Interview: Brian Tatler of Diamond Head

Diamond Head new band shot 2016

A few weeks ago I conducted a short interview with Brian Tatler (center), the guitarist and primary songwriter of Diamond Head. Their new self-titled album was released on April 7th and will be reviewed on Death Metal Underground shortly. Marred by technical difficulties, here is an edited transcript:

Hi Brian, I’m Daniel from Death Metal Underground. I understand Diamond Head has a new album coming out this spring?
Yes we do. Diamond Head comes out April 7th.

Did you try to hearken back to your early work or go in a more commercial direction?
In a way. We took a look at everything we’ve done over the years. This album should sound like Diamond Head. We took a very Diamond Head approach.

Did you modernize your music? Use digital production and all that?
Well it’s still the old Diamond Head sound. I used a Diesel amp and we recorded into Pro-Tools too. We wouldn’t have been able to get that sound back in 1982. Writing is the main thing. We try to capture the magic in the rehearsal room.

Songwriting is the most important thing.
I agree.

So much modern metal is just one cool guitar riff and then chugging along until the next part that has no relation to the first.
You still need to write a song.

Who are your songwriting inspirations?
Well, Led Zepplin, Black Sabbath, those sorts of bands. I don’t listen to that modern sort of stuff that much. Some say we write the same songs over and over. That’s the way that stuff is. Diamond Head sounds like Diamond Head. The most influential records were the first few Led Zeppelin, Sad Wings of Destiny, Machine Head.

How do you feel about your influence on the metal and the more extreme sub-genres? Inspiring bands like Metallica, Celtic Frost, and Darkthrone who sometimes copied directly from you?
It’s easy to get deep into the stuff from your youth. You watch these bands play, get a tape from across the ocean a thousand miles a way, and after a few months of playing and writing your own material, what do you know? You have the same riff that’s on the tape! It’s nice to be influential. It makes the band feel important; justifies what we were doing. It’s been said Diamond Head were a musicians’ band: a band that other bands liked. We never sold that many records.

Even things like “Search and Destroy” having the same riff as “Sucking My Love” in a different key?
“Dead Reckoning”. It’s not the same; it’s slightly different. It’s flattering. I’ve got my own stuff from somewhere. Bits of Black Sabbath and AC/DC. Diamond Head were a stepping stone between thrash and them.

I noticed on songs like “The Prince”, you have tempo and rhythm changes in the drums uncommon for metal of the time.
Well we moved the drums around to get more out of each section. We had to get it as good as it had to be. No nudging through

“Am I Evil?” is perfect.
“Am I Evil?” took a while. It took a while to do it. The intro, lots of verses, the last section to the ending, and then going back to the main riff, and testing it out live.

So many bands never have the opportunity to play live now. How important was that?
We tested out everything live to see what songs and verses did work. What would work up a crowd. Some songs didn’t work. This one worked.

Did you start playing live early on?
We formed in ’76 and played our first show in February of ’77.

In local venues like pubs?
Lots of venues. Some not local. One in Birmingham. We started playing in pubs. No clubs. We would put on our own gigs.

Sabbath were from Birmingham. Was that a big deal?
We felt we were following in their footsteps: Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. It’s the second biggest city in the UK. Birmingham had so many bands. Always did too…

How much pressure did Diamond Head feel to become more mainstream and commercial rock?
A bit of pressure. We signed to MCA in 1982. Iron Maiden, Motorhead, and all UK bands appeared on Top of the Pops with their singles. Our long songs prevented that: “Sucking My Love” is 9 minutes long; “Am I Evil?” is 7:40 even. Not a comfortable fit. MCA wanted us to be more like Led Zeppelin except we had no PR, no real touring support with good lineups , nor a huge studio budget. Being managed by our singer Sean Harris’s mother didn’t help. We were dropped from MCA as she wouldn’t agree to a change in management.

Was it a Manowar type situation where he lived with his parents?
He lived with her then. I believe he still lives in the same place but on his own.

