The mighty Diamond Head celebrated its 40th anniversary by cutting its first studio album in nine years, enlisting its newest member, and announcing major tour plans for both U.K. and United States.
Formed in 1976 in England by Deep Purple / Black Sabbath devotees Brian Tatler, Duncan Scott, and Sean Harris, Diamond Head quickly (and loudly) planted itself at the fore of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. The guys earned a coveted opening slot with AC/DC on the strength of their dynamic demo tapes, and their 1980 debut LP Lighting to the Nations set speedy new standards in guitar-shredding and head-banging. Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, and other hair-metal disciples took note of Tatler’s rugged riffs—and his band’s penchant for writing ruthless rock rhythms that don’t forsake melody and mirth.
The “Photograph” pyromaniacs weren’t the only nascent group to quote the Diamond Head playbook. By 1981 Tatler and team were influencing other teenage upstarts halfway around the globe: Would-be tennis pro-turned-drummer Lars Ulrich latched onto the band, shadowed them on tour, and introduced guitar-punishing San Francisco pal James Hetfield to Tatler anthems like “It’s Electric” and “Am I Evil.”
Dubbing themselves Metallica, Ulrich and Hetfield tacked a couple Tatler tunes on the 1984 Eps Jump in the Fire and Creeping Death. But the homage didn’t end there: Even after finding fame with Ride the Lightning (1984) and Master of Puppets (1986), a revamped Metallica paid tribute with titanic takes on Diamond Head ditties “Helpless” (on 1987’s $5.98 Garage Days Re-Revisited Ep) and “The Prince” (B-Side to the 1988 single “One”).
While Diamond Head’s trajectory never the breached stratospheric heights of Slayer or Anthrax, the scrappy Stourbridge ensemble nevertheless braved sea changes in music throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. Management hiccups and personnel changes threatened to bury the band for good, but a decade-long hiatus (1994-2004) helped Tatler and friends find equilibrium on 2005’s All Will Be Revealed and 2007’s What’s in Your Head?
Still, metal metamorphosis remains a constant at casa de Diamond Head: Singer Sean Harris abdicated the microphone to Nick Tart, who in turn was replaced by Danish vocalist Rasmus Born Andersen in time for 2016’s Diamond Head. Birmingham beat-maker Karl Wilcox has notched over a quarter-century behind the drum kit, while Cannock guitarist Andy “Abbz” Abberley signed on for duty in 2012. Diamond Head’s most recent addition is Dean Ashton, who inherited the bass spot from Eddie “Chaos” Moohan last year.
We spoke with Tatler by phone in advance of the band's 2017 U.S. tour launch in Columbus, Ohio (May 17 at Ace of Cups). Looking back on the past and contemplating his present, the Diamond Head guitar hero considers himself and his band older, wiser—and totally amped for the future.
AXS: Hello, Brian!
BRIAN TATLER: Nice to speak to you! We’re coming over to play Ace of Cups in Columbus, are we? It’s a new gig for me—I’ve not been there before. There’s a few on this leg of dates I’ve not done before. We’re doing Illinois and we’re doing Oklahoma—that festival, Rocklahoma.
AXS: All packed and well-rehearsed for the tour, then?
BT: No [laughs]! I mean, part of the problem is that our drummer Karl lives in Las Vegas. So we can’t really rehearse with Karl. So we just do stuff at home to prepare. I figure out the set in advance—at least for the first gig—and we go over it. We can all play. It’s just not practical to rehearse, with people living in different parts of the U.K. and Karl in Las Vegas. We got together when we were doing the album. That was important to us. But just to practice songs for a tour, I can do that at home.
AXS: Seven or eight years passed between this album and the last. What were you up to during the gap?
