They were on the forefront of the British metal scene during one of the most important and impactful eras of the genre – the late 1970s and early 1980s, best known for what became dubbed the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM).
Formed in 1977 in a suburb of Birmingham, Diamond Head were on the same circuit as a nascent Iron Maiden, a fledgling Saxon, the upstart youngsters in Def Leppard and a brooding, menacing Lemmy and Motorhead. Songs such as Am I Evil, The Prince, Helpless and It’s Electric from the band’s first album, Lightning to the Nations, as well as subsequent releases like Shoot Out The Lights, Play It Loud and Sweet and Innocent were lapped up by true blue metalheads around the world, even though Diamond Head was still essentially an indie band, and their records were hard to come by outside of the UK.
It has become a legendary story, but it bears repeating that Diamond Head’s early albums were influential and inspiring to a quartet of greasy thrashers in California who would soon go by the name Metallica.
Over the past 30 years, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich has repeatedly paid homage to Diamond Head in interviews, and the band has helped immortalize the music of their heroes through their own recorded versions of Am I Evil, The Prince, It’s Electric and Helpless on various albums.
Diamond Head are true metal pioneers and are revelling in a bit of a renaissance thanks to the critical and popular acclaim afforded to them upon the release of their most recent self-titled album which came out last summer.
“You know it’s a strange but wonderful thing because I would never have thought we would still be going after 40 years. Because you form a band for fun and to be with your friends and you want to play music and you want to be like your heroes but we’re proof that you can have a career playing guitar for the rest of your life if you hang on in there. I do think Diamond Head is a survivor – we have had our ups and downs but we are doing very well at the moment,” said Brian Tatler, the band’s lead guitarist, who was Diamond Head’s co-founder and shared primary songwriting duties with singer Sean Harris, who left the band in 2004.
There are parallels between Diamond Head and Canada’s metal gods Anvil in that both band’s careers started out with tons of promise, and they were popular and influential to succeeding generations of rockers. Bad choices, bad luck, bad timing and band management muted Anvil’s career, although they are still givin’ ‘er a couple hundred nights a year. But as we found out watching the documentary, Anvil: The Story of Anvil, to paraphrase Bon Scott, it’s a long way to the top, if you wanna rock and roll.
Diamond Head has faced similar ill fortune. Management missed incredible opportunities through ignorance and ineptitude, completely stunting a career that, by rights and based on the initial buzz created by the band, should have them considered to be one of the top bands from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Diamond Head was even steven with the likes of Iron Maiden, Saxon, Motorhead and Def Leppard – all contemporaries, but because of the slings and arrows of outrageous music business fortune, never followed those bands to fame and fortune.
“It’s a little bit frustrating, obviously, when I get asked about the past. A lot of people want to know what happened here, what happened there. It is frustrating and in hindsight I can see where we went wrong, what we should have done – but that’s the older and wiser self talking today. But you don’t know what you’re doing at 19. You sign publishing deals and record deals. We signed this and that and we also didn’t have the right management. I don’t know, all I can say is nobody’s perfect. We all make mistakes, the question is can you survive those problems and can you keep it going, or are you just going to crawl into your shell and let the world pass you by? We chose to keep going as best we can,” Tatler said, adding that he is at peace with the past and is just happy to be able to continue to create music, and derive his living from it – something 99 per cent of those who pick up a guitar can’t say they do.
“Listen, success in this business is definitely not about talent and songs alone. I always think Diamond Head has ‘it’ – whatever ‘it’ may be. But even that was not enough. We needed the right people around us to advise us and put us in the right situations to succeed and take us forward in a constructive, planned way. We didn’t have that and, ultimately, the band split up a couple of times and got dropped by labels a couple of times. But I am excited and energized because we put this album out last year, and it has been so well received. It has given us the confidence to press forward even more. So last year was one of our busiest years touring wise and this year is becoming very busy as well. So things just keep moving forward and it’s great.”
When asked why he has been so persistent and shows such almost stubborn determination to keep Diamond Head going as a viable and relevant musical entity, he said the answer is simple. He loves to play guitar and write songs.
“It’s partly because I love playing the guitar, I really do. And I love playing in bands – this band in particular. And I don’t really have another skill so it’s not like I could pack it in and become a green grocer. This is my profession and my art. I have always been a fan of my own band Diamond Head ever since it started. I have tried to protect the name and keep it going, write good songs, keep everybody in the band happy no matter who it’s been and do good gigs. We want to play to as many people as we can,” Tatler explained.
“So it’s not been easy and as you can imagine over 40 years there’s been some trials and tribulations, but it’s amazing that it’s still going. And as long as I still enjoy it and we all still want to play, there’s no sign of it stopping any time soon. I really still enjoy the writing process too. I think that creative spark is very satisfying. And there is no pressure on us to hurry up and put the next one out. We’re not in debt to anybody so we can do it our way, at our speed.”