The Manowar singer still lives in his parents’ basement in upstate New York.
Ha

Any upcoming touring plans?
Lots of dates across Europe. We’re playing Hard Rock Hell and some dates in Germany, the UK, and Ireland.

Good luck!
Thank you!

Diamond Head – Lightning to the Nations (1980)

diamond head lightning to the nations

Diamond Head were who Metallica and Megadeth desperately wanted to be. A seventeen-year-old Lars Urlich famously flew to London to see them play after buying their debut from a magazine ad. Celtic Frost owed their career to the Holst-opened classic “Am I Evil?” Lightning to the Nations, is the “the missing link” between the early New Wave of British Heavy Metal and later speed metal.

The guitarwork and songwriting are excellent throughout. Driving Motorhead-style rhythm riffs served by pounding pickup beats and groovy bass lines progress power chords into solos that Blackmore and Tipton wish they had written. These extended leads serve not only as climaxes but continue building tension, alleviated only when the original verse riff (or a variation thereof) returns. Clever variations in the extended riff phrasing enable verses to wind and flow freely around catchy choruses, continuing effectively long after lesser groups would have ran them their course.

Yes, Lightning to the Nations is bluesy with many influences from the riff-based hard rock of the seventies. The vocalist even multi-tracked himself on “Sucking My Love” in imitation of Robert Plant. None of these rock roots serve to lessen the force and creativity present in the music. The atrocious keyboards and reverb mixed into the 1993 Metal Blade reissue do. Stick with the original LP and the 2011 “Deluxe Edition” CD remaster from the original tapes.

Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces, by Albert Mudrian


Precious Metal:
Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces
edited by Albert Mudrian
365 pages, Da Capo Press, $14

The 25 Masterpieces
Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell
Diamond Head – Lightning to the Nations
Celtic Frost – Morbid Tales
Slayer – Reign in Blood
Napalm Death – Scum
Repulsion – Horrified
Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness
Obituary – Cause of Death
Entombed – Left Hand Path
Paradise Lost – Gothic
Carcass – Necroticism — Descanting the Insalubrious
Cannibal Corpse – Tomb of the Mutilated
Darkthrone – Transilvanian Hunger
Kyuss – Welcome to Sky Valley
Meshuggah – Destroy Erase Improve
Monster Magnet – Dopes to Infinity
At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul
Opeth – Orchid
Down – NOLA
Emperor – In the Nightside Eclipse
Sleep – Jerusalem
The Dillinger Escape Plan – Calculating Infinity
Botch – We Are the Romans
Converge – Jane Doe
Eyehategod – Take as Needed for Pain

 

albert_mudrian-precious_metal_decibel_presents_the_stories_behind_25_extreme_metal_masterpiecesRock journalism challenges even the bravest writer. Musicians are not known for being articulate, nor is it easy to pin them down, and lore snowballs in that vacuum. For this reason it’s great to see the series of in-depth explorations that have come about recently regarding many classic events of metal. As musicians age, given that musicians have a shorter life-span than average, this is also a race against time in many cases.

Albert Mudrian’s Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces presents a welcome addition to the genre of historical metal journalism. Combing through archives, the writers of each piece compiled band statements about the album and put them together in linear form, like a conversation. The result is a whole lot of information delivered in a very digestible form, with the extraneous confusion of live interviews edited right out of the picture. It’s a good starting point for anyone looking into these historical nodal points in the evolution of metal.

Mudrian seems aware how easily a book like this could become repetitive. Not just in the answers, where musicians might make roughly similar statements about touring, band formation, the troubles of collaboration and so forth, but in the similarity of bands. If for example he added another three Swedish death metal bands, it might start to get a little bit stuffy in the virtual room he’s created. Instead, he gives us space between acts and a wide variety of acts, but avoids the really awful nu-metal and tek-deth. However, the price of that spaciousness is that he includes bands like Monster Magnet and Kyuss which really aren’t metal at all.

There are some shockers in content, too. Some of these bands, despite their professions of various depraved behaviors, are insanely business-like in how they go about getting recorded and published. Sleep, Cannibal Corpse, Dillinger Escape Plan, Botch and Converge really had their act together. For a few moments, it was more like reading Forbes than Decibel, but it’s really gratifying to see this side of the business portrayed honestly. If you want your music heard, there’s a certain amount of business activity that must precede that event.

