Night time in Budapest
So many people are waiting in line
Darkness without a glow
What a night to be watching a Christmas show
Every great horror story needs its appropriately eerie setting. It would be hard to imagine Bram Stoker’s Dracula
without the dark forests and ancient mountain castles of Transylvania, and H.P. Lovecraft’s ability to make his readers feel as if something very cold and slimy was inching its way up their spines would be far less effective without the inherent creepiness of his preferred New England locations. King Diamond’s gruesome tale "The Puppet Master" is no exception, and relies heavily on the looming gothic aura of its Budapest setting.
The Grammy Award nominated Danish heavy metal musician Kim Bendix Peterson is better known by his stage name King Diamond. His first taste of success was as vocalist for Mercyful Fate, a band often named as a major influence by many black, thrash, power, and progressive metal artists. The band still performs occasionally, but often takes second place to Peterson’s eponymous solo project, King Diamond. All the vocals and the bulk of the music for King Diamond are written by Peterson, with acclaimed guitarist Andy LaRocque being the next most significant contributor. Peterson is widely regarded as one of the finest heavy metal vocalists with a multi-octave range, and his trademark skin-crawling falsetto adds a further chill to the horror story subject matter of his lyrics.
The song "The Puppet Master" is the first track on the album of the same name, released in 2003. Like every other solo album Peterson has released, The Puppet Master
is a concept album, telling a continuous horror story through the lyrics from the very first track to the very last. Like some of his other albums (like Them
and House of God
), the story is told from the first person perspective of King Diamond himself. A few tracks on the album feature the vocals of singer Livia Zita. Her voice is reserved for the character Victoria, King’s beloved in the album’s plot, and it’s interesting to note that Zita has since married Peterson.
The album’s plot goes down in Budapest, Hungary. King sees a Christmas puppet show in a local theatre, containing grotesquely life-like human sized puppets, looking "like children with plague in their flesh." At some point in the show, the puppet master drops his strings, and yet magically the puppets keep performing. After the show, King meets Victoria and they fall deeply in love over the following year. The next Christmas, Victoria goes to the theatre alone and does not return. King goes searching for her, and follows the puppet master’s wife Emerencia through the deserted streets of Budapest. After seeing her murder a homeless person, he trails her into the theatre. King is then knocked out and tied to hospital bed. The puppet master and his wife, in a bizarre mix of surgery and occult ritual, begin to drain his blood. Having with dark magic trapped King’s soul in his eyes, they are removed and placed into the head of a puppet made from his own skin. He spots the eyes of Victoria in the head of another puppet on the shelf. After their reunion in puppet form, King and Victoria are injected with their own life blood and trained to dance. Victoria stumbles and causes several jars of the precious puppet blood to break on the floor. In anger, the puppet master sends her away to his other theatre in Berlin. In the next Christmas show, King plays the little drummer boy and intentionally falls down to revenge himself on the puppet master. He is then sold to a little shop and pinned on the wall by a nail through his throat, watching decades pass from the insignificant glimmer of consciousness left to him. The tale begins here at its end in the first track "Midnight," with the puppet King recounting his tragic, terrifying tale.
Though the mood, conjured by its tall ancient building and narrow streets on a moonlit night, makes for great horror story atmosphere, Budapest is one of the brightest and most illustrious cities in Europe. It is considered the financial hub of the continental economy, and often cited as one of the most beautiful European cities. The tourist trade is booming, as Budapest is home to not only the second oldest underground railway and synagogue in the world, but also contains the largest known thermal water cave system, with a total of eighty geothermal springs around which one can easily find an excellent spa. Located on two opposite banks of the Danube River, the name comes from the integration of the two cities on either bank, Buda and Pest. These two cities, along with the several inhabited islands dotting the Danube that separates them, combine to form the contemporary cosmopolitan capital known as Budapest.
The city has produced a diverse range of notable people, from the brilliant Hungarian-American polymath John von Neumann to the much ogled porn star Eve Angel. As far as horror goes, the original screen vampire, Bela Lugosi, received his degree from the University of Budapest.
Horror isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but to dismiss its cathartic and insightful effects on the grounds that they offend your sensibilities is to dismiss the authority of long-standing tragic, romantic and macabre theatrical traditions. The darker side of life does not become more horrible by being represented artistically, but rather becomes easier to confront and manage. We fear nothing quite so much as the unknown and horror, artistically expressed, gives form and comprehension to those fears, easing them in the process. King Diamond’s approach is anticipated in many a tragic opera, but contemporary artists that seek to tell a terrifying tale through song and music have realised that a heavily distorted electric guitar sure does come in handy. Music has an undeniable effect on our emotional states, and if you want proof, just try muting the sound the next time you watch a horror movie, but be prepared for boredom.
~ Stefan Smit