My taste in music varies around a lot. I began with softer rock as a child, but soon was leaning heavily towards the AOR sound of bands like Journey and Asia. Then back in the very beginning of my earliest interests in heavy metal there was one band who remain with me the most profound and highest of the entire New Wave Of British Heavy Metal- Diamond Head. I never was a "proper metal head." I hated most of what was supposed to be heavy metal and it was more hard rock I was drawn to- hard rock under the guise of "Heavy Metal." Think about it. Most "Metal" is contrived, machine-like, nasty, spiteful, arrogant, inept noise and not even music, but there was a time when you could be thrown under the banner of Heavy Metal and actually be very musical and passionate. There was no band more musical and more passionate than the Midlands legends Diamond Head. Formed in the mid 70s by Sean Harris (Lead vocals, guitar, percussion), Brian Tattler (Lead guitar, backing vocals), Colin Kimberley (Bass guitar, backing vocals), and Duncan Scott (Drums, percussion, backing vocals) Diamond Head worked their way up in the late 1970s from a small club band to an underground sensation. With early releases like the Diamond Lights EP and their masterful first album Lightning To The Nations (1980 private release) Diamond Head were clearly not your average metal band. Brian Tattler's guitar tone from the beginning of their career through their last proper album Canterbury wasn't the usual machine made distorted ineptitude of most metal. His clear, bell like tone and highly melodic complex solos could even be compared to the guitar sound of 1960s psychedelia like Quicksilver Messenger Service and his hard driving riffs had that same understated complexity. Add to that Sean Harris. He has the ultimate voice, a voice that most singers would die for, and his crystal clear wailing really sounded like a young Robert Plant singing, wailing, throwing it all into the ether from the heart not from the usual screeching poseur metal voice of the horrid Bruce Dickinson or the strained Biff Byford (Saxon). In fact, Diamond Head were more true New Wave Of British Heavy Metal than Iron Maiden or Saxon ever were, although Saxon began with some honest hard rock intentions. Diamond Head's music is hard rock, but heavier yet also more melodic. That is the sound of the NWOBHM- hard rock 70s style with an upgraded snarly edge. Along with Harris and Tattler who wrote Diamond Head's material their rhythm section could more than handle the changeable nature of the songs and played with precision, skill, intelligence, and sympathy to the material.
Diamond Head on first listening is something I will never forget. It really was a lesson in how much heavy metal is nothing more than a musical lie compared to what it was in the best of the NWOBHM and 70s bands. I was never scared by Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth, Skid Row, Wasp, any of those bands. They did nothing for me and Metallica I just never got. Lars Ulrich should have a medal when it comes to a true historian of heavy music. He loves the NWOBHM and he's turned a lot of heads in that direction. Unfortunately, Metallica can't cover a Diamond Head song like "Am I Evil" or "The Prince" without lapsing into the cold, mechanical, noisy more than musical inept thrash metal that typifies their music. I never liked Metallica because they sounded too much like a machine and were, truth be told, always more on the proto-grunge metal side like Nirvana than the kind of traditional metal I've always preferred. When I first heard Diamond Head's best album Borrowed Time (MCA 1982) all the way back at the age of 12 in 1988 I was terrified by it. I considered it the scariest music I'd ever heard and the effect of such dark material and so much emotion was something I'd never heard in metal. The mournful nature of the lyrics and plaintive howl of Sean Harris seemed so unearthly and so much like somebody who was really showing you a true kind of sorrow in his voice. The music is filled with deceptive changes, soaring completely unpredictable guitar solos, and the dark, literate, menacing horror movie come emotional storm lyrics of Sean Harris. I nearly fell on the floor at first hearing of this. I couldn't believe what I was getting myself into. It was a dark time for me full of a lot of pain and misery and the music of Diamond Head seemed to be belting out the exact same fear that I was trying to hide. I knew this wasn't your average metal. In fact, I couldn't really consider it metal. I didn't know what it was. I just knew that I'd never heard music like this in my life. At 12 and 13 it was too exotic for me, I couldn't get it.
I found myself fast becoming a Diamond Head devotee in 1989 towards the end of my first metal phase with the material on the dreadful sound quality job Behold The Beginning with the liner notes from Lars Ulrich explaining that the sound wasn't up to snuff. I had heard Lars and Metallica destroy both "The Prince" and "Am I Evil," but on hearing what those songs sounded like as by Diamond Head- amazing music it was. If you fast forward ages and ages later, however, it would be Borrowed Time and its follow up Canterbury which would be my faves by Diamond Head- especially Borrowed Time- the album that once scared me shitless.
I would not recommend the American pressing of Borrowed Time which is how I heard it first. They put the songs in the wrong order and dispensed with the lovely gatefold. Buy the British original press. Borrowed Time is an album that shows the best side of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal and also that progressivism can peacefully coexist with heavy hitting hard rock- it ain't neo prog. Songs like the despair and yearning filled title track are so full of passion, soul, melody, and brilliant guitar work that they demand to be heard by anybody who loves music of all kinds. Diamond Head are a melodic band. Even "Am I Evil" which is their most famous song and also their most violent is a melodic, charging, galloping, emotional feast for the ears. While Diamond Head never would enjoy the huge success they deserved the same is true of all the best bands of the NWOBHM. It was a time of youthfulness and optimism where "Anything Goes" as Def Leppard would say and everything did go at full speed. The time of the greatest hard rock ever made since the heyday of the 60s and 70s may not have been long, only maybe a decade's worth, but bands such as Dedringer, Magnum, Bronz, Chevy, Dark Star, Marseille, Diamond Head who I'm writing about, Money, Quartz, Tytan, Lion, Lionheart, Tygers Of Pan Tang proved that rock and roll was something that could be immortalized on vinyl. Diamond Head got me interested, they got me to see things differently about music, and they also opened my mind to the possibilities of how the human voice could become a musical instrument like a vocal electric guitar. Sean Harris and Brian Tattler wrote a lot of amazing songs together and his voice was so sympathetic to Brian's guitar that it fell into place in an easy brilliant manner. I can come back to these songs, these hot and sweaty performances of letting it all out, and I can just soar with the music, focus entirely on everything there is going on that is so special about Diamond Head's sound.
