Thursday, November 19, 2015

We Love Lightning to the Nations and Never Needed Lars Ulrich’s Help

Though I wish I were alive during the nascent days of the NWOBHM, repelling women and strumming cardboard guitars, I cannot claim such a timeline and must admit that my first exposure to Diamond Head’s music was a cassette copy of Metallica’s $5.98 EP in the mid 90s. Hell, maybe there really are modern rock critics who can bring up Lighting to the Nations without mentioning that “M” word, but I’ve never read their work. We all know that history favors the victors, and though I can hang with a little hyperbole, touted cliches like “No Diamond Head = No Metallica” are as reductive as they are lazy...and don’t even get me started on Malc Macmillan’s “Ulrich Causality Theorem.” What I’ll say is this: with or without Metallica’s aping, Lightning to the Nations would still stand as one of 80’s UK’s most magnificent heavy metal artifacts and bearded journos and bloggers past and present would still champion its greatness and bemoan its underappreciation.

Indeed Lightning to the Nations shows Diamond Head at their most cohesive, a debut full length that nominally indicated hard rock’s seismic shift, showcasing more hooks than a barrel of pay-lake trout. It shouldn’t have surprised the rock press when it debuted on the heels of 2 hot singles (Shoot Out the Lights and Sweet and Innocent) in 1980, but methinks the deft interplay ‘tween Brian Tatler’s circuitous riffing and Sean Harris’s soaring vocals served as soothing balm for a nation balls deep in a vapid punk rock lie. Sublime, orgiastic crescendos nestled in middle passages of “Sucking My Love” and “Am I Evil?” interspersed with meat n’ taters anthemics like “Helpless” and “It’s Electric” offer listeners a full-bodied hard rock masterpiece, a casserole equal parts pomp and gristle, neither one overpowering the other. Gee-tar acrobatics? Check. Benign rock-god balladry? Check. A rhythm section a’la Colin Kimberley and Duncan Scott that simply will not quit? Check check check.
And while “Diamond Head” and “NWOBHM” go together like fanny-packs and Floridians, where contemps like Priest and Maiden stripped their riffs of all loose n’ bluesy excesses, Diamond Head had no bones with ‘em, freely sampling from ALL the great 70’s rock staples (Queen, Slade, Zeppelin, Leafhound, Rush, Bad Company) to cobble their own pastiche of hard glam, high octane thrills and gooey and melodic centers.  Of course, the band’s glory days were numbered almost as soon as they began, following up Lightning with a spate of lackluster full-lengths, unnecessary re-recordings and that acoustic EP that no one asked for, but what’s done is done, and we have the internet now.

“There are more good riffs in your average single Diamond Head song than there are in the first four Black Sabbath albums,” goes an alleged quote by in-on-the-ground-floor NWOBHM journalist Geoff Barton. It’s an extreme declaration perhaps, but one worthy of dissection, the kind I’d encourage everyone to engage regularly with some headphones and a spliff. What I can say is that  Lightning to the Nations and each of its 7 bombastic cuts stand, individually and combined, as grade A rock. “Mother” riffs from which all other riffs descend. Yes, it’s heavy metal. Yes it’s hard rock. Yes it’s full-to-bursting with nearly every silver-tongued rock n’ roll trope that’ll put hair on chests and wrinkles into brains. Moreover though, and I say this now, having just listened to the title track a whopping 18 times in a row:  it’s an album that transcends regional scenes, clunky acronyms and all the ‘Tallica-damaged retro-fitting you can heap on it.
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