When Diamond Head exploded onto the scene with 'Lightning To The Nations' in 1980, few could have predicted the importance it would carry with regards to heavy metal's new wave and sound. Stacked and packed with riffs, 'Lightning To The Nations' would be one of the prime catalysts for a movement known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Re-imagined, re-recorded and re-born in 2020, Diamond Head's 40-year celebration of their genre-defining debut album sees the band spreading their wings and creating the heaviest of homages to Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest and Deep Purple in the form of 'Lightning To The Nations 2020.' With the new album out now via Silver Lining Music, Gi's Jonathan Graham chats with Diamond Head founding member Brian Tatler.
Jonathan Graham: Congratulations on this new album, Brian. It's fantastic! How did the concept of celebrating the band's 40th anniversary with this re-imagining of the debut album come about?
Brian Tatler: Our drummer suggested it. We knew the 40th anniversary was coming up. So, we wanted to do something different. I mean, in the past, we have done some dates where we've played the whole album live, like for the 30th anniversary, but this time it was suggested that we re-record the debut album in its entirety. At first, I thought, yeah, that is interesting, we could do that. I thought maybe we could do quite quickly as well since the last album took a while to make. So we discussed it and everybody thought it was a great idea.
JG: So did it come together as quickly as you expected considering the restrictions due to the pandemic?
BT: Yeah, we did some rehearsals in December and January, and then the drums and guitars were done before everything went to lockdown in March. We went down to Raz's for the rest of the time doing vocals and mixing as he is also the producer for the record. I mean, we still play most of those songs live in the average Diamond Head set, so we were ready to go.
JG: After playing these songs live for so many years, did you find there were some noticeable changes to how you laid them down on the original version compared with 'Lightning To The Nations 2020.'
BT: They have evolved slightly, but it was really just a case of getting the tempos right. I mean, we changed the ending for "It's Electric" because on the original it just fades out. We worked out a live ending years ago, so we just do that. It's the same with "Sucking My Love," that's evolved over the years and is actually slightly shorter than it is on the original album.
JG: Of course, it's impossible not to notice the absolutely superb and fitting choice of covers on this edition. You've given a little nod back to Metallica after the years of them covering your music which is great to hear. Was there a fair bit of deliberation on which covers you would be adding to the release?
BT: Well, the rest of the guys pretty much left those decisions down to me, which is nice. A few people chipped in ideas like "you should do something off the Black Album," for example, but I wanted to do something of their first album. It has to be "Kill 'Em All' because Metallica only covered our songs off the debut album, like to the nations. And I wanted to do that. I wanted to do something off the debut album. I didn't want to pick a big one like "Seek and Destroy," or "Whiplash" that I think Motorhead's covered before, so I settled on "No Remorse." We tried it in rehearsal, and it sounded amazing straight away. It really fits Diamond Head as a band. Diamond Head's influence had rubbed off on them I think, and this song was written and sung in a sort of Diamond Head style, so it really suited us. I think it's come out really well on the record.
JG: Oh yeah, absolutely! The tones on this album are stunning, what gear were you using for this particular one? Has your studio set up changed much over the years?
BT: Well, this is the only time I have ever used Axe-Fx on an album. The real reason we did that was just to record the guitars with Axe-Fx as a guide, then when we'd get the chance, we would go into the studio and put down the real amps. On the last album, we used Cornford, Diesel and Marshall's; we've got all kinds of amps between us. Because of lockdown, the original plan went out the window, and we just used an ISO box that allowed everything to be re-amped at home. It is quite a modern sound, and bit more aggressive than I'm used to, but all along we wanted this to sound more modern. Fans have got the original version. It is 40 years old. There is no point trying to recreate that. It's kind of like; you've got the old album, now let's see if we can breathe new life into these songs and bring it into the 21st century.
JG: Well, I think that that is exactly what you've done with 'Lightning To The Nations 2020.' With your positive experience with Axe-Fx in the studio setting, is this, or even an amp profiler something you'd consider using on the road?
BT: Well, possibly our singer loves the Axe-Fx. I have tried a Kemper in the past, but not live, just in the studio. I am still a bit valve-orientated though, I love valve amps. I think it's because I just grew up listening to all the classic seventies albums, which would have all been valve amps, but I am warming to the idea and the convenience of being able to take something abroad with you in your hand baggage rather than rely on whatever you get supplied. I quite liked that idea. I'm sure I'm going to end up exploring it one day.
