Sunday, April 26, 2015

Dead Reckoning

Diamond Head: 
Making Sense of Their CD Releases
Part 1

Muthas, Diamond Head is generally considered one of the best and most influential bands of the NWOBHM.  Lars Ulrich thinks so highly of them that they were the only band to have two songs on his seminal NWOBHM compilation New Wave of British Heavy Metal ’79 Revisited, and Metallica has covered four Diamond Head songs on various releases.  Certainly every metalhead is familiar with Am I Evil because of Metallica.  I know that’s how I first became aware of Diamond Head and that began my quest to acquire their catalog. 

Little did I know that their CD releases are a tangled web of remasters, remixes, live albums and compilations.  Adding further to my confusion, the band was very prolific in the late 70s and early 80s and released all sorts of demo versions of songs that went on to be re-recorded for official releases.  To make matters even worse, the rights to their various recordings were spread across several record labels and countries, and all of these labels put out all sorts of CDs without any explanation of where the songs came from.  It’s total chaos! 

The good news is that I have purchased nineteen of these releases, and tried to track down the origin of each and every one.  I will go through each release and detail the catalog number, contents and whether or not it’s worth owning.  When all is said and done, you are only going to need to purchase a grand total of two(!) items to have the absolutely essential material from Diamond Head

Lightning To The Nations

As you probably already know, Diamond Head’s first album was 1980s Lightning To The Nations.  Now, the album actually didn’t even have a name when it was self-released by the band.  It came in a plain white sleeve with plain white labels without any identifying information at all!  The album was sold through mail order and through shows, and the band members would sign the cover and sometimes write a song title and lyrics on the cover.  A second pressing added song titles to the labels, but there was still no album title.  This led to the album being known initially as The White Album.

In 1981, Woolfe Records, a small German label, reissued the album with a proper cover and gave it the title Lightning To The Nations. Incredibly, Diamond Head’s manager sent the only copy of the master tapes of the album to Woolfe Records and they never sent it back!  This would lead to all sorts of shenanigans in the future, and it would take Lars Ulrich, of all people, to set things straight. 

The commonly available CD issues of Lightning To The Nations are as follows:

1. 1992 - Metal Blade Records – Cat. No. 3984-14006-2

So this was the first CD readily available in the United States of the album and it’s probably great, right?  Nope.  Guess what?  This is actually not the original version of the album, but rather it is composed of remixes done in 1986 by guitarist Brian Tatler.  He claimed to have remixed the album to make it sound more “modern.”  What he really did was reverb the absolute shit out of the album, and lay on an annoying as hell drum sound as a bonus.  Ugh. (These remixes will loom large when we get to the discussion of compilations.)  This was the first CD version that I ever owned and it was the only version that you could obtain for quite a while.  It only contains the original seven songs without any bonus material and has a crappy cover. It’s become scarce over the years as it is now out of print, and I highly recommend you don’t buy it as it’s completely extraneous and sounds like shit.

2. 1997 – High Vaultage Records – Cat. No. HV-1014

High Vaultage Records from Germany struck next with this fifteen track version that featured the original cover artwork from Woolfe Records.  To my knowledge, this is the only CD to feature this artwork.  High Vaultage always does great reissues, so this is probably top notch, right?  Well, it does have the original album and all of the various singles that the band released before getting signed to MCA.  It also has a very nice booklet that is loaded with good info, full lyrics and a ton of pictures.  Unfortunately, I cannot recommend that you buy this CD because High Vaultage did not have access to the master tapes and simply used some vinyl pressings as their audio source.  As a result, this CD sounds very odd and isn’t much of an improvement over the 1992 Metal Blade version.  This is still in print, but I recommend you avoid it because there are much better options available.

