The New Wave of British Heavy Metal is today recognized as one of most influential musical movements in the heavy metal genre, a time in musical history set at the crossroads of 70s heavy metal and the punk movement. It’s a part of metal history that every newborn metal baby gets in their crib as a mandatory learning lesson once they go trough the agony of nu, core, mall and whatever the hell it is that young metalheads are exposed to nowadays. One of the reasons this musical movement holds such importance in the overall metalhead’s journey is that it produced one of the greatest heavy metal bands of all time in Iron Maiden. However, Iron Maiden is but one of the greats that emerged from the British scene of yesteryear: Angel Witch, Def Leppard and Saxon were all part of the NWOBHM uprising, and among those that produced precious heavy metal classics of the era was Diamond Head with their Lightining to the Nations album.
It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone reading this is hearing their name for the first time, but if that’s the case, please point yourself toward the band’s rich musical history, and grab a beer or six while you’re enjoying your first look into the story of these talented musicians and the exciting time they created in.
Here at Last Rites, we got the privilege to interview Brian Tatler – the pillar that managed to keep the band together all these years, as the band’s guitarist and founding member. This interview comes at a time when Diamond Head released a new album, and first one with their new singer Rasmus Bom Andersen.
Throughout the years, this hard-working band and its members have had their ups and downs, performed for crowds at venues across Europe and the US, while giants such as Metallica and Megadeth cited them as defining influences.
In their musical career they changed courses and directions, always trying to be innovative and fresh (sometimes succeeding, sometimes not), but never stopping with creation and productivity.
Their new self-titled album — with its modern sound, catchy and progressive melodic sequences, Brian’s mature guitar sound and execution, and a vocal reminiscent of Chris Cornell’s best days — promises that Diamond Head in 2016 sees a rewarding return to form, as well as a passionate come back to heavy metal stages of the world.
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Last Rites: Brian, let me start by extending a big thank you for taking the time to talk to us here at Last Rites.
Brian Tatler: You are more than welcome; it’s a pleasure speaking with you guys.
LR: We have a lot of young readers here at Last Rites, and it seems that metal in general is getting more and more popular with kids these days. Not all of them, however, have an appreciation for the genre’s legacy, so let’s give them a chance to brush up on their history. Can you tell a bit about how it was like to create music during the emergence of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM)?
BT: All the NWOBHM bands were being influenced by all the incredible groups from the 1970s. For example: Led Zep, Sabbath, Purple, AC/DC, Rush, Judas Priest, Queen, UFO, Thin Lizzy, Genesis & Free. All the NWOBHM bands were doing their own thing in small towns all across the UK, unaware of each other and sounding unlike each other. Then when Geoff Barton and Alan Lewis coined the phrase NWOBHM and started reviewing and interviewing bands like Def Leppard, Samson, Iron Maiden and Angel Witch, a new generation of musicians got national press coverage. Then record companies got involved and I, for one, could see that it was not impossible for my band Diamond Head to get a recording contract! Diamond Head had been busy writing songs since formation in June 1976, and by the release of our first album, Lightning To The Nations, we had written about 100 songs.
LR: Do you think that if you were starting out today it would be different? Would it be easier?
BT: There seems to be more of everything today, more bands, more magazines, more festivals, more genres, more ways of getting yourselves heard. What Diamond Head had was the NWOBHM, a youth movement that was considered “The Next Big Thing” in Sounds music broadsheet. All the rock/ metal bands from around the UK suddenly had an opportunity to get a lot of press coverage and possibly get noticed by record labels. Def Leppard and Iron Maiden got signed, and suddenly all the labels were looking to sign something similar. Nowadays, I guess you would have to be an internet hit or do something with your image to stand out from the crowd. I don’t know if it would be any easier, probably not.
LR: Also, do you keep up on what other NWOBHM bands are up to today, from the continual work of stalwarts like Saxon to the comebacks of Satan and Angel Witch?
BT: I have seen Saxon, Angel Witch, Tygers, and Girlschool in recent years and played festivals with them, but I don’t really keep up with what they are doing. It’s great that bands like that are still going and keeping the NWOBHM style going. I see nothing wrong with the NWOBHM style, it’s a style that bands like us created in the late 70s and early 80s. As long as it’s well done, then it’s cool. There are certain songs from that era that have become rock classics.
LR: Speaking of rock classics, I have to say “Am I Evil?” is sort of a hymn for me and my metal compadres. I don’t know if you saw, but there’s even a graphic chart explaining if one is evil, which I think is brilliant. Do you ever get tired of playing that song and, in hindsight, did you have any idea that song, and the entire Lightning to the Nations album would come to have the cult status that it does today?
