The year is 1980. In the shadow of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, a new musical movement started coming to life: The name of the movement went down in history: New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Iron Maiden, Angelwitch, Saxon, Tygers Of Pan Tang, Holocaust and of course: DIAMOND HEAD. One of the most important bands in the history of heavy metal, after two split ups, return 9 years after “What’s In Your Mind?” (2007) with their brand new, self-titled, album. Metalpaths had the chance to talk with the bands’ heart and soul Brian Tatler about various issues concerning the band, the new line up and much more. Step inside, it’s electric!
Good afternoon Brian! It’s been 9 years since your last album. What changed within Diamond Head all those years?
What changed? You know the main change is that we got a new singer, Rasmus Bom Anderson. Our last singer Nick immigrated to Brisburn in 2008 with his wife and family, and we’re trying to keep it together, with Nick flying backwards and forwards. But it became so expensive and complicated, and it has also added a lot of stress, you know to sort out flights and whatever transport. We had a meeting in 2014, and said we should look for a singer who lives in the UK. We ended up finding Ras, and we had the dates coming up, so we offered him the tour, about 14 dates across Europe. We did the tour, and during the tour, we offered Ras the gig, because we just thought he was great, he did such a good job of learning the back catalogue. I never thought of doing new material at the time, I was just looking for a guy who could do justice to the older material. And then during the tour we started talking about writing, just to see, it’s be good. So that’s been the biggest change really these past 8 years.
You had your self-titled new album out in April. Usually when bands choose their name as the title for their new album, they want to summarize their career or make a statement about something. What does that mean for Diamond Head?
I didn’t quite think of it like that. Initially, I just wanted to find a title for it and we had a couple of sheets of paper on the studio wall to name this album, make suggestions. I didn’t like anything I came up with or anybody else, and Eddie suggested we call it “Diamond Head” or we could just call it “Diamonds”, but I liked the title “Diamond Head” so I said to everybody “If we can’t think of a better title for the album, we’ll call it Diamond Head”. And then, after a while, that was in my opinion the best title. I went through all those song titles and none could quite fit, I had something in my mind but I couldn’t find the right title to say it, and “Diamond Head” seemed to encapsulate that. And also, it is a statement. Bands have done it before, release an album that’s self-titled and that’s not their debut album. 3 bands spring to mind, which is The Beatles, Genesis and Metallica. And we thought “ok, it’s been done” we can do it. And now everybody seems to love it. And I think it was the best decision to name it “Diamond Head”.
I agree on that, it’s a more old school-sounding album, closer to the “Lightning To The Nations” era.
Yes, it is. We had a brief talk in the rehearsal room when we were writing this album and we said “Let’s try and utilize what we liked about Diamond Head”. What Diamond Head is all about, good guitar riffs, so I was coming up with guitar riffs. Lots of guitar riffs of cassettes and tapes for a few years. And so I would present these ideas to the band, and we started jamming on them and Ras has given a lot of fresh energy to this album.
Where would you spot the differences between this one and “What’s In Your Head?”?
I just think It’s much better for being written in the room, rather the way we wrote that album (“What’s In Your Head?”), where we didn’t actually get the opportunity to play these songs together in a rehearsal room. It was from demos, and we kinda just built on top of the demos. I would make the demo at home and I would sent the demo to Karl (who lived in San Franscisco at the time), he would record the drums to the demo, and he’d send the files over, and then we’d record on top of the drums. It’s a good album, but Ι didn’t really wanted to do that again. I said that If we even attempted that, we would end up with “What’s In Your Head?” part 2, and I wanted to try something different. And then when Ras joined, he said we should absolutely be in the room together, working on it, the band and capture the magic and the live feel. It does happen, it just stumbled on something, it becomes really great, there’s a vibe and a feel in the room. And I don’t think I would’ve gotten that if I was sitting home working on demos.
After two break-ups and reunions, and numerous line up changes, how do you see the subject of constant line-up changes? How does this situation affect you?
I don’t like line up changes. It’s just something that has happened to Diamond Head over the years. It would be great if we had never had any line up changes, like U2 or Aerosmith. But it’s so rare, when that happens. A lot of bands lose members in the way. Look at a band like Deep Purple for example, they’ve had lots of different people come and go. And it’s really hard to do that, to keep a band together, to keep it whole. Members have come and gone over the years, I’m still the original member, I formed the band and I came up with the name. It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is and I just want to keep the band going. As you say, it stopped twice and then reformed, and this bands’ been going since 2000, really. I’ve been working with Karl and Eddie, since 1991 and the band got back again in 2000. So we we haven’t gotten away since then.
As a continuation of the previous question, which were the worst and the best moments for the band?
One of my favorite moments is the Reading festival that we did in 1982, cause we’ve been going for 6 years at that point and it felt like we were going up and up and up! We started in my bedroom as a school band at the age of 16, loved to play together and to write, played the first gig and get out and change the world. We had a record deal in 1982 with MCA records, and we managed to get into the Reading festival bill. On a Friday night it was about 10.000 people there. It’s the biggest gig I’ve ever played and the band’s ever played to that point. It felt special, it was recorded for the radio, it was released as a live album. It did become a bit of a peak really. That’s one of my best memories. Then unhappy or worst moments, it was particularly sad and frustrating when we split up during the “Cantenbury” album, and the original line up split in two, when we had to replace our drummer Duncan, and our bass player quit, so Diamond Head were left a two-piece. Everything changed after that, it stopped being fun almost, it became more of a business and “we have to finish the album” “we’re in debt” and all kinds of pressures. Even though we replaced Duncan, everything was changed somehow, and it was never quite the same again. We’ve lost some innocence there.
