By the time Fatal Portrait was released in 1986, King Diamond had already established himself as a household name within the metal community through his work in the legendary Mercyful Fate. His distinct high-pitched howl captivated many metalheads on classics like Melissa and Don't Break the Oath, and a 'solo' album naturally seemed like a good idea. Of course, in retrospect, we know that the King's solo ensemble ended up being every bit as successful as Mercyful Fate, but the suspense leading up to Fatal Portrait must've been pretty great back in the mid-eighties'. With a fantastic group of musicians to back up his musical vision, King Diamond delivers nine solid tracks of thrashy traditional heavy metal on this debut. In many ways, Fatal Portrait lacks the maturity and sense of perfection that would be achieved on Abigail, but that's not to discount the quality of this release; although it's not the King's finest hour, Fatal Portrait is still a very worthy debut.
In many ways, the music on Fatal Portrait is quite similar to what was heard on the first two Mercyful Fate albums. There's a bit more of a thrash metal influence this time around, but the roots of the music are still in traditional heavy metal - and, of course, having King Diamond's vocals at front and center is enough to put a unique stamp on any album. The musicians supporting him are all clearly skillful, though it's mostly the guitar playing that really grabs my attention. Both the bass and drum performances are competent enough, but don't strive for much more than that - the fretwork from Andy LaRoque and Michael Denner, on the other hand, is absolutely spectacular. The lead guitar solos are phenomenal across the board, and the powerful riffage doesn't suffer from any shortcomings either. My only real gripe is that, with a few exceptions, the songwriting is generally less remarkable than on later King Diamond efforts. Not all of the songs here are particularly great, but a few excellent tracks like “Haunted” do help save the album from ever feeling mediocre as a whole. Still, there aren't nearly as many jaw-dropping moments as there would be on future releases, and most of Fatal Portrait leans more towards 'average' than it does towards extraordinary.
The production could also be a bit more dynamic, but if truth be told, Fatal Portrait is still a very solid effort from King Diamond. The riffs are powerful, the musicianship is impressive, and the King's vocals are as unique as ever. Fatal Portrait is not a high point in his career, though, and newcomers to King Diamond's music should make sure to check out a few other albums (either as a solo artist or with Mercyful Fate) before giving this a listen. Next time around is when things would really start getting good...