Diamond Head: Canterbury - Album Of The Week Club review

Diamond Head's progressive swerve towards Canterbury: a maligned classic, commercial suicide, or something in-between?

Diamond Head: Canterbury
(Image: © Diamond Head)

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Diamond Head: Canterbury

(Image credit: Diamond Head)

Makin' Music
Out of Phase
The Kingmaker
One More Night
To the Devil His Due
Knight of the Swords
I Need Your Love

When Diamond Head first made their impact at the start of the 80s, they were hailed by some as the natural successors to Led Zeppelin. A bold, brave claim they somewhat justified on both the classic Lightning To The Nations and Living On… Borrowed Time albums. 

But with Canterbury, the band threw over everything they’d achieved and went for a far more exhaustive and progressive approach. After previously establishing a heavy rock perception that was both powerful yet thoughtful, vocalist Sean Harris and guitarist Brian Tatler – the band’s visionaries – shook everything up by introducing more complex and challenging ideas into the music. 

It made the album a little too diffuse and provoking for many diehards, who wanted more of the same values they’d loved on the prior releases. It was criticised for being too different to what people had come to expect from Diamond Head, taking the band into uncharted realms and heralding the start of an artistic journey that was never taken further. 

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With such an ambitious and progressive third album, Diamond Head had perhaps unwittingly brought enormous commercial pressure upon themselves, as guitarist Brian Tatler ruefully recalled.

“[Producer] Mike Shipley put us through the mincer. He’d worked with Def Leppard and was used to perfection. We weren’t quite ready for it at that stage. It’s partly what split the band up. It seemed such a long way from being friends back in Stourbridge.”

Other albums released in June 1983

  • Your Move - America
  • Another Perfect Day - Motörhead
  • Allies - Crosby, Stills & Nash
  • Plays Live - Peter Gabriel
  • London Symphony Orchestra, Vol. 1 - Frank Zappa
  • Body Wishes - Rod Stewart
  • State of Confusion - The Kinks
  • This Means War - Tank
  • The Wild Heart - Stevie Nicks
  • Texas Flood - Stevie Ray Vaughan
  • Old Wave - Ringo Starr
  • Synchronicity - The Police
  • Works - Pink Floyd
  • You Can't Stop Rock 'n' Roll - Twisted Sister
  • Diamond Jack and the Queen of Pain - Kevin Ayers
  • Farewell Tour - Doobie Brothers
  • The Fugitive - Tony Banks
  • Hand of Kindness - Richard Thompson
  • Keep it Up - Loverboy
  • Secret Messages - Electric Light Orchestra
  • Sound Elixir - Nazareth
  • Suicidal Tendencies - Suicidal Tendencies

What they said...

"There are a number of adjectives that could describe Canterbury based upon one's interpretation of the music and the band's insistence on changing their sound so drastically; brave, experimental, progressive or maybe naive, artless and foolish. Perhaps if they had consolidated the success built upon their previous releases and made the transition to their new sound in a rather less abrupt fashion then they might have lasted rather longer in this incarnation." (Sputnik Music)

"Today Canterbury looks like a such an obvious misstep for a band that rather inadvertently helped invent thrash, but that’s the power of hindsight. Diamond Head (or at least the songwriting duo of Tatler and Harris) was probably headed in this direction anyway. Had Canterbury not split the band, and had Mike Shipley not produced it, who knows how this album would have been received." (Decibel Magazine)

"Oh, how quickly the mighty had fallen. After the 'official' debut Borrowed Time was released in 1982, considered a classic at the time and still to this day, Diamond Head came back with Canterbury a year later in 1983, and with it basically went in a complete about face. Gone were the gigantic guitar riffs, dramatic instrumental passages, and serious tones, instead replaced with pop melodies, symphonic keyboards, and a lighthearted sheen that alienated many of their core fans." (Sea Of Tranquility

What you said...

Ian Wood: With Britain’s head banging community behind them, what could possibly go wrong with their second album for MCA? Well pretty much everything: half of the band had left or been sacked to be replaced by a stream of session players. Some of this album is great: Makin Music, To The Devil His Due, and Knight Of The Swords; some however, seemingly seeks to be U2 rather than Zeppelin. And then every single copy for the first three months jumped due to a major label being unable to press records correctly. By the time Diamond Head had played a lacklustre set at Donington the band was pretty well finished. So a thumbs down for Canterbury, not for the music, but because it was the album that finished the best NWOBHM band.

