British heavy metal forefathers Diamond Head are best known for their debut album, 1980’s Lightning To The Nations. That album rightfully earned them a cult following due to its bombastic metal-via-Zeppelin riffage, and its classic status was cemented when 5 of the album’s 7 tracks were covered by a certain San Francisco quartet called Metallica. For most people, the story ends there, but Diamond Head went on to endure several decades of lineup changes, mismanagement, and questionable musical direction. Now, the band returns with their first record in 9 years, a self-titled disc that also marks the debut of new vocalist Rasmus Bom Andersen (their third overall).
Upon hearing lead-off track “Bones,” my initial impression is that these guys sound…tired. The record’s sound is crystal clear but very low-energy, with weak guitar tones and a floppy-sounding snare drum. Musically, this song is incredibly generic rock ‘n roll. However, it serves as a good introduction to Andersen, who sounds like a grittier version of long-departed original DH vocalist Sean Harris. The next track, “Shout At The Devil,” is faster and more interesting riff-wise, sounding closer to the band’s classic era at times (although calling a song “Shout At The Devil” is entirely inexcusable in this day and age).
“Set My Soul On Fire” is a slow lurcher, with Andersen throwing a bit of Chris Cornell yarling into his approach. “See You Rise” tips the hat to the Yardbirds‘ classic “For Your Love,” before launching into some worthy riffage, closing with some Iommi-esque soloing by guitarist/sole original member Brian Tatler. Things get weirder with “All The Reasons You Live,” which has orchestral accompaniment that lands somewhere between “Kashmir” and the Braveheart soundtrack. I don’t know if Diamond Head has dabbled in that sort of thing before — like most of you, I’m not that familiar with their recent albums — but it’s an interesting angle, and one of the few surprises on the record.
The remainder of the album is hit-or-miss. “Wizard Sleeve” is total ’70s style boogie-rock, and it’s tons of fun despite really bad lyrics (or maybe because of them). Andersen extols the virtues of living fast in “Speed,” but the band sounds like they can barely keep pace. The final track, “Silence,” takes the aforementioned symphonic elements to their logical conclusion, creating an epic “Kashmir”/”Stargazer” feel to end the record. Fellow NWOBHM legends Satan achieved a similar feat on last year’s “The Fall Of Persephone,” and while “Silence” is not quite a musical triumph on that level, the sentiment is the same.
While never embarrassingly bad, Diamond Head is somewhat underwhelming. The slight progressive touches that made early Diamond Head so interesting are nearly absent here, with most songs sticking to a straightforward verse/chorus/verse arrangement. The band sounds worn out, although this may be a symptom of the subdued production, and Tatler’s riff-writing skills are not what they once were. On the upside, Andersen is a beast of a vocalist, and his presence will likely be welcomed by longtime fans. The current NWOBHM revival has seen many of Diamond Head‘s peers enjoy renewed success, while the band themselves lay dormant. If nothing else, Diamond Head‘s role in metal history warrants that this album be given a shot, at the very least.