There are a few facts that everyone who likes metal knows about Diamond Head, so we won’t go over old ground again.
There is also a school of thought that says they are one of the most underrated bands around. That thought was rather re-enforced when I saw them open for Dead Daises last year and was moved to write “And if there was truly any [justice], then Diamond Head wouldn’t be stood here in front of another bands gear playing 40 minutes to a crowd that – to a large extent – doesn’t seem to know who they are.” But I guess we can leave that as personal opinion and conjecture.
Here’s a thing that did surprise me.“The Coffin Train” is only their eighth record.
Their first for three years, crucially it is their second with Rasmus Bom Andersen. And I know I am making a big call here and I expect that some of the hardcore old guard are going to hate me, but I honestly think he’s the best singer they’ve ever had.
His range throughout is incredible. He has become such a big part of the band already, but even more important – perhaps – is that he seems to have invigorated the whole thing.
“Diamond Head” – that 2016 record was self-titled – was brilliant. “The Coffin Train” is as good, if not better.
It announces itself in particularly strident fashion. Pulling away from the station – as it were – with “Belly Of The Beast” which boasts a riff that is both instantly recognisable and still sounds fresh, while the utterly fabulous “The Messenger” has not only the most metal chorus of 2019 so far: “I am the messenger of death, and I keep a ledger with all of your names……” roars Andersen in a manner that suggests you’d best watch out, but it also allows Brian Tatler announce himself with some wonderful guitar work.
The title track adds in some more epic, prog-like influences, and its different shades rather suggest that main-man Tatler is selling himself short when he said: “All along we wanted to make sure we didn’t lose sight of what we call ‘The Brief. I would never want to deny our NWOBHM style and sound, that’s what originally got me excited and Diamond Head noticed. And I still enjoy the creative journey we go on.” The key point here is “the journey” because this is a band with plenty to say still.
“Shades Of Black” as the title suggests, is a little darker, a tad more ominous. Karl Wilcox’s drums take centre stage here and form a mighty bedrock. It is, perhaps “The Sleeper” that forms the centrepoint, though. Split into two parts, it has a taste of modern Maiden, perhaps. Unequivocally, though, it is ready to shake the foundations of whichever building it is played in.
After that, however, there is a feeling of fun about “Death By Design”, as if everyone just fancied having a good old fashioned gallop and a headbang to shake the cobwebs off. “Serrated Love” is built upon the rumble of the thunderous bass groove Dean Ashton gets, and just sounds like some mighty colossus striding the earth, while the acoustic tinges of “The Phoenix” which work superbly with the crunch of the twin guitars – the presence of Andy Abberley cannot be overlooked – show a band that have always done metal on their own terms.
The slow building closer here, “Until We Burn” looks reflectively. “Born to be kings, we were defeated by time” sings Andersen. He then suggests that “Black Country dreams” were lost for a while.
But after 43 years, they still burn strong. And, honestly, this isn’t a cliché, but said because I genuinely mean it. Diamond Head have never been better than right now.