Who Should Be More Grateful to Metallica: Diamond Head or The Misfits?
The impetus for this essay popped into my withered and exhausted brain a couple months ago when Diamond Head guitarist and lone original member, Brian Tatler, was doing the kissing hands and shaking babies routine in promotion for the release of the band’s seventh album, Diamond Head. Towards the end of our conversation for the feature I was writing for Terrorizer magazine, I asked if he wouldn’t mind talking about how Metallica had served the longevity and relevance of the band he formed back in the mid-‘70s. Without hesitation, Tatler said, “the Metallica connection cannot be understated.” He made no bones about the fact that Metallica were the reason he and I were talking, that Metallica were the reason Diamond Head were releasing a new album, and that Metallica were the reason he owned the house he was sitting in.
Members of Metallica past and present have gone on record at length about Diamond Head’s importance to their band. They provided a young and questionably-moustachioed Lars Ulrich, a pimple-mugged James Hetfield and an excessively drunk Dave Mustaine a musical oasis and common ground to bond over amid the sky-high hair metal scene dominant in the band’s original Los Angeles home. As well, Diamond Head were a musical starting point, whether it be riffs that were re-jigged and/or borrowed, or providing cover material to pad out Metallica’s early live sets before they had written the songs that eventually became Kill ‘Em All. “Without Diamond Head, none of this would have existed,” the Metallica collective has said variously and numerously. A very humbling and important statement indeed, but what’s also important is how Metallica have never turned their back on their elders or stopped paying tribute and respect in the way they know best.
Inspiration for this piece also came from a TV commercial for Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum with the Misfits’ “Where Eagles Dare” serving as musical accompaniment to the rapid-fire images of tattoos, rum, sailors and pub-crawling hipsters. The end of the ad mentioned both the song’s title and a writing credit for Glenn Danzig. I can’t comment on the motivation for having the credit so deliberately placed, but I can tell you how it came across: there seemed to be an underlying air of desperation for recognition and look-at-me showmanship which, from what Danzig has displayed over the years, appear to be elements that fit into his personality. The feeling in the room – okay, in my head – was that it was a declaration of “I’m a songwriter that deserves the spotlight.” When I further unravelled the web tangled in the recesses of my chrome dome, I thought about how the majority of people who know anything about the Misfits likely came to that knowledge via Metallica’s vocal support for the band. So, in the same way that there are people out there still under the impression Metallica wrote the Diamond Head classic “Am I Evil?” (you’d be surprised!), there are likely folks kicking around who think Metallica’s various Misfits covers are actually punky originals. And Danzig will be a goddamn son of a bitch if he’s going to ignore someone getting recognition for something he did, even if, to the best of my knowledge, Metallica haven’t ever covered “Where Eagles Dare.”
The Misfits, who created the “horror punk” sub-genre, formed in the late ‘70s and were generally an underground phenomenon at the time of their first break up in 1983. The lines of influence between what the Misfits and Metallica did and do may seem more confusing to John and Jane Lunchbucket than the more obviously influential strains of Diamond Head; Diamond Head play heavy metal, as do Metallica, while the Misfits are definitely a punk band (albeit one with roots in ‘50s/‘60 rock, doo-wop and whatever else got played at sock-hops). However, I’m going to assume that you’re aware of the fact that thrash was the high-speed collision of heavy metal and punk rock/hardcore, so to dismiss the Misfits’ contribution simply because they’re not a metal band is foolish. The Misfts’ impact on Metallica followed in the footsteps of British punks like the Exploited, G.B.H. and UK Subs and provided a helping of the faster-and-faster ethos. Cliff Burton even had a tattoo of the Misfits’ “crimson ghost” skull mascot, and there are several photos of the band in which at least one member of the band is sporting a Misfits shirt.
The question here, however, isn’t which of the two bands can stake more inspirational claim to Metallica’s body of work, but whether Diamond Head or the Misfits owe Metallica more for their present day relevance, influence and existence.
Unless you’re in your late forties or beyond, there’s a 99.5% chance (+ or – 0.45%) that you’re a lying sack of pig manure if you claim you were a fan of either band before Metallica started extolling their virtues, especially in the pre-internet days when tracking down music took a lot more get-up-and-go, and seeking out obscure albums was as consuming as a part-time job. I’ve been a fan of heavy music since the late ‘70s, and admittedly I lucked out in discovering Metallica as early as I did via older relatives and friends with disposable income, ears to the ground, time on their hands and a desire in their mulleted hearts to share their musical discoveries with an ankle-biting hanger-on. Despite being a faithful teenage disciple of British underground metal mag Metal Forces from issue #5 onward (I still have ‘em all) and a prolific tape-trader throughout the ‘80s, I never heard Diamond Head’s music until purchasing Metallica’s Creeping Death EP (subtitled “Garage Days Revisited”) which included their rendition of “Am I Evil?” Oddly enough, with UK magazines and European fanzines as my main source of information, I’d heard the Diamond Head name mentioned, but wasn’t exposed to their music until that classic picture-disc EP and I didn’t actually hear the band until a few years after that.