3. 2001 – Sanctuary Records Group – Cat. No. CMRCD239

Remember when Sanctuary Records was reissuing tons of amazing NWOBHM albums and compilations, before Beyonce’s dad drove them in to bankruptcy?  Well, this CD was part of that program of reissues, and consists of the original 1980 album and all their pre-MCA singles and EP releases except for one track. The missing track is “It’s Electric (Remix)” that was released on the Diamond Lights EP.  The CD is housed in a white embossed slipcase and the booklet is a replica of the original album cover with the signatures of all the band members. The CD sounds fine, but the music is licensed from Horgi Licensing, which is the same company that licensed the High Vaultage version.  I am not sure if this is vinyl sourced, but I don’t think it is, because the sound is very good.  This version is now out of print, but if you find it cheap it’s not a bad purchase.

4. 2011 – Universal Muisc – Cat. No. 2785026

This is the latest version of the album to be issued and it’s an absolute gem.  This is sourced from the original master tapes and beautifully remastered by Andy Pearce.  The booklet is excellent and there are fourteen tracks spread over two CDs.  This version is 100% authorized by the band as the rights to the album have now reverted to Brian Tatler.  Hold on a minute - where did Universal Music get the master tapes?  The last I told you, Woolfe Records had them in Germany.  Well, back when Lars Ulrich was doing his NWOBHM compilation, he found out the masters were at the house of the president of Woolfe Records and he promptly sent a couple of guys over to the president’s house and they forced him to return them!  They now reside in a vault that is 100% under the control of the band.  Well played Lars. 

This is the ultimate version of the album.  It does have the same fourteen tracks as the Sancutary version, and some brand new, much better artwork and a thick booklet.  I highly recommend this version and, if you only want one Diamond Head CD, get this one.

Borrowed Time

After a couple of years of hard work, lots of touring and robust sales of their self-financed LP and various singles, Diamond Head was finally signed to a major label.  Unfortunately, that major label was MCA Records and MCA knew exactly two things about marketing a Metal band – jack and shit.  MCA was notorious for signing many NWOBHM hopefuls and totally fucking them over with a complete lack of any support and little in the way of marketing. Diamond Head was not the exception to this rule and their signing to MCA did nothing to help them.  While they were signed to MCA they did manage to issue two LPs.  One was pretty good and the other not so much.

The first was 1982’s Borrowed Time and it featured five new songs, two re-recorded songs – “Am I Evil” and “Lightning To The Nations,” and absolutely stunning artwork by Rodney Matthews.  Unfortunately, the production of the album was much more polite than Lightning To The Nations, with Tatler’s guitar work in particular being robbed of much of its power.  As a result, the two re-recordings are subpar when compared to the original versions – don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise. 

Paradoxically, even though this was released on a major label, official CD versions have been scarce until very recently.  There were reissues released in 1989 and 1992 in Japan and a 1992 French reissue, but other than that, there are only two CD versions commonly available in the United States:

1. 2007 – Metal Mind Productions – Cat. No. MASS CD 1078 DG

 Metal Mind Productions from Poland is well known for producing high quality reissues that are generally housed in digipaks with many bonus tracks and nice sound.  Borrowed Time is no exception to that.  Their version includes the original seven tracks and an additional seven bonus tracks – the entirety of the Four Cuts EP and the three track In The Heat Of The Night single.  It should be noted that the Four Cuts EP has a re-recording of “Shoot Out The Lights” (also inferior to the original version) to make their discography even more confusing. Thanks guys! 

The sound on this version is good, but the liner notes make no mention of any remastering, so I would assume it’s not.  This edition is out of print though, but there’s no real need to spend a bunch of ducats on it because of the next version we’re going to discuss.  As an aside, Brian Tatler claims that Universal Music told him this is a bootleg.  I’ve read nothing else that either confirms or denies that.

2. 2009 – Universal Music – Cat. No. 530198

In 2009, Universal Music released a nice little box set called Diamond Head – The MCA Years.  This set features a clamshell box, a very nice booklet chock full of good information and replica LP versions of Borrowed Time, Canterbury and a bonus disc of live material.  The entire set is once again beautifully remastered by Andy Pearce. 