Richard Green: An absolute masterpiece. The breadth of styles and ambition in the songwriting for such a young band was, and remains, outstanding. I love all Diamond Head’s stuff but this is their best work for me.

John Grogan: I got into Diamond Head in a big way when Borrowed Time was released. Oh how I loved that album. It's sparse production meant the vocals and lead guitar took centre stage and both Sean Harris and Brian Tatler gave stunning performances. After an absolutely brilliant (but poorly attended) gig at Glasgow Apollo in 82 I was really looking forward to the next album, where I thought Diamond Head would surely make it big. The omens weren't good when Colin Kimberley and Duncan Scott left the band during the recording of Canterbury, and the statement from DH's management company about Duncan's departure was pretty tactless.

I bought Canterbury in its first week of release and my copy had the dreaded jumping due to the pressing plant issue. The production was a big step-up from Borrowed Time, so much that it's hard to believe it's the same band on some tracks.

I'd still choose to listen to Borrowed Time as my album of choice, but Canterbury was a very good album. Highlights for me are One More Night, To The Devil His Due, Canterbury and above all Knight Of The Swords. Brian's soloing takes a back seat on this album, but Knight Of the Swords is one of his very best.

Jonathan Novajosky: Man, another great one this week! Never heard of the band before, but I was hooked after the powerful anthem-like opener, Makin' Music. There's some great background vocals here that really give the songs life, similar to the work of Michael Anthony in the early Van Halen albums. Out Of Phase was another fun track I liked because of its simplicity and catchy hook. I really wouldn't consider this a very progressive album, but maybe it is so if I went back and listened to their previous albums (which I will).

If I had to point out a few duds, it would be Knight Of The Swords and I Need Your Love, which gets too repetitive and comes across as a bad 80s arena rock clone. I definitely enjoyed the first half of the album more, but Ishmael and Canterbury saved it from being completely one-sided. Overall, Canterbury comes off as a fun album. There's a decent amount of variety of catchy hooks and hard rock, with a a touch of prog. Great suggestion! 7.5/10

John Davidson: While there is no obvious follow-up to the classic rock of Am I Evil?, it's not without its merits either as the first two tracks of both sides are excellent songs (Makin Music, Out Of Phase, Knight Of The Sword and Ishmael). The rest of the songs however are a mixture of plodding generic rock (I Need Your Love) or ideas that outstripped the band's talents (Kingmaker, Canterbury).

Put this into context though..They were 23 years old when Canterbury was released and were still Moorcock-obsessed youngsters. Maybe with more time out of the spotlight to hone their craft they would have developed into the Def Leppard and Iron Maiden-beating rockers they hoped to be.

As a coda, Brian Tatler has recently resurrected the band with a new singer and their last two albums are well worth checking out (they also do a great live performance of earlier material).

Marco LG: In 1983 the NWOBHM was probably at its peak, with new bands coming out of the underground and others trying to evolve beyond its boundaries. This evolution generally went in one of two directions: heavier and faster (third effort by Raven, debuts by Jaguar, Holocaust and Savage) or more polished and melodic. Def Leppard joined the hair metal bandwagon with Pyromania one year after Tygers of Pan Tang did that with The Cage, the latter being a much better album but the former emerging clearly as the winner.

Against this backdrop, what do you do when your first album has been greeted as one of the best of the NWOBHM and your band has been labelled as one of the most promising? It’s a question that must have been in the minds of both Demon and Diamond Head around that time, and was answered in a very similar fashion by both: go progressive! To me both The Plague and Canterbury are great albums that suffered for being way ahead of their time. The fans were not ready for it, and the wider market will embrace progressive metal only 10 years later with Dream Theater’s Images and Words. Yet you can hear in Canterbury many echoes of what was to come, starting from Out Of Phase (the vocal lines will sound familiar to any Iron Maiden fan, Seventh Son era) all the way to the title track, which could be used as a blueprint for writing any prog metal song: piano intro, orchestration and crescendo into heavy riffing and epic vocals.

