Diamond Head: Lightning To The Nations (2 disc reissue)
The story of Diamond Head is a tale oft told, the band with talent to burn somehow failing to get themselves a record deal with a self financed release that went on to become an underground classic and catalyst for a whole new music movement. However even with that hype, they never quite broke through and after three albums were gone. The band would reform, split and reform again, their latest album simply titled Diamond Head a surprise highlight of 2016.
What HNE/Cherry Red have reissued here is Lightning To The Nations (or, seeing as it initially arrived in a plain white sleeve back in 1980 adorned only with the band's signatures, The White Album), which has a lengthy story all of its own. With the band's reputation growing but record labels still proving shy, their management thought recording an album off their own back and then shopping it to the labels was the way to go. However even then, and showing just how little a clue record labels often have, Diamond Head couldn't get that elusive deal. So they sold the album themselves via concerts and mail order and with it selling out a second pressing did likewise, followed by two German issues of the album on vinyl, before those dunderheads at MCA finally took the plunge and snapped them up.
Lightning To The Nations would go on to be released on CD by Metal Blade in 1993, although with the original tapes lost, a 1986 remaster was used as the source, which featured errors including missing song introductions. Before a 1997 version from High Voltage records used the German vinyl issue to rectify the problems. However it wasn't until 2011 that Universal reissued the album again, but this time from the re-found masters, meaning it was the first time the original album in all its glory arrived an CD. It's this version, including the same seven bonus tracks, that HNE/Cherry Red serve up here. At the time that edition was called the 'deluxe version' and yet many decried that a host of other rare b side, live and EP tracks could have easily been included, especially given that both the CDs of material released could have fitted on one disc.
Putting all that aside, let's talk about the important thing, a NWOBHM debut released during the genre's early days that rivals, if not betters, the first forays from Iron Maiden, Saxon, Def Leppard, Tygers Of Pan Tang et al. Don't believe me? Well, ask the mainmen in Metallica, Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield, the pair consistently hailing Diamond Head over the years and regularly covering four of the seven songs this album contains. Therefore it's no surprise that "Am I Evil?" is possibly the archetypal NWOBHM track, grand in scale, sharp in execution and mighty in delivery. It also contains an instantly memorable chorus and pompous, bombastic intro. Who could ask for more? Well, ask or not, "The Prince" powers along on guitarist Brian Tatler's muscular riffola, while singer Sean Harris utilises his high energy, high octane vocal weapon to the full. Not to be outdone, "It's Electric" pulls everything back in to hit with sharp, incisive forays and another killer chorus, before "Helpless" leaves you exactly that, the deep thick groove scything all in its path.
The three less celebrated tracks don't let the quality drop one iota, "Lightning To The Nations" a slow build of intensity, the (ahem) questionably titled "Sucking My Love" (how times have changed…) pinpoint in its attacks and "Sweet And Innocent" proving anything but as it waggles its posterior suggestively. Credit to bassist Colin Kimberley and drummer Duncan Scott, the often forgotten pair key reasons why these songs are quite as potent as they are, the duo's contributions making it easy to understand why a slue of bands have once again begun to mimic these styles.
Forgetting that space would allow all seven bonus cuts to sit on the same disc as the main album, I must admit to preferring them to be presented separately, the classic release allowed to be represented as it originally was. However disc two is no second best effort (well it is, but not by far and considering the standard set, that's nothing to complain about), a similar attitude and application revealed through stand alone singles, "Shoot Out The Lights" and "Waited Too Long"/"Play It Loud" (which arrived as a 'double a side') and b side track "Streets Of Gold", while "Diamond Lights", "We Won't Be Back" and "I Don't Got" come from the Diamond Lights EP. In all honesty it's hard to say that any of these tracks are good enough to displace the seven cuts that made the debut and yet, even culled together as an odds and sods disc, they make a mighty impression. I agree it's hard not to pine for those other long lost tracks, but at least what's presented here is of the highest order. Add in an extensive, if not updated, essay in the CD booklet and a cool four panel digi-case and this really is a neat reissue of an album that lives up to its hype.
However for Diamond Head the moment had passed, the band's two studio albums for MCA, Borrowed Time (1982) and Canterbury (1983) never, through subtle changes in direction, quite reaching the same urgent heights of Lightning To The Nations; proving commercial and critical failures in the process, even if, looking back, both are pretty special in their own right. The band would reform for a one off album in the early 90s, before splitting and reforming again in the early 00s, although these days only Brian Talter remains from the original line up. However, the band's debut remains a genuine defining moment in the history of heavy metal and even thirty six years after its initial release, it's still easy to hear why.
1. LIGHTNING TO THE NATION
2. THE PRINCE
3. SUCKING MY LOVE
4. AM I EVIL?
5. SWEET AND INNOCENT
6. IT'S ELECTRIC
DISC TWO: THE SINGLES
1. SHOOT OUT THE LIGHTS
2. STREETS OF GOLD
3. WAITED TOO LONG
4. PLAY IT LOUD
5. DIAMOND LIGHTS
6. WE WON'T BE BACK
7. I DON'T GOT
Added: December 18th 2016
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Lightning To The Nations at Cherry Red
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