Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
The Coffin Train has been rerailed and is, without a shadow of a doubt, firmly back on track! That’s the resounding message sent out most loudly and clearly by legendary Midlands metal outfit Diamond Head in Plymouth last Friday night.
Departing The Junction’s stage to resounding roars, reverberated up and down Mutley Plain, and absolute adoration it was utterly evident that, whilst commercial success has to a degree cruelly eluded sole-founding member Brian Tatler, this quintet hold a very special place in heavy metal’s hall of legacy.
Going into the winter of 2019 their express was at full tilt; countless festival appearances and headline dates the length and breadth of the UK and across a dozen mainland European countries demonstrating the voracious appetite for their 2019 opus.
However global issues had other ideas and in March 2020 the Coffin Train was shunted into the sidings and mothballed for nearly a year and a half awaiting the rallying call to return to mainline action.
Diamond Head’s final day slot at Bloodstock, sharing the Ronnie James Dio stage with such peers as Judas Priest and Saxon, was to be that return. However, an offer of a warm-up gig down on the south coast, in the historic maritime city of Plymouth, proved to be an astute move all around.
A totally rip-snorting and completely spellbinding 14 track set, clocking in at a shade under an hour and a half, not only blew the cobwebs away but atomised them into oblivion. All cogs and pistons well oiled and polished’ most definitely fully functional.
Located at the southern end of the vibrant Mutley Plain area of the city, sitting on the intersection of two busy roads, The Junction is a well-known local music venue popular amongst locals, students and gig-goers. It retains some of its original charm, especially in the bar area with a copper / brass diving helmet a knowing nod to the nautical traditions of this city where the Pilgrims set sail from and the UK Navy has centuries of history.
A very healthy sized crowd are gathered within this compact venue early doors to witness local prog-metallers Ethyrfield take to the stage; their influences – Alice in Chains, Rush and Soundgarden – worn with pride upon their tshirts.
This trio of extremely talented lads have been expanding, organically, their burgeoning profile through constant gigging throughout the South-West and beyond; their current stock is high and rapidly rising. Such has been the overwhelmingly positive response to their recently released debut long-player ‘In Delirium’.
Although a wee-bit cramped in terms of stage space and set length Ethyrfield put in a cracking shift with huge amounts of expended energy translating into powerful six-stringing from Ben Cornish, wonderfully fluid, sinuous bass lines from Zach Cornish and a technically tight performance behind the kit from drummer Dan Aston that appears seemingly effortless.
Atop the raw grunge-edged power are the subtleties of the mid-song harmonies of ‘Sunstroke’ and ‘Serenity’ where brothers Zach and Ben exude a genuninely natural connection that is surely bloodborne.
Recommended, for this support slot, by Torquay blues-rock six-stringer Kris Barras the youthful triumvirate are in no mood to take prisoners as they plough headlong into the hard-punching intro-riffs of ‘Sunstroke’.
Time is tight so chat is at a premium with Zach briefly greeting the crowd at the end of a particularly supercharged ‘Sunstroke’ before they roll right into an incendiary rendition of 2019 EP track ‘Free The Dog’. The fireworks continue with ‘The Hunter’, lifted in fine style off ‘In Delirium’ before the band serve up a delicious main course in the form of the multi-faceted six minutes that comprises ‘Serenity’; behold shades of dark and light, this is a stellar, planar, astral journey.
The passages of raw, blistering gritty prog-metal are perfectly counterbalanced with a heartfelt solo from Ben which leads into harmonies the Sirens could only dream of; a pin dropping would have been heard.
The gears are notched up for the set finale ‘Bag of Bones’; a favourite of the Ethyrfield faithful and well-received all around. A crunchingly cracker of a track that has been a mainstay of their live performances over the last few years. A short, but oh so sweet set comes to an end with the crowd giving clear indication of their appreciation. This has been journey full circle for the lads as a certain Diamond Head’ cover has served them well over the years. Zach shares their collective gratitude for the NWOBHM legends having them open up; Ethyrfield have impressed.
A rampaging neoclassical intro that thunders through The Junction heralds the arrival of Diamond Head on stage; with combined elements of their very own signature track ‘Am I Evil’ melded together with an undercurrent of Holst’s The Planets Mars. The bringer of war delivers an explosion of light that is followed by the blistering intro of 2019’s ‘Death By Design’ with Brian Tatler precisely lifting out each note from his trademark Gibson Flying V. The Coffin Train has arrived, 2100 hours sharp.
