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.

Upcoming Tours: Ghost

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One of our targets is coming to the United States. Ghost has repeatedly made their way into our Sadistic Metal Reviews for Meliora alone, but their retro rock/metal sound and vaguely clerical aesthetic has won them a lot of fans. Thusly, they’re making their way to the United States. This tour loosely coincides with the upcoming Grammy Awards in February, giving the band many an opportunity to further boost their commercial success. While it’s not necessarily to our fans’ interest, maybe someone could visit a concert and give us a writeup? I’m sure it’d make for interesting reading; we’ve had success with the concept in the past.

Stryper – Fallen (2015)

Stryper - Fallen (2015)

Christianity as an ‘attack’ on metal might not be as trendy as it used to be, but Stryper never got the message. They reformed in 2003, and someone out there has to be buying their albums, right? The Billboard 200 seems to think so, and the existence of Fallen means, at the very least, that there is still an audience of Christian evangelists that a shrewd marketer can take advantage of. Add to that a more technically skilled visual artist for your cover and some minor updates to your image to make you trendy for this decade, and you get a more religiously acceptable way to listen to some modern pop music and then quickly forget about it.

Make no mistake about it – Stryper is certainly Christian propaganda. I don’t think anyone goes to Stryper looking for an intelligent portrayal of Christianity’s tenets (as opposed to said propaganda), but I could be mistaken about this. They certainly won’t succeed, because Fallen sticks to a fairly basic set of lyrical/ideological templates. A couple of songs here are simple retellings of scriptural events. A few others are songs of victimhood and impending eternal salvation, which are also theologically shallow. Like many other Christian musicians, Stryper also falls victim to the tendency to write thinly disguised secular love songs, but that’s hardly a selling point. I wasn’t expecting otherwise from this band, but given how many anti-Christian bands fall through the DMU meat grinder, it’s occasionally interesting to see another side’s agitprop in comparison to their rough equivalent here, like generic simplified Satanic or nationalist themes.

Backing this up is a fairly generic hard rock band that admittedly trends more pompous and theatrical than average for the style. This is likely a throwback to the band’s “glam” past, but it makes for an understandably vocal heavy experience. Michael Sweet is a reasonably talented singer, but he seems to obsess with multitracking his voice, especially during Fallen‘s multitude of Big Dumb Choruses™. Besides the vox, there really isn’t much to latch onto here. It’s possible that more traditional metal technique has crept back into Stryper’s sound since their halcyon days of commercial success in the 1980s, but with 30 years of production wizardry in the mean time, it can be hard to tell. The band also throws in a cover of Black Sabbath’s “After Forever” for what are presumably lyrical reasons, and even in its more vocally bombastic form here, it outdoes Fallen‘s originals in mood and organization. It does not bode well for you to be outdone by your choice of covers.

In the long run, Stryper is too inoffensive to draw my hatred, but I am certain the local community will be more than willing to savage this album.

Troll rockers Black Pussy continue to push boundaries

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Hard rock band Black Pussy, who have deliberately provoked the uptight and easily offended with their name, continue to disturb the sedentary and senile world of heavy rock with further provocations. Upon completing a set of successful live dates, the band was amused to see the following from an irate SJW:

blackpussy

As usual, heavy rock is arrayed between the realist rebels and the nanny establishment, with the former wanting to push boundaries further and the establishment wishing it would all go away so they can go back to selling lukewarm 1970s rock as if it were a new genre. SJWs and hipsters, who act as enablers to industry, do the best they can to enforce more boundaries so that heavy rock must be limited to a narrow range of material, making it easy to churn it out on an assembly line and reap the profits.

Vociferian – Princess of Violation (2014)

vociferian_-_princess_of_violation

Vociferian comes to us from the European sprawl through members who are originally French, but now reside in Belgium, and make a type of death metal/rock hybrid that rumbles in the right places but never really gets enough direction beyond drone to make a point. The songs do not ramble, but also never reach that moment of really wrapping around what the riffs have unleashed and transforming it into a new energy. In addition, many of these riffs are clever variations of very well-known types, which makes one wonder what is being said.

Although the band lists “crust” along with its other influences, the main focus here is droning doom metal of the hard rock variety, more like Crowbar and Sleep than Neurosis or Amebix. Unlike funeral doom bands like Skepticism, the songs do not gain momentum from the increasing layers of atmosphere but move in a circular pattern much like Sleep Holy Mountain. The result is a pleasing veneer on background sounds of collapse with more aggression than most of these bands can muster, wandering into sludge territory with rock/punk patterns.