BT: I have seen the “Am I Evil?” Flow chart and I thought it was brilliant too. Someone sent it to me via email. I don’t get tired of playing “that” song, it always goes down well and I am very grateful for it. It’s become our “Smoke on the Water” or “Paranoid.” Sometimes if a crowd is particularly crazy during our live show than I think, bloody hell! Wait till we get to “Am I Evil?” It’s going to get dangerous in here, bodies start coming up on stage. I had no idea that the album would be held in such high regard in metal circles. When we first recorded Lightning to the Nations no one would sign Diamond Head and we thought we should try something different. Of course in hindsight, we had created the perfect, cutting edge rock album, all we needed to do was be consistent and we did not manage to do that nor did understand why you should be consistent.
LR: Okay, to go forward a bit now, I think it’s safe to say the band has been through turmoil (and bad luck) in its lengthy career. What would you say was the most challenging time for the band, and you personally as the band’s founder?
BT: One of the hardest things is to keep a band together. I have always admired U2 and Aerosmith who have kept their original lineups for 40 years. It’s such a rare thing. Diamond Head has encountered a lot of problems over the years and split up twice. One of the most challenging and frustrating times was in 2003 when we had made the HOST album and Sean stated that he didn’t want to use the name Diamond Head any more. He wanted to call the band HOST – “To make it like a new band and get away from the NWOBHM tag.” I could not see the point of this and we argued about it almost constantly for months. The album has still yet to be released.
LR: A lot of bands that work throughout the years go through many line-up changes. Does that take its toll on a band? Did it take its toll on Diamond Head?
BT: Yes, it does. Usually, the band has to take a break while a new member is found and auditioned. Then they have to learn the material and rehearse it with the band. Fortunately, the lineup has been very stable these last 10 years, with only Rasmus coming in fresh as a replacement for Nick.
LR: Ok, going back to your music now, you have had some pretty big, even radical changes in your musical expression over the years. What was the motivation behind these shifts, and how do you feel about albums such as Canterbury today?
BT: Sean and I were never comfortable with repeating ourselves. We were always looking for something new, a way of taking Diamond Head someplace else. Maybe if we had become successful quickly like Iron Maiden, then we may have recognized the value in our style of songwriting and sound. I think we were always looking for a big song. We had a big song in “Am I Evil?,” but it’s taken years for it to become a true rock classic. I like Canterbury, but I can understand it when people say we overstretched ourselves, tried to go too far too quickly. I can see that now. We were very young. I signed to MCA when I was 21, and I didn’t know shit!
LR: Your excellent second album with Nick Tart, What’s in Your Head, was definitely a return to form, as far as I’m concerned. How did you approach the making of this album, more specifically, did you approach it with the intention to go back to your older sound?
BT: I am glad you like it. It was co-produced by Dave (shirt) Nicholls who is Slipknot‘s live sound engineer. Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to write and rehearse the songs in a rehearsal room. Everything was written at home as a demo onto ProTools. The drums were recorded by Karl in his garage in San Francisco, then we overdubbed everything on top of that at a small studio in Evesham. It was fairly cheap to make, and we re-couped all our costs quite quickly.
LR: And now going to your new album, Diamond Head, it’s the first studio effort with the new singer – how are you satisfied with the cooperation with Rasmus Bom Andersen so far?
BT: Rasmus is great. He has done a brilliant job on the new album. His vocals are awesome. His lyrics are really good, too. Ras is the geek of the band. He brings GoPro’s to all the gigs and the studio, and he’s put together a promo video from footage he shot over the last year and a half. He has also taken charge of the social media side of the band – something we had neglected in the past, but is now becoming increasingly important.
LR: A little geekiness goes a long way. Lastly, I’ve always wanted to know, what does it take to survive in the music industry so many years, especially in the heavy metal waters where the fans can sometimes truly be merciless if they don’t like what you’re creating? How does one manage to remain creative and keep going?
BT: I just write songs that I like. I try not to follow trends, although our sound has gotten more modern these last 10 years. Good songs will always prevail. Good songs have given me an income since 1980. Diamond Head has had lots of time to create new works. I have never been in a situation that some bands find themselves in where they come off a long tour and are expected to write the new album in a month. I had had time to craft the songs. I don’t know how well I could handle that kind of pressure. I enjoy playing the guitar and playing live, and if it means I have to sit in a van for 10 hours, then so be it. I appreciate that there are worse jobs. 🙂