The Stourbridge quintet rampage through ‘Sweet and Innocent’; a rumbustious NWOBHM track with nods to such peers as Saxon. This is one of six tracks aired tonight from the re-worked 40th anniversary edition of DH’s debut release ‘Lightning To The Nations’; can it seriously be four whole decades since Tatler and Co were first tearing it up with this? It all seems so fresh tonight.
Blazing a fiery trail through a hattrick of recent tracks Diamond Head serve notice that they are a force to reckon with; retirement is not a consideration herein. There’s more to come for sure but for now we’re content with 2016’s ‘Bones’ and the haunting overtures of ‘The Coffin Train’ that is aired for the very first time. There’s a progressive element to this most metalliferous of offerings; Rasmus Born Andersen’s vocals shine out front of sparkling six-string endeavours from Brian and Andy ‘Abbz’ Abberley; all atop a fist-pumping beat powered by bassist Dean Ashton and powerhouse tubthumper Karl Wilcox. Wrapping up this tasty trio enigmatic frontman Rasmus offers the gathered horde ‘The Deathenger’; a quirky rebranding of ‘The Messenger’ who alights from ‘The Coffin Train’ to deliver a proclamation of furious metal-drenched intent.
Out front and central Rasmus is in fine form, exuding absolute pleasure at performing live for the first time in almost 18 months. He expresses how impressed they were of their support band Ethyrfield; one hopes to see this pairing again in the future.
There’s a touch of 80s Marillion at times within ‘In The Heat Of The Night’ as out front Rasmus’ stunning vocals and commanding presence has the crowd eating from his hands; such is the willing entrapment. Brian is joined out front by Dean and Abbz as the pair step out from the stage right shadows as the metallic demons whip up the fervour with 16 strings from heaven which leads right into the heavy foot-stomping gloriously darkened overtones of ‘Set My Soul On Fire’.
There’s no stopping to draw breath as DH barrel headfirst into the sublimely classic anthem ‘Lightning To The Nations’. There is a palpable notching up through the gears in terms of the atmosphere as ‘Lightning’ brings the metaphorical house down. Signalling an upping of the ante as the Midlanders begin to deal out their top cards.
Expressing how emotional their return to live performance has been Rasmus likens it to “Waking up from a coma” before dedicating, tongue firmly in cheek, ‘Sucking Up My Love’ to the ladies in the audience. This is Coverdale turned up to 11!
Debut single ‘Shoot Out The Lights’ sees horns and fists, alike, aloft as this classic with it’s bluesy-edged riffs carved from the rock that bore such luminaries as AC/DC sets The Junction afire. It’s anthem following classic as ‘It’s Electric’ howls at the moon “Gonna be a rock ‘n roll star” before the thundering hooves trample over one and all; burning red eyes light up the darkened, storm-bearing skies. The whole placing is rocking; there’s uncertainty to what will be left standing.
Karl’s brief rumbling, rolling drum solo intros a particularly thrashing rendition of ‘Helpless’ making it back-to-back tracks that have been covered by thrash-masters Metallica. Throughout it’s evident the influence that Tatler has had upon the likes of not just Metallica but others such as Megadeth too. Full of double bass beats and hard as nails pulsating bass lines that reverberate throughout the building ‘Helpless’ gathers further acceleration within the ranks as Rasmus’ barking vocals sear into the very soul with a mean son-of-a-bitch caustic riff accompanying. Incantations that conjure up the memories of the early 80s.
For the second time tonight DH delight the masses with a track never played live by their assembled ranks; we’re in for a treat. It’s full circle gone full circle as the influencer pays humble respect to their protege. Lifted from Metallica’s debut long-player ‘Kill ‘Em All’ Diamond Head structurally pummel with a unrelenting beast of a cover of ‘No Remorse’. This is thrash metal wrapped about a gleaming core of heavy metal. “No remorse, no regret” brings about a glorious mosh pit with crowd surfers aplenty. It’s hot, it’s sweaty, it’s a proper old school metal gig; no doubt!
There’s only one way to finish off the night after this and Diamond Head have the perfect track left in the arsenal to complete the task. A quick blast of ‘Smoke On The Water’ from a broadly grinning Brian and then it’s legacy time. The thundering intro that leads into the unmistakable precision solo drives into the main body of ‘Am I Evil’; the crowd react. Heads bang, hair flies and crowd-surfers air drum. The Junction disappears in a blur as a new generation of influenced watch, from side-stage, as the masters tear the place apart.
As the band leave the stage to rapturous applause tubthumper Karl grabs the mic and gives a shout out to the hard work of promoter Jamie Symons of Live Sound Promotions and local dj Mike Snook who both worked tirelessly to promote the gig. Live music has returned in style and those on and off stage should take a deserved bow.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM