For all I’ve read about this Diamond Head and their… post-Lightning to the Nations career, I’m lead to believe they have literally no idea why anyone ever liked them in the first place. As a debut, this is really about as good as you can get – a fully realized work that influences millions of metalheads for decades, even if most of it is second hand through a couple humble ’80s bands who admittedly went onto greater commercial success. Far from existing in isolation, Diamond Head’s debut was but one of many salvos in the much ballyhoo’ed New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and it’s a pretty good indicator of what the scene brought to the other heavy metal scenes of the time.
Lightning To The Nations doesn’t have a whole lot that wasn’t already prototyped or even fully realized (read: Rainbow, Judas Priest, Motorhead) in years before, but it’s consistently faster and more embellished than many of its forebears. It’s not necessarily more aggressive – the production standards are one of the major weak points here. While everything’s reasonably clear and intelligible, Lightning To The Nations can’t keep up with contemporary advances in guitar distortion, drum reverb, and other stereotypical measurements of heaviness. While this is understandable due to this basically being a demo, it does mean that Diamond Head has to rely on their compositional advances to keep people listening.
Without the aforementioned effort, Diamond Head would never have reached even their initial level of successful influence. Luckily for them, Lightning To The Nations nails both compact and extended songwriting (at least on the original version – some pressings include extra tracks that are… iffy.). The means that keep these tracks working are pretty basic – high riff density, skilled use of dynamics to define song structures, and generally accomplished (if not particularly technical) musicianship from the entire band. It’s probably a blog cliche at this point to say that metal musicians have become far more ambitious than Diamond Head’s debut ever was in recent years, but the tracks here still work and provide valuable lessons on how to extend metal beyond its blues-inflected cradle without resorting to flashy gimmicks.
If Diamond Head had managed to properly iterate on the ideas here in their future instead of making whatever Canterbury was… well, that on its own would be no guarantee of financial success, but it might’ve helped 30 years down the road. Still, having your DNA splattered all over the decade counts for something… and Metallica’s worship doesn’t hurt, either.
Highlights: “The Prince”, “Am I Evil?”, “Helpless”