JG: Just out of interest. If you'd had that technology back in the '80s, do you think you would have toured America more with it being a bit more convenient gear-wise?
BT: I don't know, I don't think it was about gear. I think that was more to do with our management and you know, not really having a clue how to tour America and the expenses involved. It's a real shame that Diamond Head never got over to the States in the 1980s when we should have done because we were signed to MCA. The album came out in America, but we didn't tour it. It's a weird story, and a shame that we didn't get to where we possibly could have got to if we had big management, professional management, but a lot of bands need that. It's hard to do it yourself. You need somebody guiding you who's done it before and knows who to talk to. You know, the right gigs, the festivals, support slots. Somebody who is going to push you in the right direction. We didn't have that.
JG: I have always felt that it could have been a case of you guys being ahead of your time in many regards, and potentially it being a challenge for labels promoters to know how to market you correctly. Did you feel like Dimond Head were blazing a brand new trail with the ban's music at the time?
BT: I didn't. I mean, that would have been lovely if I could have realized quite what we had then. I always thought we were just fans of those incredible '70s bands, and we wanted to do something along those lines. Not just copy or emulate, but just take it further by picking all the good things about the bands we liked and blend it into one magnificent animal. That is probably an incredibly difficult thing to do, but we tried.
It is the four or five people together that make a band. It's when those guys get in the room, that's what a band is. That's where the original sound comes from.
JG: You've clearly been planning and looking forward to playing some shows to support this new release. Will we see Diamond Head live in 2021?
BT: Yes, we have the UK tour booked for April. Most of the dates that we had last year have all been pushed into 2021, like Bloodstock, for example. Hopefully, things will get back to normal, but nobody really knows do they? We've never experienced this before. From The Rolling Stones down, no one can really guarantee a tour.
JG: Music like this really thrives off the live audience getting fully into it, immersed and jumping all over the place. Could you consider playing these upcoming shows if it meant the social distancing still had to be in place?
BT: I don't really fancy it. I wouldn't want to go and see a band where you have all got to stand two meters apart, and I don't fancy doing a gig like that either where it is all sort of controlled and tame, you know? The atmosphere wouldn't be there. That's one of the things that makes it, is it not? The atmosphere is one of the things you never forget.
JG: It is, totally. Reflecting on these 40 years of Diamond Head, the fact that you guys have been so influential and inspiring to the many bands that have followed, what are your thoughts on the evolution of metal over the decades and are you keen on many of the newer metal acts?
BT: I am totally amazed how long it's lasted and how big it's got. Back in 1980, even the biggest bands would only be playing Odeon mid-sized venues. But now with all the metal festivals and the fact that it's gone right around the world, it has become completely incredible; a phenomenon. Once you get into metal, it never leaves you, and you get generation after generation coming along to gigs, from little kids to the grey-haired granddads. I don't listen to a lot of new stuff. I do hear a lot of bands because very often we'll be on bills and festivals and I'll check out bands that way. But, you know, a lot of times with metal, it is so aggressive that I don't want to listen to it for pleasure. At home, I'd probably favour things that are a little softer and lighter because I very often want to relax when I am at home. I don't want to listen to double kicks, and I don't understand a lot of it when it is super fast and super aggressive. I am not sure what they are so angry about truly. If I was 20, I would be trying to find the fastest heaviest darkest, but now I am 60, my tastes are not as progressive as maybe they were.
JG: With the release 'Lightning To The Nations 2020' going so well, you know that us fans are now desperate for some more original music. Could we see that in the next couple of years?
BT: Yes. Well, while I've been in lockdown, I've been writing because I have literally nothing else to do. I have just been writing and writing. I've done six months' worth of writing, probably the most preparation I've ever done for an album. So, I have transferred everything over to Raz now, and hopefully, he's working on his side, which will be melodies, lyrics and things like that. We are preparing for the next record now this one's done, and since then we've just moved onto the next one because we can't gig. So rather than sit around, let's make use of the time, I am absolutely sure tons and tons of bands are doing exactly the same. They can't tour, so they may as well write the next record instead.
JG: Congratulations once again on the new record, can't wait to see you on the UK tour. Thanks again for taking some time out to talk today.
BT: You're welcome, Jonathan.
'Lightning To The Nations 2020' is available now, via Silver Lining Music
Diamond Head' Lightning To The Nations 2020' Tracklisting:
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