It is no coincidence the weakest tracks of the album are the least progressive: Makin’ Music sounds almost like an apology, with its AC/DC riffing and lyrics that go “from the start, it was clear we had a lot to learn” and I Need Your Love is a hair metal number that really feels out of place with the rest.

In conclusion, this is a great effort by a great band. One of the most underrated albums in history that deserves to be rediscovered. 9/10 from me!

Andrew Williams: I'm from Stourbridge and have Diamond Head in my blood. I even went to Brian's house when I was about 14 after the White Album came out and watched videos with him. I own the MCA years box set... but I still struggle with this album. I respect what they were trying to do but it doesn't excite me. What can I say?

Mike Knoop: Fascinating. All I knew of Diamond Head, I learned from Metallica, so I had no idea this album even existed. I thought they were "one and done" after Lightning To The Nations. Taken on its own merits, it's definitely not great, but it's OK. It's mostly inconsistent. Standard rockers like Makin' Music and One More Night mingle awkwardly with epics like To the Devil His Due and Ishmael

My favourite bits are the vocal harmonies (by the Jolly Slaves?) throughout and singer Sean Harris sounds comfortable with the new sound. But in trying to move their sound forward, the band came up with something neither prog rock or metal, barely even hard rock. Compared to 1983 releases by NWOBHM contemporaries like Iron Maiden, Saxon, or Def Leppard, Diamond Head sounds like a band that's dreadfully lost its way. Of course, the greatest irony is that a gang of huge Diamond Head fans named Metallica released their debut album the same year. Here lies Diamond Head, killed by the monster they created.

Iain Macaulay: This is classic Diamond Head? I’m afraid to say I didn’t notice the change between the first two tracks until the lyrics sang the title words. And that basically set the tone for the rest of the listen. It sounds so laid back, pedestrian and middle of the road, that by the fourth track I had lost interest. To be fair, the playing is great, the singing is great, the writing is adventurous, but it just doesn’t hold together as one exciting rock entity. So disappointed.

Chris Webb: I love Sean Harris' vocals and Brian Tattler's guitar. But to be honest, on this album Sean's lyrics are glaringly weak. They're fucking dreadful, actually. On the first two albums, Sean's lyrics just had to fit rock songs, but he tries to go for too much to suit the more progressive style of this set of songs. And i am not saying this lightly... the rhymes are banal (literally, if a word rhymed, he kept it) the word choice is awkward and the syntax is often all messed up.

It's too bad, because musically this is a fine album and Sean's vox are outstanding, he was a truly overlooked singer.

Also, the title track, which is the closing piece falls just a bit short. The intro is sort of flat and boring, and the transition to the uptempo bit is clunky. This should be the showpiece, and it maybe should have been longer with some howls from Sean and a ripping solo from Brian (much like the end section of Sucking My Love), something to make it epic. Instead it falls short and just seems pretentious.

The opener, Makin' Music is a highlight as is Ishmael (but oh my god, it's one of the worst offenders for shit lyrics) and I Need Your Love.

I honestly prefer the first two albums, but in terms of the band going too far on this album - they would have needed to progress at some point or risk becoming redundant. The third album, following up on the momentum of the first two albums is a logical place to make this evolution.

To be honest, 6/10 for me. But there feels like there is some missing potential here and this album could have been something great. There are a few marvellous performances here.

Jon Peacock: I saw Diamond Head in 81 while living in Edinburgh, they where very good and have loved the ‘white’ album I purchased that night ever since. Borrowed Time kept my love for the band going, however with Canterbury somehow it just doesn’t work for me, I just can’t love this album and not surprised things went awry for them from this point. The songs don’t cut it, and if you were a fan before its release like me your interest in them may have wained. If this was the first album of theirs you heard, you would probably have moved on wondering what the hype was about. A disappointing album that could/should have been so much more.

Carl Black: I've had a few interactions with DH over the years, and as a thrasher it's mainly been a connected with Metallica: the Am I Evil cover, Lars wearing DH T-shirts. I've even seen DH open for Metallica. 

So why don't I like the more? Well. They're not a thrash band. I'm just fooled into thinking they are. They are a hard rock band, and this album proves it. Rock riffs, up tempo, hard rockin' songs. Over the course of the album I heard a bit of U2 (80s era) and a bit of Freddie Mercury in the vocals. I thought it was ok. I preferred the second half of the album to the first and may give it another spin. 

