Album review: DIAMOND HEAD – The Coffin Train

Diamond Head - The Coffin Train

Silver Lining Music [release date: 24.05.19]

Ah, the enigma that is Diamond Head.

The band who are rightly regarded as pioneers of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal; and who inspired the first wave of thrash in the shape of Metallica and Megadeth. And yet a band that never achieved the success it deserved.

Remarkably, across almost 45 years of stop-start activity, ‘The Coffin Train’ is only Diamond Head’s 8th full studio album.

It comes packed with Brian Tatler’s riveting, heavy-but-complex riffs. The very marks of belligerence and clarity that made us frothy mouthed with excitement back in 1980 anyway. If only the band had stuck to that fresh, compelling formula, their history might be very different.

Comparisons with the seminal ‘Lightning to the Nations’ release are unfair after such a long period of time. Suffice to say that by the time a major label debut of ‘Borrowed Time’ arrived in the early 80’s, Diamond Head’s sound had softened. When ‘Canterbury’ hit the decks with an inclination towards melodic and prog tendencies, the horse had well and truly bolted.

Much of the material on ‘The Coffin Train’, including the dynamic opener, ‘Belly of the Beast’ and ‘The Messenger’ is crunching metal that graduates from the old school with honours. Ironically, it is the same school that Diamond Head helped to establish.

Nevertheless, the album deserves to be judged on its own merits. For it packs a serious punch across all the touchstones of top notch metal: powerhouse, accessible riffs; strong vocals; assured, well constructed songs and electrifying lead work. It’s all here (just 30 years late…!)

There’s much more than those towering riffs though. This album has dollops of bombast and swagger. Take ‘The Sleeper (Prelude)/Sleeper’ with portentous foot-stamping and inaudible megaphone rants, giving way to strains of arpeggio acoustic guitar and finally chunky riffage underpinned by brooding keyboards. And ‘Serrated Love’ has a rock opera feel, featuring a melodramatic transition into another searing Tatler solo.

Mainman Tatler is in imperious form. Fluid, effervescent solos and harmonizing licks everywhere. On ‘Shades of Black’ he finds a gorgeous tone for the main riff; and on the title track there’s room to coax and then pummel the song into a minor classic. Maybe the best here. Tatler was always about songs that hung together around at least two if not three thumping riffs. That formula endures here.

In Rasmus Bom Andersen, Tatler has found a fine vocalist with a great range. His tone and pitch is reminiscent of founder member and former frontman Sean Harris, but he delivers a little more grunt and growl when needed. This is Andersen’s second outing, having debuted on 2016’s ‘Diamond Head’ (their first for nine years).

Long time collaborator Karl Wilcox beats the drums, Andy Abberley is retained on rhythm guitar from the last album and the bass slot is filled by Dean Ashton.

There a faint whiff of Axel Rudi Pell-style euro metal about some of the tight, compressed production and vocal phrasing. Sometimes to the detriment of the mood. And Andersen can be guilty of overdoing the histrionics. ‘The Phoenix’ is a bit much, for instance, and album closer, ‘Until We Burn’ has rather more cheese than is good for the digestion.

This album will be divisive. For die hards, it will be tough to swallow. It is not NWOBHM and it certainly is not the successor to ‘Lightning…’, but taken in its own right, albeit with enough nods to the roots, this is a fine, well crafted and powerful album. Massive respect to Tatler for sticking to his values and finding a contemporary sound to alloy with his metallic instincts. ****

Review by Dave Atkinson

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