BT: We toured a lot. We did some really big festivals, like Sonisphere. I think part of the reason we didn’t make a record is because Nick [Tart] immigrated to Brisbane in 2008. It just became kind of impossible to get together for gigs. We kept the band together by flying Nick over. I wasn’t that keen on doing a new album because I thought, for starters, we couldn’t get together in the same room. And I thought if we did, it’d sound like the last album. And I wasn’t particularly up for just repeating myself and doing more of the same. Then we decided to get a singer who lived in the U.K. So in 2014 we chose Rasmus, who turned out to be fantastic. Within a few weeks we realized we had some good writing ideas for a new record. Raz was right on the money when he said, ‘It should sound like a Diamond Head album.’ He had his producer’s hat on, and he was listening to the early albums, like Lightning to the Nations. We filtered out anything that didn’t fit 'the brief,' whatever didn’t sound like Diamond Head. It made sense, because we did have a certain style—and one we hadn’t done in a long time.
AXS: Lyrically, there’s a lot of optimistic material. Songs like “Set Your Soul on Fire” and “See You Rise” are good tunes for politically-charged times!
BT: Raz is twenty years younger than me. He comes from a different generation. I think they’re pretty into saving the planet and ecology. It was important to him to write along those topics, you know, to get some message in there instead of just death and destruction. When he joined the band, I wasn’t aware of how good a writer he would be. Mainly I just needed someone to sing the back catalog for the live shows! The writing was something that came later, and it turned out he’s really good [laughs]!
AXS: And as the guitarist, you’ve always come up with great riffs. Some of the best metal songs have one or two cool riffs. But a Diamond Head song will have three or four.
BT: I like that approach, where it’s riff after riff. Most of the songs start with one riff, and then I’d try to build on it. Or you might get a few that work together, if they’re in a similar vein or tempo. Raz would rely on that. I’d come to him and say, ‘I’ve got this idea’ or ‘I’ve got this riff.’ Then we build the song around those. Or I’d point out various sections on a tape that would be good for a verse or chorus. But it starts with the music.
AXS: Do these hooks just occur to you, mentally? You hear them in your head? Or do you stumble across them while picking around on guitar?
BT: I’d practice, and I’d accidentally come across a riff. Then I’ll tape it, because the timing is the trick. You could write down the notes, but if I don’t have the exact timing of how they work together, it won’t mean anything to me tomorrow. I’ll look at the notes and think, ‘It’s just three notes.’ So I tape everything and review them, then select the best bits. There might be fifty riffs on a tape, and I end up using only one or two. I can be pretty fussy!
AXS: Like many fans my age, I was introduced to Diamond Head through the Metallica covers. How’d you come up with songs like “Helpless” and “The Prince?” I always wondered where those killer riffs came from.
BT: It was usually me and Sean [Harris] back then. We worked well together. He got really good at arrangements; he’d say what should be the verse or chorus. Between us we could write these big songs. They’re very hard to do now! I realized we had something between us in those days, something probably even we didn’t appreciate. There was a connection that you don’t always get when you work with another writer. But Sean and I did write well together, considering we were quite young! “The Prince” and “Helpless” have stood the test of time because there’s a quality in them that makes them sound good now. They don’t sound dated when you play them. There’s a magic in them! I don’t know how that happens, really. It just does [laughs]!
Diamond Head will hit the road this month, and you can check out all their current tour dates below.
For more news and tour dates, visit www.diamond-head.net.
May 17 – Columbus OH - Ace of Cups
May 18 – Indianapolis IN - HQ
May 19 – Rock Island IL - Ribco
May 20 – Chicago, IL - Legions of Metal Festival
May 27 – Pryor OK - Rocklahoma Festival
Aug. 19 – Las Vegas NV - Psycho Circus Festival,
Aug. 21 – Petaluma CA - Mystic Theater
Aug. 22 – Sacramento CA - Goldfield Trading Post
Aug. 23 – Portland OR - Bossanova Ballroom
Additional European dates are confirmed for November and December. Check the band's official Facebook page for specific information and tickets.
DIAMOND HEAD is co-founder/guitarist Brian Tatler, vocalist Rasmus Andersen, drummer Karl Wilcox, bassist Dean Ashton, and guitarist Abbz.