Tuesday 4 June 2019

Diamond Head - The Coffin Train (2019)

Country: UK
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 24 May 2019
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Clearly I haven't been paying attention, but Diamond Head, whom I'd come to believe reformed and broke up every other Tuesday, only actually split up twice. What the heck do I know?

Well, I knew that the classic era ended in 1985, after one of the greatest rock albums of all time, Lightning to the Nations, and two other overlooked gems. They got back together in 1990, when the Metallica connection was at its peak, released a new album, Death and Progress, and promptly vanished again in 1994. I remember buying that album, full of wild anticipation, on its release.

What I didn't know was that they, meaning core members Sean Harris and Brian Tatler, reformed again in 2000 and the band has stayed in place ever since, albeit with a changing line-up. Harris left in 2004 and a gentleman by the name of Nick Tart attempted (and, according to the fans, failed) to fill his shoes over the succeeding decade and two further albums. He eventually gave way to Rasmus Bom Anderson in 2014 and that's who sings on this and another album, simply called Diamond Head, three years ago.

So Anderson sings and Tatler plays lead guitar. Andy 'Abbz' Abberley handles the rhythm guitar, as he has since 2006. Karl Wilcox is the band's drummer and has been since 1991 and that first reformation. That leaves Dean Ashton as the new fish on bass, having only joined in 2016. And with all that done, let's leap into how great this new album is!

Well, it's not great, sadly, but it does have great moments and it's pretty decent as an album, once we address the mix. There's so much sibilance that I had to turn the 16 KHz range totally off on my equaliser and the midrange up a bit too. I hate when I have to do that, but hey.

At least the songs are good. Belly of the Beast, the single which opens up the album, is a real belter that's impossible not to enjoy immediately but which gets better on each revisit. The title track is even better. It's a fantastic old school Diamond Head song, especially from the three minute mark, with excellent guitarwork and strong vocals from Anderson, who's from Denmark but doesn't appear to have sung for anyone else.

That's tracks one and three. In between them and The Sleeper in slot six (it has an intro at five), are a pair of songs that are only less impressive by comparison. Otherwise, they're solid tracks and the latter ably finds some of that build that the band were always unsurpassed at. Steve Harris once called them the new Led Zeppelin and that's mostly apparent in their ability to construct songs out of the ether that build and grow and evolve but each differently.

The Sleeper is the third highlight, featuring some fantastic riffing from Brian Tatler. The opening sounds Metallica-ish, which is circular logic at its best, given that Metallica got their entire early sound from that first Diamond Head album. This intro sounds more like Black-era Metallica but the rest of the song builds as Diamond Head do.

For those who come in wanting another Lightning for the Nations, I should emphasise that that's not what this is. While there's a lot of old school Diamond Head in songs like The Coffin Train and Death by Design, the latter ably highlights how 'old school' here means Canterbury. Hey, that was 1983; it's old school. And, while I'm a Lightning to the Nations man just like a majority of you, To the Devil His Due may just be my favourite Diamond Head track of all time and that was on Canterbury. I'm happily on both sides of that argument.

The album's problem, beyond the mix, is that later songs start to drop into the background, not by being poor, because they're all good, but by failing to keep up the standards of the first half. The best songs are Belly of the Beast, The Coffin Train and The Sleeper and the two in between them follow in their wake. That leaves four songs that are decent but just not as good as what preceded them and that's never the best way to wrap up an album.

An old show business mantra would have the punters always wanting more. By the time The Sleeper finished, I was ecstatic that Diamond Head are not only back but back on form. By the time the album finished, I realised that I was wondering what I'd been so ecstatic about. So I replayed the album and went through the same cycle. And again. And again.

This is solid stuff from the modern incarnation of a legend. No, it's not a new Lightning for the Nations, but then what is? It tries more to be a new Canterbury and, for half its running time, it does a pretty good job.

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