Diamond Head's first album -- aka the 'White Album," Lightning to the Nations, or simply "Diamond Head" -- is somewhat like the Ark of the Covenant of heavy metal. By unlocking its New Wave of British Heavy Metal secrets, one will discover most all the connecting points between the genre's '70s originators and the ensuing '80s hordes -- arguably even more so than via Iron Maiden. And, like Maiden's brilliantly roughshod eponymous debut of 1980, Diamond Head's masterpiece was anything but a marvel of recording technology, but rather a living, breathing, electrifying studio performance financed by the band itself on a shoestring budget. It was then sent to sympathetic music journalists around the U.K. for appraisal in a mysteriously nondescript, white cardboard sleeve (hence the confusion over its true title). As has been famously recounted numerous times, one of these landed on the desk of Sounds heavy metal editor and N.W.O.B.H.M. champion Geoff Barton, who famously quipped with typical British hyperbole that any one of Diamond Head's songs featured as many great riffs as the first four Black Sabbath albums.
All journalistic overstatements aside, however, the seven tracks contained within truly were imbued with an astonishing, almost magical synthesis of variety, creativity, and maturity -- especially coming from four lads who were barely out of high school. But despite their inexperience, guitar prodigy Brian Tatler, singer Sean Harris (whose primary influences included Robert Plant and Freddie Mercury, bassist Colin Kimberley, and drummer Duncan Scott miraculously managed to mesh the primal power of Sabbath with the epic grandeur (and class) of Led Zeppelin, countered by the punchy, no-fuss songwriting economy of Judas Priest, when they so wished. The latter certainly dictates the insistently bruising, riffing simplicity of "It's Electric" (one of several cuts later covered by Metallica), the big-chorused, would-be single, "Sweet and Innocent," and to a lesser degree, the remarkably anthemic, drama-filled "Lightning to the Nations," which, by coming first on the vinyl's Side A, often gave its name to the album as a whole. Meanwhile, twin, speed-addled juggernauts "The Prince" (featuring rare accompanying organs) and "Helpless" displayed Diamond Head's connections to (and influence upon) the new world metal order about to be imposed by thrash, while simultaneously transcending Motörhead's unquestionable but Spartan influence with their multitude of riff and time changes. And curiously, the compositional apex of Diamond Head's ambitions were realized through both the most iconic and, somewhat understandably, derided songs contained here. The first being a nine-and-a-half-minute ode to fellatio named "Sucking My Love," which, for all its lyrical embarrassments, delivers an instrumental master class of tension-and-release dynamics, and is arguably as bluesy as Diamond Head ever got. And the second being the timeless "Am I Evil?" which, despite borrowing its marching introduction from Gustav Holst's "Mars, The Bringer of War" to preface what ultimately amounts to a rather silly witch-hunting tale, still stands as one of heavy metal's single greatest triumphs. Composed of several distinct passages, all of which have since become ingrained in the genre's very DNA, its constantly changing tempos and ever-imaginative riffs are a wonder to behold, and finally culminate in Tatler's classically steeped, minute-long guitar solo, performed over shifting riffs in a fashion often copied (see Metallica's "Fight Fire with Fire") but never quite duplicated. Also worth nothing is that even at their most progressive, none of the above ever cross over into art rock indulgence -- probably because the vitality of their all-too-human imperfections and sheer aggression that drives their execution could have only been accomplished by young men possessed by the exhilarating spirit of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, a spirit that Lightning to the Nations has epitomized better than all but a handful of unconditional classics ever since.