Brian Tatler of Diamond Head on New Album: “It Feels Like a Re-Birth, a Statement of Intent”

Photo: Richard Ward
Photo: Richard Ward

Fortune, whether commercial or artistic, can be a fickle, capricious companion. Diamond Head was one of the most promising acts of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) back in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Their landmark stylistic achievements include the sought-after demo album/dB Hall of Fame inductee Lightning to the Nations and their official debut, Borrowed Time. However, problems with management, changes in musical style and other issues plagued the band. As a result, Diamond Head was unable to achieve the same level of acclaim as bands like Iron Maiden or Saxon. However, the band’s legacy was given a second chance due to the admiration of people like Lars Ulrich and Dave Mustaine, and their music has been widely covered- particularly at the Big Four shows played by Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer.

Still, not content to simply let the band’s legacy live in the past-tense, guitarist and band leader Briant Tatler has soldiered on with new music. And this year’s self-titled album has been receiving a lot of much deserved acclaim. Diamond Head feels like a continuation of the NWOBHM style: heavy and memorable riffs, soaring vocals combine with 70s-style production. Pay special attention to songs like “See You Rise,” “Set my Soul on Fire” and “Blood on My Hands.” This is not the sound of a legacy act content with basking in the glory of “the old days,” this band want to be vital and exciting in 2016. 

Congrats on the release of the new self-titled album. Why did you choose to call it, simply, Diamond Head? Does it symbolize a new beginning or a refresh for the band?

Initially, I had been searching for a title but nothing felt right. Usually one of the album’s song titles doubles up as the album title but nothing quite fit. Diamond Head bass player Eddie Moohan suggested the name Diamond Head and I liked it. I said “if no one can think of a name for the album we will call it Diamond Head” and after a while I thought it was easily the best title. It also feels like a re-birth, a statement of intent. I am more than happy with the name.

I really enjoyed the catchy and effective songwriting on tracks like “Set My Soul on Fire.” What was the songwriting process like for this album?

Everything starts life as a riff, I have been squirreling away riffs, song ideas and demos since 2007. I had been visiting my old friend (and FOH sound engineer for Slipknot) Dave (shirt) Nicholls, he has a ProTools rig in his house and we would write songs together. I also have a ProTools LE rig and I would record demos on that. In December 2014 I gave Ras two CDs with forty five pieces of music on them and Ras picked the ones he liked and the ones that sounded the most like Diamond Head. Since Ras has come in fresh, he has been able to take an overview and pick out what was great about all the Diamond Head albums and what was not so great, almost like a producer would.

Ras was pretty insistent that we should write the songs as a band just like Diamond Head did at the beginning of our career. There’s no substitute for writing together in the same room, we spark each other off and create something far bigger than we could have done individually. The band got together in a rehearsal room in January 2015 and we began working on new songs based on my home demos. It’s a very old school way of writing, but it’s how Diamond Head used to write. I even had my cassette recorder with me to tape all the rehearsals and any new ideas. The next day I would go through the tapes with my note pad and make any changes or improvements to arrangements and parts. Everything went through hefty re-writes in the rehearsal room and a lot of stuff was created on the spot when the vibe was right. The song “Silence” was written in the rehearsal room from scratch.

A lot of people in the rock and heavy metal press are raving about your new album. Are you taken aback by this, or did you know that once you recorded it- you had something special?

I am blown away by the response to the new Diamond Head album, I was not expecting it at all. It’s some of the best press of my career. When writing the songs and recording/mixing the album, I was mainly trying to make a record that I liked. Heavy Metal has moved on so much from when Diamond Head started I thought we may seem old hat or not able to compete with all the super heavy, de-tuned bands that proliferate the scene now. Obviously I was wrong and people have picked up on the quality of the songs and Rasmus’s powerful vocals. Even I did not appreciate just how good Ras’s voice was until I heard all the guide vocals on the album. In most of the writing rehearsals Ras would only have snippets of ideas and sometimes we would play though the song instrumentally so that he could record the latest arrangements to work on it at home, so I didn’t get the full picture until Ras sang all his vocal ideas as we were putting down the drums with guide bass, guitars and vocals. The guide vocals blew me away, the best guide vocals I have ever heard. 

Ras’ vocal performance on this album is fantastic. How did you come to work together?

Initially, I was looking for a singer who would fit into the live band as we had a tour booked. I found Ras through a friend of our bass player Eddie Moohan. I sent Ras a backing track to the Diamond Head song ‘To Heaven From Hell’ and asked him to sing on it. Ras sent it back and both Karl and I were very impressed. Ras made it sound easy, he was not struggling to reach notes or hold long at all. Then I invited Ras up to the Midlands so we could have an audition/ rehearsal with him (which I recorded), and after about thirty minutes I was sure he could do justice to the Diamond Head back catalogue live. We began our European tour in 2014, about half-way though we asked him if he would like to join Diamond Head, he fortunately said yes. We spoke about writing songs together in various dressing rooms and hotels and I said that we should at least try and write together to see what we can come up with.

Ras has an enviable vocal range, he moved to London from Denmark in 2005 to do a bachelor’s degree in Vocals and Vocal Performance. He is very knowledgeable about vocal techniques and studied every style from jazz to rock.

This November, you guys are due to come here to the United States. What are you most excited about for this.

Diamond Head are touring all across North America in support of our new album “Diamond Head” We cannot wait to perform songs from the new album  for the first time in the US, along with ‘the classics.’ Ras has never played a single gig in the US before, so it’s going to be very exciting for him.  And this time our tour takes us to such iconic venues as The Whisky, Slims and Webster Hall we hope to see you all there!

Your music has been such an inspiration for so many bands. When you set your ear to contemporary rock and metal, who inspires you today?

I like Muse, Biffy Clyro, Ghost BC, Gojira, Avenged Sevenfold, Porcupine Tree and The Struts, off the top of my head, of course some of those bands have been around a long time. I recently saw and enjoyed Cradle of Filth and Children of Bodom. Having said that, I am a 1970s guy at heart, all my favorite bands are from the 70s. The bands that inspired me to play the guitar, form a band and write songs are all 70s bands- e.g. Led Zep, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, AC/DC, Rush, UFO, Queen, Van Halen, Free.

Here are the dates, thus far, for Diamond Head’s upcoming US Tour:

11/2 San Francisco, CA-Slims
11/3 Hollywood, CA-The Whisky
11/4 Las Vegas, NV-LVCS
11/5 San Diego, CA Brick by Brick
11/10 Austin, TX-Grizzly Hall
11/11 Houston, TX-Concert Pub North
11/12 San Antonio, TX-Rock Box
11/13 Dallas, TX-Trees
11/17 Sellersville, PA Sellersville Theater
11/18 Baltimore, MD-Fish Head Cantina
11/19 Poughkeepsie, NY- The Chance
11/20 NYC, NY Webster Hall’s Marlin Room
11/21 Rochester, NY  Bug Jar
11/22 Montreal, QU-Katacombes
11/23 Ottawa, ON-Brass Monkey
11/24 Toronto, ON- Garrison
11/25 Detroit, MI-Token Lounge
11/26 Chicago, IL-Tailgators
11/27 Milwaukee, WI-Metal Grill