life-saving triple bypass surgery he had in late 2010. "My worst nightmare ever is in it," he reveals. "That was when I woke up after the big heart surgery. I was on a breathing machine, and I freaked out because it felt like I was choking to death. I tried to pull the tube out of my mouth, and when Livia saw that she ran for help immediately. They came in and I thought, 'Oh, finally. They can help me not die.' But instead they grabbed my arms and legs and tied me down to the hospital bed. I couldn't communicate at all. I was living Metallica's 'One.'"
He says he's toying with the idea of using the sound of the hospital ventilator as the intro to the new record, and to the band's live show when they start playing again this summer. "I don't care what hell looks like," he says. "It'll never beat that feeling I got of being slowly, constantly choked. Just hearing that again will give me nightmares, I can tell you that."
Though Diamond's post-surgery shock was more of a living nightmare, he says he's had a recurring visitor to his REM cycle for the last 20 years. "I have this dream where I get chased through a park by Nazis in the Second World War. They finally catch up to me in an apartment somewhere, but I don't know what happens next."
This nightmare probably stems from genuine war stories told by Diamond's father, who was a member of the Danish resistance during WWII, when the Nazis occupied his country. "My dad was a freedom fighter in Denmark against the occupational forces — the SS and the Gestapo and all that," he explains. "He told me some stories, but I sometimes wonder if I could have been there myself, because the nightmares are so vivid and clear and it's always exactly the same."
As of this writing, Diamond is 62 years old. His father passed away in 1987. "I still have my dad's armband," he says. "I also have his dog tag from 'The Fire Brigade,' as it was called, which he was in when he had to flee Denmark because some of his group was taken by the Nazis and spoke under torture. So my father and some other guys fled to Sweden and joined a commando corps called the Fire Brigade."
He says his father eventually returned to Denmark to help the Allied Forces take Copenhagen back. "They were supposed to protect the firefighters once the Allies started bombing the Germans in Copenhagen. They expected a lot of fires, and firefighters would have to be there to put them out. And they expected to be shot at by the Germans while they were putting out the fires. That's why they had the Fire Brigade — to take care of those Germans."
"Afterwards, there was a lot of 'cleaning up' in Denmark," he says ominously. "There were a lot of bad things that happened through five years of occupation. Many people had been on this side or that side — some willingly, some not willingly. So he was also part of that. I have pictures of him from back then, and he looks like he's in a movie. Of course, when you're a kid you ask, 'Did you ever kill anyone?' But he would never tell me."
The plot thickens when you learn that Diamond has a pair of Nazi SS boots in his living room. As the story goes, they were abandoned at a farm near the Hungarian village where his wife grew up. When the Russians invaded Hungary, the officer went to the farm and forced the farmer into giving him civilian clothes so he could escape unnoticed. The villagers claim that the farmer killed the officer instead — and that he died wearing those boots. The only person who didn't endorse that version was the farmer himself.
Some years ago, Livia's father procured the boots from the farmer's family and gave them to King as a Christmas gift. (Ironic, given that King Diamond's debut single was called "No Presents for Christmas.") King is convinced the officer has been haunting him ever since. He told me the story back in 2013: "The same night Livia's father gave me the boots, about two in the morning, I hear this noise from hell. It was coming from inside the house, no doubt about it. It woke everyone up. I grabbed my gun and started turning lights on. But there's fucking nothing — nothing out of place, nothing. But I think it's the Nazi. I think he's here."
Diamond's nocturnal anxieties don't end there. Given the preparation required to get into costume and makeup before a show every night, he's understandably haunted by a scenario in which he doesn't have enough time to get ready. "Another nightmare I have is that security comes to pick me up at the hotel where I'm supposed to do my makeup," he says. "But I'm so tired from driving overnight that I had to sleep and I didn't hear the alarm. They come and get me and I do not have enough time to put my makeup on before the show. I'm letting everybody down. So I always tell our crew that if I don't answer the door when they come get me, knock it down!"
That dream he had about killing someone, though? There are actually two of them. But the most vivid by far starts with King and his bandmates onstage at an outdoor festival. The full-capacity crowd is loving every minute of the group's theatrical metal mastery. Between songs, longtime King Diamond guitarist Andy LaRocque starts playing a rock & roll riff. "I remember thinking, 'No, no — you cannot do this. We are playing metal here, not rock & roll,'" Diamond explains. "But he kept playing the riff, so I freaked out and left the stage. Now, I have nothing against rock & roll, but that's not what we do. Sure enough, the crowd started throwing stuff at us and chaos started."
In an effort to escape the barrage of projectiles, King ducks backstage only to run into two women wearing his iconic makeup. "Then somebody attacked me and I smacked them with the mic stand," he says. "I had to get away after that, and there were all these people trying to leave because the concert got stopped. I was still in full makeup and was trying to push my way through. Finally, I got out to a road that led up to this hill. I walked up the hill and then someone spotted me and started running after me. I knocked him down and started jumping on his skull 'til it cracked. It was absolutely gross and out of line. Then I ran to our bus and yelled at the driver, 'Just go!' I've had that one so many times."
Then there's the dream he had that eventually came true. Over two decades ago, Diamond wrote a song called "From the Other Side," which became the opening track on his 1995 album, The Spider's Lullabye. "When you hear 'From the Other Side,' it's like being on an operating table," he explains. "Suddenly you're on the ceiling looking down at the doctors who are fighting for you. Are you gonna get a second chance or not? And that scenario was later very much true for me when I had the heart surgery. I looked down and saw my soul being pushed out by some demon. I had to go back and fight that demon to make space for my soul again. So that was something that started out as a dream, but then I later experienced it."
After hearing Diamond's litany of nightmares, we feel compelled to ask if he's ever had a dream that he wishes would come true. "Like winning the lottery?" he replies with a laugh. "I have probably had that dream at some time."