Diamond Head: the return of the band who invented Metallica

Diamond line-up in 2016, with Brian Tatler centre
Diamond Head in 2016: guitarist Brian Tatler centre

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.

Can you expand a little on the political and environmental themes of some of the tracks?

I passed this question over to Rasmus, who told me the whole album was written with Diamond Head’s heritage in mind – so the lyrics had to have a certain feel and be rich with imagery. There are tons of metaphors in the lyrics that we will leave to the listeners and readers to figure out or decide for themselves. Bones and Silence both talk about the impending self-destruction of mankind. Bones refers to the birth of mankind and Silence talks about its impending end. Basically, the songs says it’s too late to stop the cataclysmic events that we are creating with our greed and our twisted understanding of true wealth and purpose. Silence is the aftermath of our worst nightmares and human mistakes.

Songs like All The Reasons You Live, Shout At The Devil, Set My Soul On Fire, Blood On My Hands and Our Time Is Now all talk about fear, sacrifice, courage, hate and anger. The unifying theme is how the general public is being systematically controlled by the world’s powers-that-be. Each song has a different story but all in all turn to the same core subject. There are so many crazy and horrible things going on in the world today and these songs try to speak about the emotions of the ordinary man. The people should never fear the system. The system should fear the people.

Where did you find new singer, Ras Bom?

I found Ras through a friend of our bass player, Eddie. I sent him a backing track to the Diamond Head song To Heaven From Hell and asked him to sing on it. Ras sent it back and both Karl and I were very impressed. Ras made it sound easy, he was not struggling to reach the notes or hold them at all. Next we had a rehearsal with him – which I recorded – and after about 30 minutes I was sure he could easily do the Diamond Head back catalogue live. We have had many long rehearsals and 16 gigs with Ras and I have never heard him struggle or lose his voice. Once we got to know him we asked him to join Diamond Head, about halfway though our European tour in 2014; he fortunately said yes.

Ras has a fantastic vocal range, he moved to London from Denmark in 2005 to do a bachelor’s degree in Vocals & Performance. He is very knowledgeable about vocal technique and has studied every style, from jazz to rock.

What happened to your former singer, Nick Tart?

Our last singer Nick and his family emigrated to Brisbane in 2008, making it almost impossible to get together to write and record new material. We did everything we could to keep the line up together and keep on touring, but Nick would only come over for the tour and then fly back straight after because he has a day job and a wife and kids to support. It became increasingly complicated and expensive with flights and work visas and put a lot of stress on our drummer Karl, who is our acting tour manager. Diamond Head had a band meeting in early 2014 where we agreed to start looking for a singer who lives in the UK. I had a few in mind and we put the word out. Nick was fully aware of our intentions and agreed that it was not helping Diamond Head with him living 13,000 miles away from the rest of us. Nick’s last gig was October 4, 2013. Four days after that we began a US tour which Nick unfortunately couldn’t do because his dad was dying from cancer; we drafted in an American singer named Chas West to honour the dates.

Could you have envisaged DH still being in existence in 2016 when you were autographing those blank cardboard sleeves of your debut album Lightning To The Nations all those years ago?

I could not see a year into the future back then. I had no idea Diamond Head would still be going strong 40 years later and that we would have released seven studio albums. At the time I was always focused on the next song or the next gig, I had no idea how to become a big band like my heroes, they were like gods who came down from Mount Olympus. It’s truly amazing that the songs Sean [Harris, original DH frontman] and I wrote in my bedroom between 1978 and 1981 have become so successful. Am I Evil? has a life of its own!

Original Diamond Head singer Sean Harris in the early 80s

Original Diamond Head singer Sean Harris in the early 80s (Image credit: Pete Cronin/Getty)

Do you hanker after the vibrant heavy metal scene in the mid 70s when Diamond Head formed or does the modern-day scene, although radically different, offer its own opportunities?

Not really, I am just glad we survived the intense competition. There must have been 400 NWOBHM bands and only a handful are still going today. There are many more ways to get your band noticed these days but it’s no easier. As far as I can see you have to have good songs, a good singer and an ability to keep going through the good times and the bad. I got into the guitar for the right reasons, because I love music, I want to make music and be in a band. A lot of kids now seem to want to be famous and live the rock’n’roll lifestyle. That was never my motivation. Nowadays social media plays a huge part in getting noticed and building your fan base.

Is is true that your original manager, Reg Fellows, scuppered a management deal with Peter Mensch back in the day?

It was never black and white but from bits of information I have picked up over the years I believe that Diamond Head were invited to support AC/DC in January 1980 [while Peter Mensch at Leiber-Krebs was managing them] because he wanted to check us out. He came into our dressing room for a chat, I feel he was sounding us out and may have concluded that he could not pull Sean away from his mother who was co-managing Diamond Head with her boyfriend Reg. He may even have spoken to people like yourself, Paul Suter and Malcolm Dome to see which band was hot shit but ended up signing Def Leppard, which was the right thing to do. I always thought it was strange that Mensch came into our dressing room for a chat – it’s never happened again, where the manager of the headline band comes into the lowly support band’s dressing room for a conversation! If Mensch proposed a formal offer to manage Diamond Head and was refused then I was never told about it.

Are you still in touch with the members of the classic Diamond Head line-up, Sean Harris, bassist Colin Kimberley and drummer Duncan Scott?

Sean, Duncan, Colin and I all still live within a couple of miles of each other. I see Duncan all the time, I go to his house on a Sunday afternoon and we have lots of laughs about what’s happening and the old times. Duncan was involved in the writing of this new album because our drummer Karl lives in the US, so Duncan filled in at the writing sessions and contributed some great ideas. I have been friends with Duncan since I was 11 when we met at junior school. I saw Colin about three weeks ago, he is doing well and he still plays guitar and bass now and again for pleasure. He is now heavily into the old blues players. I bumped into Sean in Tesco recently and we had a little chat. Lars Ulrich invited Sean and I to perform with at Metallica at their 30th anniversary event at the Filmore, San Francisco, December 2011 where Metallica paid tribute to many of the bands and players that influenced them. Lars is still basically the same guy I met back in 1981 and has been a very good friend to me and the band. We played The Prince, It’s Electric, Helpless and Am I Evil? Then for the encore we all played Seek And Destroy along with Jason Newsted, John Marshall, Biff Byford and Apocalyptica – or was I dreaming?

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.”

Geoff Barton

Geoff Barton is a British journalist who founded the heavy metal magazine Kerrang! and was an editor of Sounds music magazine. He specialised in covering rock music and helped popularise the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) after using the term for the first time (after editor Alan Lewis coined it) in the May 1979 issue of Sounds.