Well, I couldn’t easily decide whether to present “Lightning to the Nations” or “Living On… Borrowed Time” in our Hall Of Fame section. I’ve talked it over with editors Alex & Dimitrios and they both had a different point of view on that. So, I finally decided to present “Lightning to the Nations”, cuz it was such an influential album that it has influenced the metal, proto-thrash & thrash metal movement very much but it never got the praise it deserves.
After all, that’s the band’s “official” debut album as Brian Tatler told Grande Rock (you can read all of it below), even though they called it the “demo album” for a while, as he claims, cuz they were so naïve to believe they would re-record it once they had a proper deal with an established label. As it turned out they never did that and that’s the reason we see two tracks from that album re-recorded on “Living On… Borrowed Time”.
Diamond Head is a greatly underrated band. They never get the praise they actually deserve for their aid in formatting the so called thrash metal movement of the early 80s. Along with Motorhead and Venom, Diamond Head are actually the third (and most basic) factor of the thrash metal music of the 80s. Diamond Head “offered” the essence of thrash metal, their riffs and solos and none can say otherwise. Ha it not been for Diamond Head, thrash metal wouldn’t have evolved the way it did… and that’s a damn fact.
“Lightning to the Nations”, as all the NWOBHM albums of that era, balances between hard rock and heavy metal music. Brian Tatler proves how great a songwriter and a riff-machine he is and Sean Harris how fantastic a singer he can be when he sings with passion and magnitude right from the heart.
“Lightning to the Nations” is also one of the most ripped-off albums of the 80s metal history and after. Riffs and solos from almost every song in here have been used again and again by the first thrash metal bands of that time – Metallica, Megadeth, Exodus etc. – and even from more modern thrash metal movement of the 90s & 00s. Just listen to “Sucking My Love”, “Am I Evil”, “The Prince” etc. I bet you’ll catch up yourself wondering where and by which band you’ve heard the specific riff, solo and so on. That’s for those who haven’t listened to Diamond Head before… as for the others, they already know that, even though some might not easily admit it just for the sake of it! Metallica have paid their tribute to Diamond Head by covering 4(!) out of the 7 tracks from this album. Mustaine has also talked about the important role that Diamond Head ( and Tatler as a guitarist) have played music-wise from his Metallica days and after. Even though Tatler doesn’t like to comment about the rip-off thing, sometimes “silence” from such renowned musicians means much more than words.
I won’t even go on a track-by-track review; I think what Tatler’s comments below are far more interesting. Moreover Brian has also pointed out a few incidents regarding “Lightning to the Nations” that are not so well known, like the album’s production, which is fine but not great, and how the band along with their in-house engineer, Paul, took care of it, instead of their late manager, who has taken the credit for it. Anyhow, Brian is a truly genuine musicians who tell things the way they are without trying to be any kind of “diplomat”. Read below what Brian Tatler told Grande Rock, not only about the tracks, but also about the album title and “Lightning to the Nations” in general…
Brain told Grande Rock about each one of the tracks…
“Lightning to the Nations”: It’s a very original song, I cannot think of any other song by any other band that sounds like this and that is a hell of a claim! It still in the live set after 35 years.
“The Prince”: Fast complicated riff, we could not help ourselves, we would come up with all these riffs and have to stick them in. The lines “I wish to sell my soul” and “I will burn in Hell from the day I die”, were very brave for the time.
“Sucking My Love”: It has a great riff to hang the song on, based on the classic pentatonic blues scale a bit like “Rock Bottom”. It is the longest song Diamond Head have ever recorded weighing in at 9:30 min. It never felt like it was too long just that it felt right. It has loads of dynamics, something we got really good at for a while, taking the listener on a journey.
“Am I Evil?”: The album contains Diamond Head’s most famous song “Am I Evil?”. Every band needs a signature song to be identified with, and “Am I Evil?” is ours. I wanted to write a song that was heavier than Black Sabbath’s “Symptom of the Universe”; that has a humongous riff and I tried to out-heavy it. It also has the same flattened fifth chord (the Devil’s note). When I came up with the riff both Sean and Colin said that it was good and should be worked on. We deliberately arranged it so that the same riff relentlessly carries on for two-and-a-half minutes but with key changes and the beat moving around underneath it. The song evolved over a period of about 18 months as we seemed to keep adding to it, including the fast section which has a similar (but speeded up) rhythm to Sabbath’s “Children of the Grave”. I don’t know why I thought of borrowing Gustav Holst’s “Mars, Bringer of War” theme as an intro, but I always liked it as a kid and just thought it would make a great start because it’s dramatic and it draws you in. Ours is a different rhythm though, similar to the middle eight of Deep Purple’s “Child in Time”. Another classical heavy riff was Mussorgsky’s “Night on a Bare Mountain” but I couldn’t work that into a song – or haven’t been able to yet, anyway! I must also give a nod to the intro to Rainbows 1979 song “Eyes of the World”. I was re-writing the solo while we were recording it, where it changes key under the tapping section. I finally figured out all the changes with Paul’s help and when it was finished I was extremely proud of it; I still play the solo now as I did back then. “Am I Evil?” has got fabulous dynamics and is a symphony of, well, evil. Something I have realised over the years is how hard it is to write a song like that. Even now, I don’t really know how to do it. It’s just something that came naturally at the time, probably spawned by a blend of confidence and naivety. To match my heavy riffing Sean came up with suitably dark lyrics, which included the most extreme opening of any metal song up to then: “My mother was a witch/she was burned alive/thankless little bitch/for the tears I cried…”.
