Diamond Head: the return of the band who invented Metallica
NWOBHM survivors Diamond Head are back with their first album in nearly 10 years.
Diamond Head, the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal legends – and darlings of Metallica’s Lars Ulrich – are back with a brand new, self-titled studio album, their first since 2007’s What’s In Your Head? DH mainman, founding guitarist Brian Tatler, looks back at the band’s legacy and ponders their future with new frontman, Denmark-born Rasmus Bom Andersen, on board.
The new albums could be described as classic Diamond Head with a modern edge. Would you agree with that?
I think that describes it perfectly. We have used modern digital technology to record, Pro Tools, Diezel and Blackstar amps, re-amping the bass – twice – but the whole album was written by the band in a room. It’s a very old-school way of writing, but it’s how Diamond Head used to write. I even had my cassette recorder with me to tape any new ideas and all the rehearsals. The next day I would go through the tapes with my notepad and make any changes or improvements to arrangements and parts. I had made demos for most of the songs at home but everything went through hefty re-writes in the rehearsal room and a lot of stuff was created on the spot when the vibe was right.
What are the standout tracks on the album as far as you are concerned?
I have two favourites. The first is Bones, this had a great vibe in the rehearsal room. I wrote the verse and bridge parts ages ago, then in rehearsal our bassist Eddie [Moohan] came up with the chorus riff and once we had that the song felt complete. We were literally jumping up and down with excitement to that song. My second favourite is All The Reasons You Live. In 2008 I started going over to my good friend Dave ‘Shirt’ Nicholls’ house, who happens to be Slipknot’s front-of-house sound engineer. Dave has a Pro Tools rig in his house and we would write songs together. I kept this demo and gave it to Ras [Rasmus Bom Andersen] in 2014, he liked it and we began working on it in rehearsal. A few bits were chopped out and other parts were extended but I always liked the groove; I insisted that drummer Karl Wilcox played bank-cash or a straight groove in both verses. My eureka moment came when I heard Rasmus’ guide vocal. Until that moment I had been concentrating on getting the music right and once I heard what Ras had for the verses it blew me away – it’s a brilliant vocal melody.
If you had to pick one highlight from DH’s career, what would it be?
Diamond Head were asked to play the Friday night of the Reading Festival on August 27, 1982, appearing in the special guest slot just before headliners Budgie. The scheduled band Manowar had been forced to pull out due to visa complications – some wag suggested they could not get their swords through security– and with top booking agent Neil Warnock at The Agency on our side plus a £7,000 buy-on from our record label, MCA, we were in business. The gig was booked at such short notice that it was too late for us to be included on the posters or in the programme so not many people knew Diamond Head were on. We rehearsed our 50-minute set solidly the entire week before; we knew there would be no soundcheck and wanted to be ultra-prepared. We were picked up and taken to Reading in a coach that had no heating and was blowing cold air because it was off to Spain the following day for Julio Iglesias. We were all frozen and entered the festival site like pensioners wrapped up in coats and some old tartan blankets we found on the coach.
The set-up at Reading used two stages, so while the crowd was watching Randy California and his big frizzy afro, our gear was being set up. We went on stage to check our amps were all working and sounding okay and as I stood playing a few chords a woman wearing headphones came running over from the other stage shouting: “Do you mind, we’re recording a live album!” I stopped for a minute and then thought: “Fuck off! I’m about to play the biggest gig of my life! Why should I care about a bit of spillage on your mics?”
I was told later by some Diamond Head fans who didn’t want to see Manowar were on their way back to the campsite when they heard the intro tape to Am I Evil? blasting out from the PA. Some said that they ran all the way back to force their way to the front of the stage. It was amazing to see and hear so many people reacting to Diamond Head. There were no monitors working on my side of the stage and the only way I could check I was still in time with Duncan was to glance round and follow his snare-drum arm going up and down. This is probably my favourite ever gig and took the band up to another level. The crowd was great, we had a major record deal, it was a good performance, and everything seemed to be going so well. Reading 1982 was as good as it got for the classic line-up.
…And the lowest point in DH’s career?
Probably when the band split up in 1983. Sean and I decided to fire our drummer Duncan who had been with us both though thick and thin since day one… that was horrible. Then once Colin had finished the bass parts on our third album, Canterbury, he quit because it had stopped being fun. As Duncan later quipped: “Nothing takes the fun out of being in a band like making an album with Mike Shipley” [who produced the Canterbury album]. Sean and I were down to a duo and although we got in better players, Diamond Head was never the same again in all sorts of ways. Sean and I did not appreciate what we were losing in Colin and Duncan, they had not progressed as fast and rarely contributed to the songwriting but that could also be a good thing in that there were not four egos all vying for attention, that can sometimes split a band up. A band is very fragile balance – you have to have chiefs and Indians. My best excuse is that we were very young, ambitious and ill advised.
The Canterbury album, where DH adopted a prog-rock direction, still divides fans and critics. What is your view on the record now?
For a few years I didn’t want to listen to it; all I could hear was the effort that went into each little bit. I certainly didn’t hear it as a whole piece of music. I love some of the songs and the production is great but it came at a heavy price, not only did the album split the band but it also reduced Sean and I to quivering wrecks and cost a small fortune. Ultimately we spent more money making it than it made back. I don’t even think it had a proper release in the US so didn’t really sell that well overall. To the MCA accountants, unless they could get Diamond Head back on track and making money by changing the obviously inexperienced management, then dropping us was their safest option.
What do you think about all these obscure NWOBHM bands coming out of the woodwork (who only released a couple of singles) and suddenly proclaiming themselves to be NWOBHM legends?
Not sure what to say about that, a lot of them are weekend warriors. It’s up to them I guess, if they can play a European festival and have a bit of fun, why not!
Metallica have covered DH songs including Helpless, Am I Evil? and The Prince. If DH decided to cover a Metallica song or two, which one(s) would they be, and why?
I reckon we could do a good version of Harvester Of Sorrow, I have always liked the groove on that song and it’s not too difficult to play! I have seen Metallica play it live many times and it’s a cool fat riff. I would also have a bash at Cyanide, Blackened or maybe Through The Never, all good songs that may suit the Diamond Head sound. My favourite Metallica song is One.
The Big Four of Thrash Metal are Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax. If DH could be considered one of the Big Four of the NWOBHM, who would the other three bands be?
Realistically it would have to be Iron Maiden because they are so huge and have been very true to the style and sound they created back in the late 1970s. A very consistent band who know the value of their brand and have built it up from nothing to packing stadiums all over the world – it’s no easy feat, especially for a British band. Next would be Saxon, a band who have been constantly touring and making albums for forty years. Songs like Wheels Of Steel are NWOBHM classics that still sound good today. My third choice would, of course be Bloodshot Eyes… just kidding! I guess I would pick Def Leppard even though Joe Elliott wants nothing to do with the NWOBHM. I thought they were great, I heard them on Andy Peebles’ Radio One show and liked them instantly, I went out and bought their three-track single Getcha Rocks Off and thought that was great, and I saw them support Sammy Hagar at Birmingham Odeon in 1979. It was so inspiring to see a band my age onstage rather than 10 years older. I thought: “I can do that.”