This version of Borrowed Time has seven bonus tracks including the Four Cuts EP and four songs from a BBC Radio 1 Session.  The sound is great and the bonus tracks are excellent.  This box set is readily available, cheap and still in print.  I highly recommend you buy it.


It’s at this point in our story that we have to talk about one of the most baffling career choices in the history of Heavy Metal.  For some reason, Diamond Head decided that their third album would be a great time to completely shift gears and attempt to emulate bands like U2 and Big Country. WTF?!!  I’ve heard many people say that this is comparable to what Def Leppard did with Pyromania. At least Pyromania was still identifiable as hard rock, even if it was more commercial.  Canterbury represented a virtual wholesale rejection of heaviness for the sake of pop-rock stylings. 

I have no idea what the hell they were thinking, but it has become clear to me as I have read more about Sean Harris that he really has no interest in being in a Metal band.  He’s interested in more commercial styles of music and he tried to change Diamond Head into a pop-rock band with this 1983 release.  As you may have already guessed, Canterbury was a complete and utter disaster that completely immolated the band’s fledgling career.  The drummer and bass player either quit or were fired during the recording process, which should give you an idea of how bad things got. 

Once the album was issued fans couldn’t wait to NOT buy it.  The sales were terrible and to make things worse, the initial pressing was marred by a defect that caused it to skip resulting in a recall of 20,000 copies!  The album was also the end of their major label deal as MCA dumped them in 1984. 
The album does have a couple of decent tracks that were re-workings of earlier material – “To The Devil His Due” and “Knight Of The Swords” and it’s no coincidence that these are the songs most people cite to as being the best on the album.  “Ishmael” is a bit of Zeppelin-esque pretentiousness that’s not half bad, but the rest of the tracks are straight up pop-rock with loads of sugary-sweet lyrics and hooks.  If you don’t believe me, then check out “One More Night” for proof:

The strange thing about this album is it becomes clear that Diamond Head could have been a pretty good pop-rock band as they could produce catchy, commercial songs.  However, when you start out with songs like “Lightning To The Nations” and “Am I Evil” the chances of a smooth transition to pop are about zero percent.

CD versions of this album are not very numerous just like Borrowed Time.  Here’s what is readily available:

1.  1989 – MCA Records Japan – Cat. No. 18P2-2747

Now this is an oddball.  Lately, I’ve been seeing this version for sale from a couple of distributors.  I ordered one to see what it was and it appears to be a Japanese release from 1989, but I think it’s a nicely made bootleg.  There is no obi strip, but there is a Japanese language insert.  The lack of an obi is baffling if this is legit.  The CD matrix has no information on it other than the word Canterbury, and the printing on the actual CD is somewhat shoddy.  The booklet has complete lyrics, but there are no bonus tracks.  I would suggest you avoid this if you come across it.

2. 2007 – Metal Mind Productions – Cat. No. Mass CD 1079 DG

This is the companion to the Metal Mind Borrowed Time reissue and it sports the same format of gold CD, digipak and bonus tracks.  There are only three bonus tracks – an extended version of “Makin’ Music” (as if anyone needed that!), a live version of “Sucking My Love”, and a band interview.  This release is still readily available on Amazon, so it’s not a bad choice if you absolutely have to have this album.

3. 2009 – Universal Music – Cat. No. 5320199

This is the version that’s in the Diamond Head – The MCA Years box set. It’s remastered by Andy Pearce and has four bonus tracks – the “Makin’ Music” Extended Version, and three previously unreleased demos.  The demos are “Can’t Take No More,” “Time’s On My Side,” and “Come To Hear You Play.”  Unfortunately, there’s no information about these demos, but they are better than most of the material on the actual album.  My guess is they were pre-production demos for the album, because they sound similar to the material on Borrowed Time.  If anybody out there knows what these are, leave me a comment.  As I mentioned before, I highly recommend you get this boxset.


Okay folks, that’s the end of Part 1.  In Part 2, we’ll cover the newer studio albums, the live albums and the absolutely insane number of compilations.  If you thought Diamond Head’s discography was confusing so far, you ain’t seen nothing yet!


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