Next year marks the 40th anniversary of Lightning to the Nations. The full-length debut from Diamond Head which cemented them as one of the premier acts of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Anthems such as “Helpless” and “The Prince” have since become classics that are instantly recognizable. The history of Diamond Head is one of what might have been. Formed in 1976 by guitarist Brian Tatler, they were poised for world domination. Journalist Geoff Barton of Sounds Magazine described the group as the heir apparent to both Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris praised them as the second coming of Led Zeppelin. Unfortunately, poor management led to the group disbanding in 1985. They’ve gone on to reunite twice, though Harris parted ways with Tatler permanently in 2003.
This year, the group returns with The Coffin Train. The second album featuring vocalist Rasmus Bom Andersen. The previous self-titled release was reminiscent of the groups’ classic sound. It still displayed the punchy and melodic guitar from Tatler but also showed a band attempting to branch out in new directions. The Coffin Train marks a further departure from their NWOBHM roots. Unfortunately, this choice doesn’t lend itself to a remarkable sounding album. Instead, it comes across as a desperate grasp to stay relevant in a musical landscape that’s constantly evolving.
The Coffin Train starts off in high gear with “Belly of the Beast.” Tatler’s familiar playing coincides with Andersen’s Harris-inspired vocals. Truth be told—this is one of the few times on the album where Diamond Head actually sounds like Diamond Head. While Andersen is a talented vocalist, he does appear to be limited on this release. He’s at his strongest when taking on material that’s similar to Diamond Head’s earlier work. “Shades of Black” in particular illustrates this. Andersen’s vocal stylings are far too reminiscent of some of the alternative rock that was prominent throughout the 1990s. He comes dangerously close at times to sounding like a poor man’s Chris Cornell.
Judas Priest’s Demolition immediately comes to mind in searching for a precedent—it’s a follow up to a release with a new vocalist that ultimately falls short. This could be due to the group stretching themselves thin and being pulled in different directions. Ultimately, the album seems to be in conflict with itself. The material that feels like trademark Tatler compositions don’t coincide well with titles such as "The Sleeper" and "Serrated Love." The latter of which has a more commercial sound to it. Some might be quick to bring up that point that bands evolve, progress, and try not to be formulaic with their output. These are all valid points. If Diamond Head is heading towards a new contemporary direction, it seems a bit late in their career to strive for mainstream appeal.
In the end, it’s a serviceable effort with solid production. The Coffin Train is ultimately the little engine that couldn’t. It’s certainly a release that’s sure to be divisive among fans. For the uninitiated, it’s not a good introduction. Longtime fans of the NWOBHM and completists could possibly have a soft spot for Tatler’s determination to keep Diamond Head relevant in the modern age. If you’re waiting for a return to the sound that shaped the genre as we know it today– you might want to get some sleep before Hammersmith.