Live at The Token Lounge, Westland, Mich., 11-25-2016
I’ll be the first to admit it: my initiation to the mighty Diamond Head started with Metallica. Like many metalheads, I first heard the music of Brian Tatler & co. via the bonus tracks to the old Kill ‘Em All CD. “Am I Evil? Yes I am! Am I evil? I am man, yes I am!” It was hard to ignore these poignant lines delivered with the patented Hetfield sneer, not to mention the eerie atmosphere and the monstrous, dynamic guitar riffs. This was dark metal at its best, presented in crunchy, unadulterated Metalli-thrash style.
Thankfully, this was only the beginning of my Diamond Head fandom. Over the years, many more Metallica cover versions, various compilation album appearances (I owe eternal gratitude to Lars’ Ulrich’s 1990 two-CD extravaganza The New Wave of British Heavy Metal: ’79 revisited), and sporadic purchases of obscure DH CD reissues further cemented my love of this iconic British metal band. The hype generated by their much more famous Metalli-champions proved to be justified; Diamond Head were the authentic, genuine article, a band whose music was as emotive and melodic as it was aggressive, powerful, and adventurous. So, when they began touring the U.S. in recent years, my brother and I were first in line for their April, 2013 show in Lansing, Mich. (with high-octane Canadian old-school metallers Cauldron). That amazing show felt like an once-in-a-lifetime event, but DH rewarded the fans’ devotion with another new album and U.S. tour in 2016. Of course, a reprise of live Diamond Head was mandatory.
We made the two-hour trek to the Detroit area (Westland, to be precise) through a fairly annoying deluge of rain. However, considered it was late November in Michigan, we were thankful that at least we weren’t already dealing with snow. Arriving at The Token Lounge shortly after the door-opening time of 8 p.m., we noticed that the parking lot was only lightly filled. But fear not, we spotted a big RV somewhat like the Spaceballs Winnebago, and I thought, “Hey, at least the band is here, so all is right with the world.” Inside, about 30-40 people were lounging around at the round tables behind the floor area and at the back bar. But I hoped many more people would soon arrive to witness the almighty Diamond Head. We still had plenty of time, at any rate, to take care of all the essentials (bathroom, acquiring the obligatory Miller High Life, etc.) before the main attraction was slated to perform at 10:30. The buzz of British metal hanging in the air was palpable.
After watching the pair of local openers, we quickly made our way to the front row directly in front of the stage monitors, which was not a difficult task. Both opening bands suffered some sound-quality issues, so I was feeling a bit apprehensive about DH’s forthcoming sound mix. It turned out, thankfully, that I needn’t have worried about that issue because the band themselves took a hands-on approach to their pre-show setup. Yes, Brian Tatler himself was on stage right and started setting up his guitar pedals himself. He was standing maybe two-to-three feet away from us, though all but a handful of people in the audience seemed oblivious of the legendary greatness before them. No matter, the (literal) curtain closed on The Token Lounge’s stage while Tatler and the crew finished the rest of the setup.
Finally, the lights dimmed, the curtain re-opened, and we in the audience were treated to the epic, Ben Hur-style classical intro. Then Diamond Head stormed the stage to the pounding, straight-ahead rocker, “Borrowed Time.” The band, now a four-piece after having played as a quintet for many years, sounded as tight and muscular as any of us old-school rockers could have hoped. Bald-headed new singer Rasmus Anderson sounded powerful and distinct without departing too far stylistically from original singer Sean Harris and previous vocalist Nick Tart. Longtime drummer Karl Wilcox pounded the skins with thunderous authority and precision, while brand new bassist Dean Ashton provided the clear and punchy bottom end. Of course, it was band founder Tatler who stole the show. I don’t know what happened to their second guitarist Abbz, but it became immediately apparent that Diamond Head would do just fine as a quartet. Not only did Tatler, sporting his classic sunburst Les Paul Standard, sound warm and crunchy in his rhythm tone, but his lead playing was as emotional and soulful as it is technical and fleet-fingered. He really is a pleasure to watch and listen to, especially up close. Tatler was also mobile and smiling throughout the show, which only amplified the energy level in the hall.
Diamond Head immediately segued into “Bones,” the heavy and melodic first single from their well-received new self-titled album. The band played four songs from that album tonight, which were taken with polite, if less enthusiastic, responses from the audience. Following the up-tempo title track to their classic debut, “Lightning to the Nations,” drummer Wilcox unleashed an angry-yet-entertaining rant against the sound guy, who apparently had been blasting only vocals into Wilcox’s in-ear monitors so that he “couldn’t f***ing hear shit,” or something along those lines. That little detour did nothing to derail the proceedings; the band launched into exuberant versions of the speedy “Diamonds Are Forever” off the new album, and the monstrously crushing headbanger “Helpless.” Oh, so glorious! Fans of old-school Diamond Head would not be disappointed, as the band played no fewer than six of the seven songs off Lightning. Other song choices, such as the moody and dynamic “In the Heat of the Night,” and the surprising “Starcrossed (Lovers of the Night)” (off the little-heard 1993 release Death and Progress) gave the set a balanced and refreshing feel.
One humorous moment occurred later in the set when a fan held up a hand-made sign that read, “Can I get Ricky Gervais’ autograph?” The joke was directed at the bearded bass player, Ashton, who clearly got a kick out of the whole shtick. Diamond Head only seemed to gain energy and momentum, closing out the back end of the set with such emotional and pummeling ‘bangers as “Sucking Your Love,” “The Prince,” and “It’s Electric.” When Anderson finally led the crowd chant-along, “Are You Evil?”, it was time for the big one, the crème de la metallic crème of a Diamond Head song. Tatler began the distinctive and brutal opening riff to “Am I Evil?”, and dozens of frothing fans swarmed the stage, looking to pound fists and bang heads with the NWOBHM riff god himself. It was a thoroughly devastating and exhausting performance, and one no one in attendance will soon forget it; that’s for certain. The encore of “Play it Loud/Streets of Gold” was fun if a bit anticlimactic following the massive metal masterpiece that is “Am I Evil?” No matter, I didn’t want the show to end, and so the encore was more than welcome from that perspective. Afterwards, Tatler shook my hand, looked me straight in the eye, and said a definitive, “Thank you,” which meant the world to this 40-year-old fanboy headbanging his ass off in the front row.
Tatler stuck around for a long time after the show talking with fans, signing autographs, posing in pictures, and generally demonstrating his classy and gracious attitude. He offers a fine lesson for younger musicians, and I truly hope Diamond Head will be able to keep touring for many more years to come. Long live the NWOBHM, and long live Diamond Head.
--Approximate Setlist: 1). Borrowed Time 2). Bones 3). Lightning to the Nations 4). Diamonds Are Forever 5). Helpless 6). Set My Soul On Fire 7). In the Heat of the Night 8). To Heaven from Hell 9). Starcrossed (Lovers of the Night) 10). Shout At the Devil 11). Sucking Your Love 12). The Prince 13). Shoot Out the Lights 14). It’s Electric 15). Am I Evil? Encore: 16). Play It Loud 17). Streets of Gold
--Review by Jonathan Kollnot