On the whole, these chapters are extremely well edited including the choice of material. They are in question-answer form, where the questions are usually prompts about historical events or general questions applied to specific moments or activities. When an incidental or minor character is cited, he or she speaks up for a few questions and then fades out. The bulk of the material favors the most articulate band members and major actors, but the writers shoehorn in as many diverse perspectives as they can. This makes reading Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces feel like being in a comfortable pub with these bands, on a rainy day, with a tape recorder next to the ashtray.

Each chapter corresponds to a classic album and comes with an intro paragraph. If anything, here’s where the book could benefit from some uniformity and toning down the “rock journalism” aspects. Perhaps not a just-the-facts-ma’am approach, but more of an assessment of where the band fits into history and why people like them, and leave it at that. Some of these were over the top for the actual function they serve. However, among the bombast is a lot of good information.

At that point the interview(s) compiled into a single form take over. Most of Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces is the bands speaking, and that is the power of Mudrian’s editing and the work of his colleagues. They’ve trimmed out the transient stuff, the window dressing and repetition, and left us with clear statements from the bands that show them in their own voices and approaching the situation at their own angle. This also helps create an epic feel to the epic interviews because it’s a compilation of the best moments of the band commenting on this album, put into one form that flows naturally.

Was the intro, “Human,” something you had conceived of before you went into the studio?
Ain: Yes, we had the idea before we went into the studio — we wanted to loop a scream and make it perpetual. We also wanted to use it as an intro for the live shows. A regular human scream would never last that long, so we wanted to loop it and make it sound like a scream from hell, like how you would scream if the pain was everlasting.
Warrior: We had talked about it, but we were basically still laymen, so we had no idea how we could put it together. So we told Horst what we wanted to do, and he proposed how to do it. But as I said, we only had six days to do everything. If one thing failed, we would’ve gone over budget or had to go home. So, in hindsight, it’s a miracle that tracks like “Human” or “Danse Macabre” came out the way we wanted them to. We couldn’t rehearse some of those parts, you know? I have no idea how we did that in just a few days, especially given our lack of experience. But therein lies one of the strengths of Celtic Frost to this day: Martin and I usually visualize certain pieces of music down to the last detail without even touching an instrument.

This excerpt reveals the power of Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces. In the midst of the mundane description of studio struggles, Tom Warrior articulates part of the essence of his band. Many such moments of insight, casually and offhandedly mentioned in describing some rather ordinary thing, flesh out this book and make it more than a fan’s quest but a resource for musicians and anyone else curious about the origins and process of creating extreme metal.

Not everyone will agree on certain aspects of this book and naturally any choices made along these lines are divisive. However, the book has enough to offer just about anyone who loves metal so that the purchase will not be regretted, even if there are chapters you skipped. In fact, I recommend skipping those chapters and approaching this book as a buffet. No matter what sub-genres you adore, you’re going to have at least five you’re dying to read, another five you’re very excited to read, and another five you’re curious about, and the rest will be uncertain but you might find some interesting information there, as I did.

It is impossible to find just 25 to represent metal. Some of these choices are nods to the music industry and mainstream fanbase, like Dillinger Escape Plan, or to history, like Botch, who were the vanguard of the metalcore movement. Some are near-misses like the apologetic At the Gates treatment of their best-seller, but this interview also confirms a lot that reviewers said about this album, namely that it was retro to the past generation of metal and somewhat hasty. Some others, like Converge and Eyehategod, seem marginal in that these bands spent a lot of time disclaiming metal back in the day.

On the whole however Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces offers a good pan-and-scan perspective of what was going on in metal at the time, and by showing us the fly-over accumulation of variety, Mudrian and Decibel show us not only what these bands were doing, but the forces against which they were struggling to define themselves. The result is a treasure hunt of a book, bristling with secrets and previously undiscovered pathways, for those who enjoy extreme heavy metal.