(Dissonance Productions 2016)
There’s a certain magic, a certain mystique, associated with the name Diamond Head. Like many American teenagers in the 1980s, my gateway to the band was their magnificent songs that Metallica covered, from “Am I Evil?” on the original ‘Garage Days’ b-sides for the “Creeping Death” single to “Helpless” and, later, “The Prince” and “It’s Electric.” My friends and I thought those cover versions were better than many Metallica originals, which was exceedingly high praise in those days. Basically, we worshiped the entire ‘Lightning to the Nations’ album as the quivering classic it was (and still is), but kind of dismissed everything Diamond Head did afterwards as a letdown, which is harsh, but sadly valid, to a greater or lesser degree. Sure, ‘Borrowed Time’ is a solid record, albeit with just a few new songs, but many successive Diamond Head albums have been lackluster, and the last couple have been far below even that benchmark. My own assessment was that the Diamond Head legacy had been tarnished beyond redemption.
So here we are in 2016, and Diamond Head have just released their seventh album, this one a self-titled, self-financed, self-produced affair released on the fledgling Dissonance Productions label (which is also home to latest batch of Venom reissues and will release the forthcoming Grim Reaper opus this fall). Guitarist/founder Brian Tatler appears to have taken to heart the scathing criticism directed at albums like 2007’s ‘What’s In Your Head?’ and 2005’s ‘All Will Be Revealed’ by trying to rekindle the raw, reckless energy that propelled the band’s early work to NWoBHM royalty. Just listen to Tatler’s lively, inspired riffage on songs like “Shout at the Devil” or “Wizard Sleeve” (but, err, skip over the dodgy lyrics on the latter tune). He’s tapped into the essence of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, the movement that electrified a generation of young metalheads in the early 1980s and is doing the same thing all over again today. Also making a huge positive impact here is new vocalist Rasmus Bom Andersen, who may not make you forget Sean Harris but whose voice is laden with the grit, passion and attitude of the classic NWoBHM singers. This album’s got some great songs too, from the dynamics and energy of “Bones” to the pounding swagger of “Our Time is Now” to the delicious harmony part in “Speed” to the soaring melodic glory of the self-referential “Diamonds” (with a chorus boasting the line “Diamonds are forever” and verses with lyrics like “Sent to awake a nation / Bolts of electric lust”).
It would be a mistake, however, to classify this album as a pure nostalgia trip. As he has done frequently in his career with varying results, Tatler steers the good ship Diamond Head into more modern and experimental realms from time to time. “All the Reasons You Live” sounds like modern rock to me, with prominent keys/orchestration, modern riffing and a radio-friendly chorus. Closer “Silence” is even more bewildering, like some kind of moody, heavily orchestrated Zeppelin-meets-grunge piece. Ouch. So, yeah, ‘Diamond Head’ isn’t a perfect album and some of the hyperbolic praise heaped on it by certain quarters of the Internet seems excessive. Nothing here could lay a glove on the ‘Lightning to the Nations’ material, for example. But that’s not really a fair comparison, now, is it? The fundamental source of the buzz surrounding this album, and frankly the reason I like it so much, is that it’s far stronger and more interesting than anyone should reasonably expect a new Diamond Head album to be in 2016. The world of heavy metal is better with a vibrant and energized Diamond Head than without it. And ‘Diamond Head’ is a fun listen most of the way. If that makes people get a little giddy, a little carried away, then so be it. And that’s cause for celebration.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~