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It’s gotta be a bitch when a band you influenced becomes the richest, biggest-selling metal group in music history… and you’re still plugging away in clubs 37 years after you began. Such is mythic but true tale of Diamond Head and Metallica.
Diamond Head guitarist/founder Brian Tatler doesn’t let it define him or his band, and will even repeat the now-legendary account for the benefit of Americans who might not be familiar with DH or its place in the NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) movement of the early ’80s.
“It’s fairly well documented that a 17-year-old Danish lad named Lars Ulrich bought our debut album in 1980 from a mail order advert in ‘Sounds’ magazine and had written several times to our fan club,” begins Tatler. “He then made the pilgrimage from Los Angeles to London to see Diamond Head perform at the Woolwich Odeon in July 1981. He made his way backstage and introduced himself; he was very likeable and enthusiastic. Lars ended up staying with Sean [Harris, original vocalist] and me at our parent’s houses for around five weeks, immersing himself in the world of Diamond Head.”
Ulrich returned to LA, and within a year or so, hooked up with Brian Slagel of the then-nascent Metal Blade Records, who was putting out “Hit the Lights” by Ulrich’s new band, Metallica, on a compilation album. “I was busy with Diamond Head, and so this piece of momentous news went in one ear and out the other,” Tatler recalls. “Nonetheless I wished him good luck. Once I read that Master of Puppets had sold a million copies (around 1987) it was almost unbelievable. I thought ‘Wow, here is Lars’ band outselling anything Diamond Head ever achieved by miles.’ If I had heard Kill ‘Em All in 1983 I would not have put money on them becoming the biggest metal band of all time; who knew?”
See also: What Makes NYC Metal?
Part of the reason that Diamond Head–whose classic 1980 tune “Am I Evil” is a marching, menacing slab of metal covered by Metallica on their 1998 Garage Inc. album–didn’t catch on was a lack of U.S. exposure. Diamond Head were signed to MCA, whose industry nickname “Musicians Cemetery of America,” may give a clue as to why the band didn’t hit Stateside until 2002.
Diamond Head tour the US and Europe this year, though without Harris, who hasn’t sung with the band since 2002. “I spent the best years of my life working with Sean Harris,” Tatler says. “No one is a bigger fan of his voice than me, but eventually it became too difficult.” Current Diamond Head singer Nick Tart is actually the only frontman most American fans have seen in concert, and Tatler believes the change hasn’t harmed the band’s legacy. While fame and fortune have likely passed Diamond Head by, Tatler is OK with the band’s status. “I am more than happy to be influential; it lends the band huge credibility,” he concludes. “I have enough to live on so that will do me.”
Diamond Head play Friday, April 12, 8 pm. at Saint Vitus.