My Misfits story is a bit different. I remember seeing the crimson ghost emblazoned on the jackets of the various punkers I hung out and went to shows with back in the day and hearing the band’s unmistakable sound very early on in my musical coming of age. But one doesn’t just hear the Misfits in passing; the infectious nature of their material worms its way into earholes high and wide. In all honesty, I didn’t really start digging into their discography until I hit my mid-teens; Metallica’s Garage Days Re-revisited EP sparked that particular engine of exploration around the same time I was somewhat employable in the eyes of the law, which meant I had some amount of disposable income.
Yes, these are my personal stories, but I’d hazard a guess that they’re pretty similar to a good number of people out there who consider themselves fans of either or both bands. Here’s the thrust of this: Metallica did both bands a great service with Creeping Death, Garage Days Re-revisited and Garage Inc., but who benefited more? Unless we somehow had access to hard numbers that included financial statements, head counts of the numbers of paying customers to a couple decade’s worth of live shows and were able to create a mathematical formula to tabulate and combine all that info and spit out a comparative number of measure, it’s almost impossible beyond the scope of conjecture to say one way or the other. If someone volunteered or made public record the amount of publishing money Brian Tatler and [original DH vocalist] Sean Harris made from Metallica versus the take-home of one Glenn Anzalone (a 1995 out-of-court settlement gave Danzig sole rights to publishing of the early Misfits songs while bassist Jerry “Only” Caiafa and guitarist Paul “Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein” Caiafa were, going forward, granted permission to perform the songs under the Misfits moniker), then we might be able to crunch some numbers and Bob’s your touchy uncle.
But we can’t, so let’s make mountains of molehills based on circumstantial evidence.
From our view up here in the cheap seats, it would appear that the Misfits are a bigger band considering the continued strong turnouts to shows ever since Jerry Only and Doyle reformed without Danzig in the mid ’90s. And when earlier this year it was announced that Danzig, Only and Doyle were burying the hatchet to play Riot Fest, well, move over Kim Kardashian’s buttocks because the internet not only blew up, but sprayed its pent up load all over the entire Kardashian family — the men, the women and all the fake body parts and bad attitudes they’ve amassed over the years. Rinse and repeat when it was announced that Dave Lombardo would be drumming for the Misfits for the Riot Fest shows in Denver and Chicago later this month.
I don’t think Diamond Head have ever generated this amount of excitement, though they have been regulars on the European festival circuit for years. Maybe the European branch of the interweb gets in a tizzy when they are announced on bills, but it never registers with me personally.
Either way, it’s inarguable that Metallica saved both bands from becoming underground/cult obscurities and/or forgotten musical footnotes. Diamond Head’s early history was plagued with monumentally bad business decisions at the hand of their “management team” which consisted of a factory worker named Reg Fellows and Linda Harris, Sean’s mother, both of whom had no management experience and were learning on the job. Some of the career-killing gems they came up with included not having a cover for 1980’s classic Lightning to the Nations album, avoiding gigging in London at the height of the NWOBHM feeding frenzy, turning down offers from industry movers and shakers and not paying for ads placed in magazines (for which the pair was subsequently sued). If it weren’t for the unstoppable energy Lars Ulrich had for scouring mail orders after moving from Europe to California, making sure everyone he came into contact with knew about the band and having his own band cover their material, the limited run of Lightning to the Nations would have been buried in the face of the substandard material that appeared on follow ups, Borrowed Time and Canterbury, both of which were released by the major label MCA, ironically enough.
A couple months after Kill ‘Em All was released, the Misfits broke up. Danzig was well into the next stage of his musical life with Samhain and the Caiafa brothers were working in their father’s machine shop while trying to decide their next musical move (*ahem* Kryst the Conqueror *cough cough*). In addition to various EPs and singles, the band delivered the brilliant Walk Among Us album in 1982 and had barely finished Earth A.D./Wolfsblood before splitting up (it was released posthumously). Metallica’s covers of the dark and anthemic pair of tracks – “Green Hell” from said album and “Last Caress” from 1980’s Beware EP – were undoubted highlights of Garage Days Re-revisited in terms of their obvious hardcore punk sound, but also because of the lyrical content. “Last Caress’” “I got something to say…” must have shocked and awed those exposed to it upon its original release, but those numbers were limited as Beware was actually a compilation of recordings designed to be sold on tour and had a limited run of 3000 (3120, actually, after a pressing plant error) that ended up being mostly sold through the band’s Fiend Club fan club. To say the song was a hidden gem is an understatement and to say Metallica unearthed that gem to a broader audience is a bigger understatement. It wasn’t coincidence that you suddenly started seeing more and more hand-drawn crimson ghosts and official and bootleg Misfits merch everywhere.
