I'm aware that different people found rock and metal at different times and we're at different points on our respective journeys through these genres. So, if you haven't heard the original 1980 version of Lightning to the Nations by Diamond Head, then quit reading this and go out and buy it right now. I promise you that you won't be disappointed. It's without a doubt one of the best, if not the absolute best heavy metal album ever recorded. Then come on back and we'll talk about this one.
I'm not usually a fan of re-recorded albums, but for the fortieth anniversary of this milestone release, Diamond Head took that approach. Given that the only member of the band to play on both versions is guitarist Brian Tatler, this could easily be seen as Diamond Head covering a Diamond Head album, which is a little odd but worth looking at for a few reasons.
For one, there have been serious advances in production made over the past four decades that hint at this sounding a lot meatier. For another, current vocalist Rasmus Bom Andersen, who shone on their previous album, last year's The Coffin Train (whose title track was easily my favourite song of 2019) is a born and bred heavy metal singer while Sean Harris, the band's original vocalist, was really more of a hard rock singer. That mix of genres is part of why Diamond Head sounded so interesting from the outset, but it's also arguably why they kept splitting up. And, thirdly, there are bonus tracks here, but I'll get them soon enough.
If we can take it as a given that every song here is a 10/10 bona fide classic, the point of this review has to be to look at these versions of them to see if you should listen to this instead of the original. And I would say, as a die hard Diamond Head fan, that the jury's out on that. I need both. You might too. I'm a big fan of some of what happens on this album but not all of it and I don't know yet if getting used to these versions would be enough. After all, they all play in my head and where there are differences, I have to make a judgement call as to whether each of them is a good change or not.
Just listen to the beginning of Lightning to the Nations. Andersen starts out trying to be Sean Harris and he fails. Then he holds a long note that Harris couldn't have done and he sells his presence there and then. Overall, I think he fits this material better but that doesn't mean that some of what he does doesn't rub me the wrong way. Some of it, I'll get used to. Some of it, I'm not sure. And much of that hesitation is going to be about the vocals.
Overall, I had two initial reactions which oppose each other.
One is that this isn't as urgent or alive as the original. For almost the whole way through, it's clearly more careful and more controlled. Even a particularly wild song like The Prince, which blisters along magnificently here, still feels like it's on a leash, even if that leash happens to be a long one. I think a lot of this has to do with the drums. They're prominent in the mix and they feel like they're slowing the band down. Most of these songs always need to be both faster and louder and, even when they're played by thrash metal bands who were notably inspired by Diamond Head, I still want more volume and more speed. Even on the original, I'm always mentally urging the band to speed it up and I feel the same here, just a little more so.
The other is that it still sounds damn good. When I hear cover versions of iconic songs, I tend to hate them instantly. April Wine didn't do a bad job of 21st Century Schizoid Man. Dream Theater didn't do a bad job of Stargazer. Pat Benatar didn't do a bad job of Wuthering Heights. But I hate every one of those songs because we know exactly how all they should sound and it's not like that. And that said, I didn't hate this at all, not on a first listen and less still as I get used to it. I was prepared to but I just didn't and there are moments that I really like. The complete stop in The Prince is majestic. The echo is fantastic all the way through this but that single moment left me grinning like a madman.
So I guess it boils down to this. Every one of these new versions is excellent. At points, I forgot that I was listening to a new version because it equals or outdoes the original. Quite frankly, this version of Helpless kicks the ass of the old one. At points, though, it was obvious and the original still holds the edge. Sucking My Love doesn't suck here but it's not as good as the original. So it's a mixed bag, from a more mature but less energetic band.
If you're a die hard Diamond Head fan like me, this is essential, even if you'll find yourself listening to both versions because this does not replace the version you have. If you're not, then this is still worth checking out, unlike the majority of similar releases. It's a damn good album on its own merits and it absolutely does not pale in comparison with the original. And if you don't like Diamond Head, then I doubt this will convert you and I hope that I cover a varied enough swathe of the spectrum that you'll find something in what I review that you'll dig.
And that leaves us with the covers.
The one I heard before the album came out is a true gem and it's a dream come true for me, or at least part of one. It's No Remorse, from Metallica's album Kill 'Em All, which means that Diamond Head are covering Metallica who made Diamond Head famous by covering them. If I haven't lost count over the years, Metallica have covered four of the seven songs on this album now and I'd love for them to cover the whole thing. I'd similarly love for Diamond Head to cover the whole of Kill 'Em All. No Remorse is a glorious start. Even though Andersen tries far too hard to sound like James Hetfield, which was not at all necessary, this is better than the original, especially when it speeds up at the five minute mark. Honest. The next minute is the best minute of music I've heard this year.
That leaves Immigrant Song, Sinner and Rat Bat Blue, the originals by Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest and Deep Purple respectively. Immigrant Song and Sinner sound surprisingly good for songs that nobody needs to cover. Rat Bat Blue is a real deep cut. Not only is it not one of the famous Purple songs, it's not even one I remember. It turns out to be on the Who Do We Think We Are album, which I probably last heard in the mid eighties. It does sound Purply and it has some real energy to it. I like all three.
And this has to be the longest music review I've ever written. Whew. Now to start this album over. In the meantime, the original Lightning to the Nations is a 10/10. I don't give out maximums to albums that have just come out because I believe they have to prove they can last a few years to be worthy of one, but I'll go with an 8/10 for this one rather than a 9/10. When it's great, it's really great. When it's not, it's still pretty damn good. Everything on it is highly recommended. But it doesn't have the edge of the original, I don't think.