The ‘us’ that Tatler is referring to is the current lineup of Diamond Head. Tatler has been in the band through every incarnation, with the more recent one beginning in 2000. Drummer Karl Wilcox is the next longest tenured member of the band, joining for their 1991 to 1994 run, returning in 2002. Rhythm guitarist Andy Abberley joined in 2006, followed by new lead vocalist Rasmus Bom Anderson, who replaced Nick Tart who departed after 10 years, in 2014. Bassist Dean Ashton is the most recent member of the band, joining last year.
Rasmus was essentially hired to fill in temporarily for Tart to fulfill some tour dates after he left the band, but Tatler was so impressed with his singing and his songwriting skills that he asked ‘Ras’ to join Diamond Head permanently.
“It’s been really good writing with Rasmus since he joined. He is a very creative guy and he and I bounce ideas of each other really well. We can sit in the same room for six to eight hours and just enjoy it, really, and just get excited about each other’s enthusiasm and the ideas, which is lovely to do,” he said.
“And I think I know a good singer when I hear one. And when I heard his voice I just thought it fitted perfectly with Diamond Head. First we sent him a backing track which he sent back with his vocal on it which I thought was fabulous. And then we got together for an audition and within about an hour I was like, ‘yeah, he is great.’ But I had no idea that he was such a good writer. I was only looking for him to come in and perform the back catalogue. We had a load of gigs booked within a few months’ time so we thought it best to find a UK-based singer [Tart had moved to Australia a few years earlier] and if he is good, we can offer him these dates, and that’s what happened. During that tour we started talking about writing and I realized how good he was and what incredible ideas he had. So he’s been an amazing addition for Diamond Head.”
Returning to the subject of Metallica’s sincere adoration for Diamond Head, Tatler said he is continually grateful for their support, and for recording four of his songs.
“I think it has been vital to us still being around. First of all, if they hadn’t covered the four songs that they covered, financially my life would be very different. It’s made my life so much more comfortable to get royalties every six months for 30 years or something. And name checking Diamond Head helped us get a record deal back in 1993 when I got a publishing deal with Warner-Chappell and we did an album called Death and Progress. It’s possible that wouldn’t have happened without Metallica being so huge and so important and name dropping us hundreds of times,” he said.
“And we’ve been given the kudos by some journalists as being Metallica’s favourite band, which is a lovely tagline for Diamond Head, isn’t it? I think we do get a lot of reflected glory from Metallica and it’s very much appreciated. It’s given us a lot of creditability and generated a lot of interest. And we’ve been able to support them a few times over the years. Sean Harris and myself went to their 30th anniversary party in San Francisco and we played all four of our songs they covered with Metallica.”
The Renaissance for Diamond Head began when Tart took over as frontman, and the band entered the recording studio for the first time in 12 years to record their 2005 release All Will Be Revealed. That was followed up by What’s In Your Head? In 2007, and then Diamond Head last year. More gigs have been booked, more press has been garnered and an entire new generation of fans is waking up to the metal mastery of the new Diamond Head, and discovering the raw genius that infuses their older recordings.
“I do think there is a parallel with a band like Anvil, because they keep going and there is an almost unstoppability to some bands. You don’t have to sell millions of albums and become huge, that is such an incredibly rare and lucky thing anyways. You can just keep going if you want to and if you’re prepared to do the work and keep the quality of music and live shows up as best you can, and not let the name get tarnished,” Tatler said.
“For us, the new album has been very well received, as I have said, and that’s really helped. A lot of people seem to like it and it’s put us back on the map. We signed with a great label in the U.K. called Dissonance Productions and they have unleashed all their PR and press people, and bought adverts and done a great job of getting us out there. We are probably getting more exposure now and more press now than we have done for a long, long time – much more than the previous two albums. And it’s a case of us remembering to keep going forward and make the most of any opportunities to come your way. Really, the ball has been rolling forward since about 2002 and we just keep it going, even if we have to nudge it with our shoulders from time to time. We do that and occasionally we get a fabulous offer that we can say yes to, and we’re ready to take advantage of that because we’ve been going for a long time and we’ve got everything in place.”
One of those opportunities was a chance to perform at the Legions of Metal Festival with Armored Saint in Chicago on May 20 and the huge Rocklahoma Festival in Oklahoma on May 27, with a few club shows thrown in throughout the American Midwest for good measure. Diamond Head returns to North America for the Psycho Vegas 2017 Festival in Las Vegas in late August, and has again strung out a bunch of other dates, including a recently announced show in Toronto at Coalition T.O. on Sept. 4 and in Ottawa at Mavericks on Sept. 6.
As for new music, Tatler said he is already working on some songs.
“In January we started getting together and putting down new ideas, myself and Ras mainly. But we’ve already got plenty of ideas for the next album. We want to keep going with the momentum is good. We have a real taste and hunger for it right now, so it makes sense to do another record, and do another good record, soon,” he said.
For more information on Diamond Head, visit www.diamond-head.net.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.