It is a word which is overly bandied by music journalists but there are a very few acts to whom the term “iconic” genuinely applies. I can think of a handful… OK, maybe enough to make me employ the fingers on both of my aging, wrinkled hands. One of them is most definitely Diamond Head. Any self-respecting metal fan will be familiar with the band’s storied history, so I do not intend to revisit it here, but instead turn the full spotlight onto this, their first new studio album in nine years – and only their seventh in 35 years!
To say that Diamond Head’s releases in that period have been patchy, both in terms of (obviously) (in)frequency and quality, is a severe understatement. But, the recruitment, in 2014, of new singer Rasmus Bom Andersen certainly seems to have injected a new sense of creative urgency into band founder Brian Tatler, as last year’s superb “comeback” tour most definitely proved.
It had been hinted, not least during the just mentioned live shows, that the band were very much returning to their classic, inspirational NWOBHM roots, and so it proves right from the off, as opener ‘Bones’ could very well be the natural successor to ‘Lightning To The Nations’, right down to the staccato, stroked riffs, the solid rhythm work and the eerie familiarity of Anderson’s vocal phrasing. ‘Shout At The Devil’ sees things take (and not for the first time) a more commercial direction, with its hugely catchy chorus, which sees them move ever so slightly away from their classic metal vibe while at the same time remaining true to the same.
‘Set My Soul On Fire’ sees Tatler introduce a bluesy, soulful mien to his guitar playing, while once again remaining true to his classic metal roots with a hard-hitting main riff, and a positively spiteful vocal delivery from Anderson, while ‘See You Rise’ is as joyous as its title suggests, driven by a chugging rhythm and another supremely catchy chorus and main melody.
They throw a complete curve ball right in the middle of the album, with the (what would have been in the late 80s) radio-friendly ‘All The Reasons You Live’, a slice of mid-paced AOR which, despite possessing a completely different vibe to almost everything else, mysteriously fits into the overall context of the album, especially as it allows Andersen to display the mellower end of his range in the bridge sections.
This interruption out of the way, the album ploughs straight back into what Diamond Head fans of a certain generation would expect: rich. luscious NWOBHM which combine massive crunching riffs with huge harmonies, glorious melodies and hard-hitting beats, delivered with plenty of aplomb, energy and panache. ‘Wizard’s Sleeve’ has an appropriately prog rock feel to it, while ‘Our Time Is Now’ and ‘Speed’ do exactly what they say in the titles; ‘Blood On My Hands’ is an acerbic and furious recollection of the band’s old-time indictments of religion and its consequences, while ‘Diamonds’ is gloriously enervating in its recapturing of the band’s early glory days while also sounding truly modern its construction and delivery.
The album turns full circle with closer ‘Silence’. Just as opener bones epitomizes their ability to deliver short, sharp songs to the system, this six minutes shows that they have lost no sense of how to capture the atmospheric and epic without veering into overly and unnecessary verbosity: Tatler’s main riff is taut and melodramatic for the sense of what it omits, the rhythm section is dense and precise while Anderson’s vocal is made all the more beautifully effective by its restraint.
All in all, ‘Diamond Head’ represents a triumphant return to form by one of the truly original heavy metal bands who have proven their ability to re-invent themselves to stay relevant to a modern audience yet simultaneously remain true to the immense heritage which they have helped to forge.
Track list: Bones / Shout At The Devil / Set My Soul On Fire / See You Rise / All The Reasons You Live / Wizards Sleeve / Our Time Is Now / Speed / Blood On My Hands / Diamonds / Silence
Recommended listening: Bones / Silence
‘Diamond Head’ is out now on Dissonance.
Diamond Head play the following live shows this coming weekend:
Saturday 30 April – Northwich, Memorial Court (with Salem, Witchfynde and Spartan Warrior)
Sunday 1 May – Wellington, The Haymarket (with Fury, Valous, Theia and more)
Diamond Head also headline the Sophie Lancaster stage at Bloodstock on Friday 12 August.
Live photographs by The Dark Queen © PlanetMosh 2015.