For a band who took my mind and blew it into fragments then reassembled it I will love Diamond Head for an eternity. You should check out their music and FORGET the covers done by Metallica. Metallica were always only in it for the money and fame and lied about that. Diamond Head are all about one of their song titles off Canterbury "Making Music." Rock On Diamond Head- may your music be heard by more and more people every year who will learn the lessons from it that I learned.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Not for the timid, Silberbart and Rag I Ryggen
played the kind of rough, hard, and heavy progressive/psychedelic/proto metal rock that revolutionized European rock in the early to mid 70s and although Rag I Ryggen from Stockholm in Sweden dedicate roughly half their album to songs in their native tongue and the other to English with plenty of melodic passages thrown in both bands are seriously heavy.
Rag I Ryggen are oftentimes compared to Uriah Heep, and that is I would say a pretty fair guess at a big influence on this group. However, as with all descriptions of rare records and rare music I'd differ a bit. For one thing, all 7 songs on their masterful one off album are based on Classical themes, not in an Overt Nice/Keith Emerson sort of way, but in a much more truly sophisticated fashion that I'd describe as Heavy Symphonic rather than the early Genesis or King Crimson kind of more mellower soft to hard and back passage prog rock. While I'm at a loss as to what their name and half the lyrics here mean and can only tell you that the 3 English lyrics are good, but not anything beyond woman trouble it's probably a pretty fair guess that these guys had something against the opposite sex or just were all having the same break up at once when they made their record. "Naked Man" is such a poor lyric that it's funny the way you laugh at a bad Aerosmith lyric. However, unlike virtually any other hard rock band I can think of there is a sophistication to the music that few other bands in the whole world could match here. Even with a brutal twin distorted guitar and organ attack the music here is beautiful. The vocals avoid screaming tantrum throwing pretentions and the harmonies are first class when they use them. Rag I Ryggen jam throughout their record, even devoting a whole track to various symphonic/classical instrumental phrases at the end of side one. The cover apes Roger Dean who did a few covers for Uriah Heep, but if you're expecting a rip off band here they are not. This record has its own sound and clearly later Swedish acts like Europe, 220 Volt, and Treat demonstrated that hard rock and melodic songs could be combined with magical results. I love Rag I Ryggen, the guitar is some of the best in the world, the entire band are brilliant musicians, and this really is a masterpiece of the Proto melodic epic metal. I'd strongly urge anyone who would like to learn about the beginnings of later hard rock in Northern Europe and why the real early to mid 70s bands did it a whole lot better than most anywhere else start here and blast the volume on their turntable for this beast.
Silberbart is Deutsche for "Silver Beard," but there's nothing old or tired about the 3 piece band of that name whose masterful album is now one of the most expensive (over 1,000 Euros even it can fetch) and highly praised on the German division of the Philips label. Normally hard heavy crazy is good sounding to my ears, but when you throw in the free form freak out you've lost me, but there's something about Silberbart that's different. I'll be damned if I know how to describe it, but the 16 minute quiet and vivid soundscapes merged with screaming vocal fits and demolishing bull dozing guitars back to that quiet, strange land "Brain Brain" actually makes me feel great when I hear it, not sick. For one thing, these guys are 3 really good musicians. They are Robert Fripp and Mike Giles level good and you can count on your fingers how few bands there are at that high a standard. Also, I despise the term "Krautrock." I find it degrading, asinine, insulting, obnoxious, and unforgivable. If you really took a good look at what went on in the two World Wars Germany and England got screwed royally while America got off light in comparison. After the war Germany had to be rebuilt and had to recover not just from the physical damage caused by Adolph Hitler's destruction, but the huge emotional weight that the country had been left with. Rather impressively, Germany pulled together and the country would even prosper over time and heal. That's great. One major factor to making Germany a great country instead of a shameful one would undeniably be the fact that no other country in the world had a music scene as inventive, exciting, and exotically different sounding as they did. Keeping psychedelia alive and playing music of their very own vision, German bands are brilliant. Silberbart are one of the best ever for the heaviest side of German rock, and though their album is just 4 long tracks you don't feel like they are navel gazing, showing off, or meandering the way some other bands of that era do. I'll take this over Pink Floyd any day thank you. While the opening track "Chub Chub Cherry" is somewhat whimsical in its heaviness the rest of the album has a more go for the throat sound to it while remaining firmly structured. The guitar and bass know how to feed off of each other in the most exciting manner and the drums are as I said reminiscent of the 3 best in the word- Mike Giles, Bill Bruford, and Ginger Baker. If you've always wanted to hear a perfect hybrid of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath if they went freaked out psychedelic look no further. This album doesn't miss a step. You can't play it too often or you may damage your hearing, but there's nothing like pulling it out once or twice every few weeks and losing yourself in that magical world contained herein. It's a blissful experience and one you shouldn't miss. Find Silberbart's only LP Four Times Sound Razing and blow your mind 15 times in the listening process!