“Sweet and Innocent”: Was our attempt at a hit single, it was under 4 minutes long and had a big chorus. We re-recorded it for the 7″ single but it was nothing like a hit!
“It’s Electric”: This was my attempt at an AC/DC type riff, leaving space between the chords for the snare drum. It is the oldest song on the album. We began writing songs as soon as we formed, we had written 45 songs before “Its Electric” came along. The only song we have released that is older than this is “Wild on the Streets”, this dates back to April 1978 and came out on the 1993 album “Death & Progress”.
“Helpless”: Was two songs joined together, Sean and I came up with the main part, which was very fast for the time, it’s been called “proto thrash” before now. Then we joined it onto another song we had at the time called “Come Again”! A shortened version of this song was released as the B-side to our first single “Shoot out the Lights” in Feb 1980.
Brian do tell us a bit about the background of the album.
B: We had written 100 songs, and played nearly 50 gigs, by the time we went into the Old Smithy studio on 17th March 1980 to begin recording our first album “Lightning to the Nations”, so the seven songs chosen were the cream of our live shows.
We wrote instinctively. We had our influences, certainly, but we added our own style as well as the energy and the speed that we picked up from playing live, from having to ram ourselves down people’s throats to get a good reaction. We would always start with a fast song and keep the momentum going throughout
The studio at the Old Smithy was very ‘dead’ and as Duncan remembers it, “I found myself in this claustrophobic drum booth, a bit bigger than a phone box and carpeted inside wall-to-wall. I could just about get my kit in, and you didn’t want to breath too deeply because it seemed to be airtight!”. Paul Robbins, the in-house engineer, sent a click track down our headphones to us, which was a cowbell on 1-2-3-4. Dunc had to have it very loud in his headphones to hear it over his kit; I put his cans on to see how loud it was and it was like someone repeatedly poking knitting needles in your ears! Duncan never had the luxury of rehearsing to a click track and found it very off-putting.
The album took seven days to record and mix by Paul. I have seen our late manager Reg credited as the producer of “Lightning to the Nations” but in the studio it was just Paul engineering and us making suggestions. To be honest, we felt it wasn’t well-produced, but it sounded great in the studio through the big speakers. The stereo guitars sounded fantastic to me especially on “Sucking My Love”. Paul insisted on monitoring on two tiny Auratone speakers mounted on top of the Tweed Audio 30 into 24 desk on the grounds that “If it sounds good on these it will sound good on anything”! We did nearly all the songs in one take, getting the drums, bass and rhythm guitar down in one if possible with Sean singing along, working on his final lyrics. Then I would overdub a second guitar and record any guitar solos, and finally Sean would weave his magic; for someone just nineteen years old, Sean had astounding timing and pitch. At one point I saw Paul reading a newspaper spread out on the desk and at the end of a take I asked, “How was that?”… “Seemed all right to me”, he sniffed.
I used my Flying V on every song with a Marshall amp and 4×12 cab and a Morley power/wah/boost pedal for solos but I played the whole of “Am I Evil?” with the wah-wah on for a cutting nasal sound. It’s double-tracked, so one side is with the wah on, the other without.
Paul played the keyboards on the intro to “Am I Evil?” and “The Prince” (the first time we used keyboards) and as there was a cupboard full of Latin percussion instruments we dragged them all out and tried to think where they could be used. Shakers, wood blocks, bell trees… There are some little bells in the middle of “Sucking My Love”, and at the beginning of “Helpless” some Rototoms that sound like jam jars covered in cling film.
Why did you name it “Lighting to the Nations”?
B: Sean got the title from a painting called “Lightning to the Nations”. He had seen it somewhere in Stourbridge and thought it would make a good title for a song, when we had the song and it became track one side one, it seemed like a good album title too.
Do you consider “Lighting to the Nations” to be your debut full-length album or “Living On … Borrowed Time” cuz it was on a proper label. Can “Lighting to the Nations” be considered as a “demo” release – was it meant to be that way in the first place?
B: I consider “Lightning to the Nations” to be the first Diamond Head album, we did call it the demo album for a bit because we naively thought we would re-record it once we had a deal, that never happened and so our first release on a record label was “Borrowed Time”. In hindsight it does not matter that it was not on a proper label and had a limited pressing to be sold at gigs. It gave the album mystique and it’s become a classic. I am glad we did it.
Do you believe that this could have been such an influential heavy metal album as it turned out?
B: I had no idea; I just wanted people to like it. I liked it and that was all I could think of, a lot of work went into that album. The culmination of four years of writing and learning.
01. Lightning to the Nations (4:14)
02. The Prince (6:13)
03. Sucking My Love (9:32)
04. Am I Evil? (7:22)
05. Sweet and Innocent (3:13)
06. It’s Electric (3:37)
07. Helpless (6:48)
Sean Harris – Vocals
Brian Tatler – Guitar
Colin Kimberley – Bass
Duncan Scott – Drums