You’ve been one of the most influential bands for the British metal scene along with Angelwitch, Iron Maiden, Holocaust, Tygers Of Pan Tang and so on. The past decade we’ve seen lots of bands reviving this classic heavy metal motif with success, bands like Enforcer, Cauldron and so on. What are your thoughts on that movement?
I think “why not?”. After all the bands, they’re a little bit different. There don’t seem to be thousands of bands that (to my ears) sound like they’ve all been influenced by Metallica. And I think it’s better if they try and do something different. And if some bands think that the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal or the classic Black Sabbath and Deep Purple era, is where they want to be, then why not? After all there’s still mileage in this genre, and at least they don’t sound like everybody else. I always think that Diamond Head has a sound and a style and we don’t follow trends of tuning low or aggressive/growling vocals. A lot of these bands start sounding the same to me, because of probably what they’re listening to, and everybody seems to have the same sort of guitar sound. There seems to be less originality about it these days. As it was in the 70s, in my opinion, each band sounded different. Maybe you have to be 40 or something to appreciate the new ones.
This year marks the 36th anniversary of the classic “Lightning To The Nations” album, a trademark album for Diamond Head, and one of the top heavy metal albums of all time. What do you think makes it such a masterpiece three-and-a-half decades after its initial release?
I don’t know, I can only think that there’s some craft coming to the songs. If you can get the songwriting right, you can write good songs that can work live, can work on a record and maybe you’ll get the chance. And these songs have stood the test of time. 35 years later, I’m still playing in the band, I’m still enjoying them, people come to see the band perform those songs. We must have done something right in that respect. It wasn’t like it was an expensive album, we’re not relying on production, I think what we got right is that we learned to write songs. 1976 – 1980, we did our homework, we wrote a lot of songs, and those songs that made it to “Lightning To The Nations” are the cream of our set and all the songs we’ve written up to that point. So we put a lot of work writing that album, so that’s what people find on it and like it to this day. It is choked full of ideas.
On your albums, you’ve had great guests like Dave Mustaine (Megadeth) and Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath) (on the “Death And Progress” album). Ever thought of adding another guest on any of your latest or future records, and if so, who would that be?
Of course, we asked Lars Ulrich to play on “Death And Progress” but it didn’t happen, he’s such a busy guy. Too bad he couldn’t make it work. But we did get to support Metallica. So yeah, it would be nice, to get a guest in here and there, but I’ve never thought about it really with this album. I usually focus on getting the most out of the songs, I become almost obsessed about it or however long we spent writing it. Really, we didn’t use an expensive studio, we only used a small local studio to record the album. We didn’t spend a lot of money, and we’ve managed to make a cost span straight away. Which is great for us, cause we’re not in debt to anyone. I just don’t think we’ve considered using a guest. Sometimes when you’re using a guest, it’s like you’re leaving it up to their fame or success to help you out a little bit. That’s probably something we did in 1993 (“Death And Progress”), and Dave Mustaine, Tony Iommi were happy to help out. And that was a great experience. Especially getting to write the songs with Tony Iommi, one of my heroes. But now, I never really considered it for this album.
What are your memories from the last time you’ve played in Greece? What are the future plans for Diamond Head?
It was 2006 when we played in Athens, I think at the Underworld. I remember it was great, it had a crowds’ barrier so everybody was pressed against that leaning over. It was really hot and sweaty and crammed full of people. It was a great gig, and then we played in a place called Thessaloniki the next day. We went on the train for that so I think we did about 6 hours to get to Thessaloniki. That was a little bit more sedate, or it was the other way around first Thessaloniki and then Athens, I can’t remember. Still both really good gigs. It’s a shame we haven’t been back since. We tried to come over a while back but I think with the economy, Greece had a lot of problems, so I think everybody was a little bit scared to play in Greece and make promoters pay for flights and guarrantee fees and stuff. We don’t really know what’s going right now, I listen to the news in UK about Greece, so I know you guys are in trouble. But it seems to have calmed a bit down, to my perspective. But we haven’t been offered anything. It’s usually a case of when we rely on a promoter to take a chance to invite Diamond Head over, we’ll come over, we’ll do what we can. At the moment we’ve got 28 gigs booked, across Europe, we’ve got Germany, Spain, we’ve just been to Malta, we’ve got one in Copenhagen, we haven’t played in Copenhagen for ten years. If somebody wants to invite, there’s contacts on the website, if we can do it we’ll do it.
So we’ll call this an open invitation to the Greek promoters. That was about it Brian thanks a lot for your time it’s been a huge honour. You get to say the final words.
Thanks for getting in touch John, I’ve enjoyed our little chat. Hope to get over to Greece one of the days. And I hope everyone likes the new album. Keep rocking!