Roland Bearne: I've never really "done" DH, nothing about them tipped the balance into parting with hard earned school holiday money to invest in their records. Heard a couple of songs and they were OK..

So this, (great to have another album I've never heard of, btw). Well, if you leave the room all you hear is woah oh, ooh ooh, ah ah... a lot! Lots of repetitive licks and some not very inspiring lyrics. The instruments sound great, definitely pushing for a more high-end contemporary production. There was something about the guitar and bass sounds that reminded me of something. Then it struck me: a bit Def Leppard-ish but without the flair. In some parts it sounded almost new wave-ish too. As a control sample I played Borrowed Time, which I'd never listened to either, and it was blooming brilliant! Why wasn't that the Album if the Week?

Gary Claydon: Diamond Head is a classic tale of what could (should?) have been. OK, so I'll say from the off that I'm a big DH fan. Have been right from the moment I first played their debut single, Shoot Out The Lights/Helpless. The follow up, Sweet And Innocent/Streets Of Gold reinforced the first impressions so it was a no-brainer when the advert for the debut album appeared in Sounds. 

I sent off my £3.50 without hesitation and in return received what was and still is, a slice of heavy rock/metal perfection (as an aside, mine had Colin Kimberley's signature on the cover). I damn near played that L.P. 'til it wore out. But even then there was a clue as to why DH would eventually fall from grace. Apparently, the Sounds advert (the only place apart from gigs that the album was available from on it's original run) was never paid for and the publishers had to take the band to court to get their money.

You could write an essay about what went wrong from there. They were managed by Sean Harris's mum & her boyfriend Reg Fellows. By the time they released Borrowed Time, most of their NWOBHM contemporaries had released multiple albums, and it always felt as if DH had missed the boat somewhat. Borrowed Time was a good album but it suffered in comparison to Lightening To The Nations, but then, that's no surprise is it? Musically there were clues that the band were moving away from the joyous rifferama of their early work towards a slicker, more commercial sound. Enter Canterbury.

As much as I love Diamond Head, Canterbury isn't an album I look on with any kind of affection. It wasn't helped by the fact that there was a defect on the original pressing which caused the album to skip on I Need your Love. I returned my first two copies to my local record shop because of that. I was a very regular customer so the guys in the shop were happy to oblige. They tried every copy of the album they had only to discover they were all the same, at which point they phoned the distributors who confirmed a fault that had affected around 20,000 copies. Oh how we laughed.

Musically, you could be kind and say that Canterbury was experimental but in truth it was lightweight and quite repetitive. Too much pop rock for one thing. The opening pair of Makin' Music and Out Of Phase plus the aforementioned I Need Your Love are fairly catchy but none of them engage sufficiently. There are elements of prog metal but the whole thing just doesn't seem to go anywhere. Harris's vocals are ok without ever stretching out but the biggest crime here is the underused guitar. It's Brian Tatler FFS. His work on Canterbury is the equivalent of a football team buying Christiano Ronaldo and then playing him in goal. What Tatler does is done well but he's never giving space to breathe let alone let rip in characteristic fashion. As for the rhythm section, Duncan Scott was given the boot during recording as it wasn't felt that he was progressing enough and Colin Kimberley left the band having completed his bass parts, apparently disillusioned with the whole thing.

Canterbury was the death knell for Diamond Head's shot at the big time. I won't dwell on the failings here. Instead I'd like to end by saying that the band are still alive and kicking, albeit with only Brian Tatler remaining from the original line up. But don't be put off by that fact. Their last two albums are well worth listening to and they are an excellent live band. Tatler himself is worth the price of a ticket alone and Rasmus Bom Andersen is a very engaging front man. I've been lucky enough to see them live many times over the years. I'll be seeing them for the third time this year in December (it would have been four but unfortunately the dates with Saxon had to be cancelled) and, they are still a band that make me seek out a spot at the front and bang my head for all I'm worth. And the opening chords of Am I Evil still send a shiver of excitement down my spine.

Final Score: 6.43 ⁄10 (130 votes cast, with a total score of 957)

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