He joined the Church of Satan before Marilyn Manson was old enough to drink. He went beer-for-beer with Metallica during their "Alcoholica" period. He laid the groundwork for Scandinavia's fire-breathing extreme metal bands, using human bones for a microphone stand and exploding onstage effigies with his early Eighties breakthrough group Mercyful Fate. Now the helium-voiced hellion and cult heavy metal legend known as King Diamond is plotting his first North American tour in nearly a decade.
Following triple-bypass surgery in 2010, the typically loud-mouthed, makeup-wearing banshee howler has been lying low, playing only a handful of dates in Europe in the past couple of years. But the 58-year-old Dane, born Kim Petersen, intends to come back to North America in a big way, bringing a show complete with magical illusions and extravagant stage design. "Some theaters are going to expand the stage a little bit, so we can fit," he says. "It'll be the biggest production anyone has seen in these theaters. There will also be some really freaky surprises." As the stories that he tells Rolling Stone about his literally haunted past reveal, "surprise" is not a word King Diamond takes lightly.
What sorts of freaky things can fans expect on your North American tour?
It's a very dark show. King Diamond was always more Satanic than Mercyful Fate. And I'm not saying anything bad about Mercyful Fate – I love that band but sometimes people forget that King Diamond is the Satanic philosophy through and through. I was a made an eternal member of the Church of Satan by Anton LeVey himself in 1988.
Where did you get the bones for the microphone stand you made out of a femur and tibia?
My younger brother's schoolmate's dad was a surgeon. He taught students how to operate on donated bodies, and when they were done, they would strip the skin off the bodies and put the bones in barrels. He took a couple of bones home to his son, and my brother convinced him to give it to him. I feel like the person who they belonged to is now getting to see the world in a different way. I don't mean that in a sick way at all.
Over the past 30 years, have you ever experienced customs issues, transporting bones from country to country?
No. But once in the King Diamond band's early days, I carried them in my suitcase. One time, I was late to catch a plane at Heathrow, and the staff said it was too late to check the luggage, that I had to bring my bag on the plane. I watched it as it went through the X-ray, and there it was. But the security guy said, "OK, you better run, sir, if you want to catch the plane." I said, "Yeah, I think I'll do that." But it's not like I'm smuggling corpses around the world.
How has the stage show changed since the Mercyful Fate days?
Back then we didn't have money for effects, so we made our own. I am actually a trained lab assistant. I used to borrow oxygen and magnesium powder to make flash pots at home, and I would experiment with very small portions of explosives, trying get this little mushroom cloud coming up in my home.
What was the most grotesque thing you used to do?
When I was in the band Black Rose, I had a friend that worked at a butchery who would get me pigs' heads that I would tie together. He would also bring pigs' guts and pigs' blood, and I would fill that into little plastic bag. I put it in a the stomach of a big doll onstage, and I would stab it. It looked so real. And I would stick my hand in and pull the guts out from the stomach and throw them into the audience. It was completely gross. I wouldn't do that today.
You don't need to use real, sticky pigs' blood, which smells really bad, too. I would stand there with it in my hands and everything is sticky. Your hand became one with the microphone, it seemed. Eventually, you find out there is theatrical blood and it really doesn't cost very much.
What is life like for you, since your surgery?
I have a braided, metal wire going down the middle of my chest, underneath my skin. I saw it on an X-ray of it; it looks like a piece of jewelry. When they sawed me open to do the operation, my ribcage was like a double door, to be blunt. They put the wire in to help it grow back together. I'm lucky. You can barely see where I was glued together. I can't take painkillers, because they thin my blood. So when I have pain, I have to live with it. But that's how it is. To get a second chance is amazing.
What was the hardest part of your recovery process?
It's tough to learn to breathe again. The doctors collapsed my lungs to do the work. When I woke up, it felt like I was being choked to death. I tried to pull the tubes out of my throat. The doctors tied me down to the bed. In my head, I was thinking, "Fucking kill me." It was horrible. I'm going to have to describe that feeling on the next album.
So you're working on a new album?
We've done a lot of stuff. We are going in some new ways that are going to be amazing. I've been building a studio so I can do my vocals at home. Once it's completed, we can start recording. I have a title for a new record, but I won't say it. [The record] will encompass the things I need to write about after what I went through. But I can't say much about it because I haven't talked to the rest of the band about it.
You have a friendship with Metallica that goes back decades. Did you ever bring them over to your haunted apartment?
Lars [Ulrich] and James [Hetfield] came over one time in the mid-Eighties, when Timi Hansen, Mercyful Fate's bassist, was there. He had a girl over. I took the Metallica guys to my room, where I had a foosball table and left Timi and the girl in the living room where I had my altar. We heard this big bang from the living room, and I opened the door and said, "What the hell are you doing, Timi?" And he was just sitting over there, totally paralyzed with the girl. Everything from the top of my altar was spread out on the floor and all the bottles on the table were knocked over, but he didn't do it. He also said that he was looking through my records and got tossed back.
Later, the girl went to the bathroom and seemed to stay in there forever. I thought she might have been getting sick in there, so I walked into the hallway and could hear her crying. I said, "What the hell is wrong?" She said, "I can't open the door. It's locked. Something's growling at me." So I grabbed the door and opened it no problem. "It growled at me right in my face," she said. We were all drunk, so I don't know how much it registered with James and Lars.
What was it like drinking with those guys back then?
We used to see who could get the other to cancel a few interviews on tour, by giving each other hangovers. Lars got me good one time in San Antonio. We went to a club, and it was tequila night. Man, I could barely walk the next day. But I got him back another time, where he actually had to admit that he had to cancel all his interviews. It was just some of the good, old fun times.