"Fatal Portrait" is the debut full-length studio album by Danish/Swedish heavy metal act King Diamond. The album was released through Roadrunner Records in February 1986. After the demise of Danish heavy metal act Mercyful Fate in April 1985, because of creative differences between lead vocalist King Diamond and guitarist Hank Shermann, King Diamond formed a new band using his stage name as the new band name. Former Mercyful Fate guitarist Michael Denner and bassist Timi Hansen also joined King Diamond. New second guitarist was Andy LaRoque and new drummer Mikkey Dee. Both Swedes. King Diamond shifted his lyrical focus and imagery from satanic/occult themes to horror stories. Mainly delivered in concept album form.
..."Fatal Portrait" is one of the few exceptions in the band´s discography though, as only some of the tracks on the album form a concept story, while the rest are individual tracks with no conceptual connection to each other. In short the concept story is about a girl who is locked in the attic by her mother, dies and then comes back as a ghost/spirit to haunt her mother (there are more to the story, but these are the basics).
Compared to the murky, occult and at times anarchistic material by Mercyful Fate (atonal soloing, challenging song structures, loose rythm structures), the music on "Fatal Portrait" is generally more streamlined and melodic heavy metal with a few nods toward thrash/power metal delivered in a theatrical fashion. King Diamond´s high pitched vocals and harmony vocals provide the music with a very distinct sound, but the guitar playing by Andy LaRoque should also be mentioned as an exceptional element on "Fatal Portrait". Michael Denner is a great guitarist too with his melodic playing style, but Andy LaRoque really is something special to my ears. The musicianship is overall excellent though and all involved deserve a mention for their tight inventive playing.
The material is generally of high quality. The tracks are memorable and feature both melodic and harder edged qualities. It´s a great dynamic mix of elements that provide "Fatal Portrait" with enough variation to ensure it a longevity that not many albums possess. Tracks like "The Portrait", the unbelievably melodic "Dressed in White" and "Haunted" are among the highlights. I know "Halloween" is probably the most famous track from "Fatal Portrait" but personally I´ve always felt it was among the weakest tracks. Still great though.
Taking into account that "Fatal Portrait" was released in 1986, the sound production is pretty strong. Sure the guitar sound could have been a bit more powerful, but other than that the production is really enjoyable.
While you can loosely associate the music with traditional heavy metal, King Diamond´s original approach to singing (he was/is of course strongly influenced by singers like Dave Byron (Uriah Heep) and Rob Halford (Judas Priest)) and arranging and the general image of the band were pretty unique back in 1986 (and still is today). With vocals this distinct sounding, the music of King Diamond will always be an aquired taste, but to the fans this is a fantastic start to a fantastic career for the band. A 4 - 4.5 star (85%) rating is deserved.