Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Diamond Head's 'Diamond Head' - Album Review

Once described by MCA Records as 'the new Led Zeppelin', Stourbridge's Diamond Head always feel like a band who have never quite been given the success they deserve. While MCA's marketing statement was of course ludicrous, Diamond Head found modest success in the late 1970s and early 1980s as the NWOBHM movement was really gathering speed. With semi-classics like 1980's Lightning to the Nations and 1982's Borrowed Time to their name, the band seemed poised to really break into the big time but, for whatever reason, it just was not to be and the band broke up and faded into obscurity. Diamond Head are a band who have benefited from a fair bit of retrospective critical acclaim however. James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich of Metallica, and Dave Mustaine of Megadeth are all outspoken champions of the band. Metallica have recorded plenty of Diamond Head covers over the years, and hailed them as early influences in their sound. When the Big 4 of Thrash played their legendary shows back in 2010, the evenings always came to an end with all four bands on the stage jamming along to Diamond Head's anthemic signature song Am I Evil?; this shows how much love there is for Diamond Head out there. The band's founding member, guitarist, and sole original member Brian Tatler has also guested on stage with Metallica a few times in the past. Despite these thrash admirers Diamond Head are not, and have never been, a thrash band. Sure, some of the band's songs are quite fast and based around strong riffs, but Diamond Head's sound is rooted far more in classic rock than many of their NWOBHM contemporaries. They also had a strong prog streak in their songwriting, with a few lengthy compositions and unusual twists to be found. 2016 sees the release of Diamond Head's self-titled album, their first since 2007's What's in Your Head?. The band have not been very prolific in the studio of late, but have always been active live and have a decent global following. The new album, simply called Diamond Head, shows that the band still have something to say and, while not groundbreaking, is a solidly enjoyable slab of classic heavy metal. While Tatler is the band's sole founding member, many of the rest of the band have been around for years. Bassist Eddie Moohan and drummer Karl Wilcox have both been in the band the best part of 25 years, and guitarist Andy Abberley has been around for 10. Only frontman Rasmus Bom Anderson is making his debut with the band on this album, as he replaced long-time frontman Nick Tart back in 2014. This is a self-written and produced album, and has the raw feel of a band just making music for the fun of it. Diamond Head do not really have anything to prove, but this album proves they still can make enjoyable songs.

Album-opener Bones kicks things off nicely with a stuttering guitar riff that contains plenty of strong grooves. This also forms the basis of the song's verses, which are the first time we get to hear what Anderson brings to the band. Vocally, his is very similar in style to the previous singers the band have employed previously. His voice is quite melodic, but can have a snarling grit to it when necessary, like the screams at the end of the choruses. Effects-heavy clean guitar chords compliment the heavier riffing perfectly, and brings the band's classic sound right to the fore. Shout at the Devil is a faster, more metal song that sounds like it could have appeared on the old NWOBHM Metal for Muthas compilation back in the early 1980s. Wilcox's slightly frantic drumming drives the verses as Anderson croons over a raw-sounding guitar pattern. The clean guitar contrasts are used again to good effect, which makes me realise how much the band have used this signature technique previously. The chorus is more of a metal affair, with a strong vocal display and a simple, but powerful guitar riff. There is a very fluid guitar solo too, presumably from Tatler, that moves away from the shred-heavy sound of metal and into the more lyrical realms of classic rock. Opening with a methodical, slightly doomy, riff Set my Soul on Fire is a great mid-paced rocker that is driven by Tatler's riffing. Anderson's almost bluesy wails here definitely have something of Robert Plant about them in places, especially his wordless sections. The chorus stings a little, with harsh stabs of guitar that compliment the vocals perfectly. Tatler and Abberley team up mid-way through for a slow, dual guitar solo while Moohan's thick bass keeps perfect time. See You Rise is a very bass-driven song. The intro is dominated by it, and even when the main guitar riff kicks in properly, Moohan still makes his presence felt. The fast verses are strong, and the drop in speed as the song moves into a dark-sounding chorus only helps to make it more powerful. The song contains Anderson's grittiest performance on the album too, and that makes it one of the best songs here. While the majority of this album has a raw sound, All the Reasons You Live is more polished, with a simple string arrangement over the song's acoustic intro that ramps up as the electric guitars kick in. The song has more an 1980s sound to it, with a polished, rumbling bass sound, and a chorus backed by subtle but dramatic string section. It helps the song stand out from the rest of the album. There is a pretty dramatic guitar solo too, that really shows off Tatler's phrasing skills. He has always been an extremely underrated guitarist, and this shows whys. Wizard Sleeve gets back to the rawer, more rock sound the band is known for. This is a short, simple, but upbeat riff-based rocker with a memorable chorus and a really great bouncy riff that is full of energy.

Our Time is Now is quite a contrast to Wizard Sleeve, with a heavy blues sound and plenty of excellent bass guitar playing. Moohan owns the song with a melodic bassline throughout, which gives the guitars more room to sit back and play simple, crunching chords over the top. The song is quite a powerful one however, and the huge guitar chords really come pounding out of the speakers. Anderson really croons his way through this song, injecting plenty of emotion into his delivery. He has a surprisingly wide vocal range that is not instantly apparent, but this song showcases his versatility well. The little tribute to Am I Evil? at the end is also fun and welcome! Speed opens with Wilcox's drums and slowly builds up adding bass and guitars as it moves on. The song is a simple rocker however, which really benefits from the overall raw sound the album has. It is just a real heads down rocker, a song that relies on it's energy and does not pretend to be anything else. Tatler has another excellent guitar solo here too, which is faster than usual, to fit the name of the song I expect! Blood on my Hands is another mid-paced number that has a riff reminiscent of Black Sabbath a little, and a varying song structure which keeps things interesting. The chorus soars, with some screams from Anderson, and mid-way through the song drops into a slow, melodic, crawling section. The change of pace works well, and the song slowly builds it's way back up to full speed as the guitars slowly get louder. A final reprise of the ringing chorus ends the song in a strong fashion. Diamonds opens with a slightly funky-sounding guitar pattern, which makes it stand out instantly. This does not last long however, as the verse really speeds out of the blocks with a speedy chugging rhythm. The funky section does return in the middle of the song to form a slightly strange breakdown before the song takes off again with a melodic guitar solo. The album's final number Silence is another song that uses prominent string sounds. It builds up from a haunting clean guitar melody, and explodes into a symphonic rock song with driving strings and a staccato guitar riff. The verses retain the haunting atmosphere and rumbling bass of the song's intro, but it is not long before the strings come back in with real force. This is an extremely epic song by the band's standards, and shows off the slightly progressive edge they have to their songwriting. It is definitely the most ambitious song here, and works well to close out an album that has mostly been simple and powerful. Overall, Diamond Head is a solid new album from a band that has not been active in the studio much over the past few years. It proves the band still have something to say musically, which is great to see.

The album was released on 22nd April 2016 via Dissonance Productions. Below is the band's promotional trailer for the album.

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