Princess of Violation presents an album that falls far from bad, and has some interesting twists, but for death metal fans will not be internally varied or purposeful enough to seek again. Like most music, it has found a method without a cause, and so while this band scrupulously avoids randomness or wandering, never gets to its end point. Now that Vociferian has mastered its basic style, one can only hope for greater expansion of content and internal dialogue for the next work, as that would give this fertile style the power it needs to cruise forward.

Ramming Speed premiere new song

rammingspeedtour

Blues hard rock band Ramming Speed have released a new song titled “Don’t Let this Stay Here”.

The band released the following statement regarding the new song’s message:

‘Don’t Let This Stay Here’ is our reaction to the Edward Snowden leaks that confirmed the U.S. government’s saving of all our phone calls, text messages, emails and web searches in giant server farms. To us, that is fucking terrifying and unacceptable, and this is our rallying cry against it.
The citizens building the first top secret atomic bombs in Oak Ridge, Tennessee were told: ‘What you see here, what you do here, what you hear here, when you leave here, let it stay here.’ This song is for the NSA employees that question what they are doing. It’s for the American civilians feeling betrayed by the breaches of privacy, and it’s for the people at our shows singing along and sharing our frustration. Don’t Let This Stay Here. Spread the word.

A list of the band’s currently confirmed tour dates appears below. More shows will likely be added in the coming weeks.

  • 7/17 Eindhoven, NL – Dynamo Metalfest Pre-Party (w/ Gama Bomb)
  • 7/19 Aachen, DE – AZ Aachen
  • 7/20 Dendermonde, BE – JH Zenith ^
  • 7/21 Bleibt-Pratteln, CH – Konzertfabrik Z7 (w/ The Black Dahlia Murder)
  • 7/22 Bologna, IT – Freakout Club (w/ 7 Seconds)
  • 7/23 Milano, IT – Lo Fi *
  • 7/24 Rokycany, CR – Fluff Fest
  • 7/25 Leipzig, DE – Zoro #
  • 7/26 Koblenz, DE – SK2 #
  • 7/27 Stuttgart, DE – Juha West # *
  • 7/29 Bartislava, SK – Randal Club ^
  • 7/30 Vienna, AT – Das Bach #
  • 7/31 Chemnitz, DE – Killed System Festival #
  • 8/1 Berlin, DE – Stateless Society Festival *
  • 8/2 Dresden, DE – Chemiefabrik
  • 8/4 Budapest, HU – Dürer Kert
  • 8/6 Jaromer, CZ – Brutal Assault Fest 2015
  • 8/7 Mannheim, DE – Juz
  • 8/8 Brussels, BE – Garcia Lorca
  • 8/10 Glasgow, UK – Ivory Blacks
  • 8/13 London, UK – The Black Heart
  • 8/14 Leper, BE – Leperfest
  • 8/15 Thiex, FR – Motocultor Open Air

# with Deathrite
^ with DRI
* with Toxic Holocaust

Scythian – Hubris in Excelsis (2015)

Scythian-Hubris-1

Following the example of Kreator in Phantom Antichrist, Scythian unite riffing approaches from different metal subgenres under the banner of traditional heavy metal and growled or barked vocals, with a result along the lines of the so-called melodic death metal.  In contrast with the noteworthy release Thy Black Destiny, by Sacramentum, Hubris in Excelsis does not coalesce into a thing of its own but just floats around as the result of spare parts being put together to form an undefined, impersonal and disparate heavy metal record. In this, and its revolving around the vocals it is more akin to the Iron Maiden – inclined heavy metal which sets one foot on hard-rock land, using disconnected riffs only as rhythm and harmony to carry the voice.

We hear doom metal proceedings and textures typical of black metal, but these are usually encapsulated within sections. These sections are used in conventional rock-song functionality. What determines this rock versus metal approach? Basically, the total relationship of riffs and sections to voice and in between themselves. Rock (and hard rock after it) carries the music after the vocal lines (thus we can see the slight influence of hard rock over Slayer in South of Heaven even though it doesn’t fully give in to the tendency to disqualify it as a metal record). The key tell-tale sign after this is the lack or at least a downplay of motif-relation between parts of the song, the support for main melody or vocal line becoming the most important and prominent element. The effect of this often results in something similar but in the end different from metalcore: disparate parts tied loosely by a certain background consistency (usually harmony for rock and rhythms or motifs drowned in an ocean of contrasts for metalcore).

The plentiful references to many different genres extending all the way to cliche-ridden pagan black metal may throw off the attempts of most to nail down what Hubris in Excelsis actually is, what it consists of and what its essence ultimately is. Hubris in Excelsis is indeed a title that reflects this album beyond their intended concept. Hubris, an excess of self-confidence, often at the expense of prudence and seemliness, is placed in a position of glory, giving way to veiled expressions of ego that disregard any sense of coherence and little consistency beyond the most superficial.