Personal and professional relationships begun and were fostered between members of Metallica and both the Misfits and Diamond Head in light of Garage Days as well. In addition, to the tattoos and shirt trades, the band befriended Danzig and Cliff Burton was the one who cajoled and convinced Rick Rubin to initially check out Samhain. This eventually led to Danzig working with the bearded producer and signing with his Def American label. And when the Evil Elvis released his self-titled solo album in 1988, you might as well have had Kirk, James, Lars and Jason doing Danzig’s PR. As one would expect, he found himself opening for Metallica on one of the many European legs of the Justice tour.
At the same time, Diamond Head returned from a six-year hiatus in 1991 that was undoubtedly spurred on by the popularity afforded them by Metallica’s constant name-dropping, including a primo spot on the NWOBHM compilation that Ulrich curated for Metal Blade. Tatler and Harris had no hesitation in admitting Metallica’s influence when they reconvened to write songs and play live. The band was subsequently offered great opportunities: they opened for Metallica at various points throughout ‘92-‘93 and there were moments when the two bands shared the stage to perform “Am I Evil?” and “Helpless” at UK shows. Diamond Head couldn’t stand the heat, though, and got out of the kitchen, splitting up again in ‘94.
All along, both were delivered shots in the arm and bank balance when Metallica included another cover, this time of the Misfits’ “Die, Die My Darling” and another Diamond Head cover, this time of “It’s Electric,” on 1998’s Garage Inc. The covers double album also re-released the original tracks from both Garage Days and the Creeping Death EP. It would be foolish to dismiss a connection between the appearance of all this Diamond Head material (also included was their cover of “The Prince” which originally appeared as the B-side to the One 12” single) and Tatler giving it another kick at the can in 2000. Even in the band’s absence, Metallica would very regularly play “Am I Evil?” as if it were one of their own. “Big deal?” some of you might say. But when you take into account the shit-ton of administration that goes on behind the scenes of any show, let alone a production the size of your average Metallica gig, and the reporting to publishing companies of all songs performed (originals and covers), after which performance rights money is meted out to the songwriters, it quickly becomes a big deal when you’re on the receiving end of cash for your songs being played live in front of thousands nightly. Metallica, as we have noted elsewhere, are practically their own economy and, as such, we can assume everything business-wise is being done professionally by the band’s management and staff with all ‘i’s dotted and ‘t’s crossed.
This from Tatler: “We still own the publishing [to those songs] and the publishing company collects money on our behalf for covers, live performances and stuff, and they take a slice of the pie for their work. We’re signed to a publisher in London called Imagem, which used to be Zomba, and they collect any royalties and pass it on. I’ve been with this company since 1982 and have a nice relationship with them. Without that, I wouldn’t have this house, so the Metallica connection cannot be underestimated. They’ve helped Diamond Head in many ways; not only with the covers, but we’ve done gigs with them and it’s helped with our credibility to be so influential on such a big band. We’re very, very grateful and lucky. I’ve often thought that other NWOBHM bands look at Diamond Head and think, ‘Fucking hell, they’ve done four of their songs. That’s not fair!’”
A few years ago, Tatler released a book that was part autobiography, part history of Diamond Head and part rare photo journal. Called Am I Evil? (of course!), it apparently sold quite well, with Tatler telling me himself that he had a hard time keeping up with orders and shipping. You have to think that if Ulrich and Metallica weren’t so enthusiastic about the NWOBHM and Diamond Head’s place in it, that the band would have disappeared and their infinitesimally smaller legacy would only be carried on by the memories of the few there at the time. Instead of having people shell out for those photos and words in book form they’d be in a pub somewhere listening to Tatler recanting tales of struggling rock band life. It’s not a coincidence that many of the compilations and anthologies that have been released feature titles of songs that Metallica covered, Diamond Head’s 2004 anthology and 2006 compilation, Am I Evil and Helpless, respectively, being the chief offenders. Not to be outdone, James Greene Jr. wrote a book entitled This Music Leaves Stains: The Complete Story of the Misfits in 2013. Do you think there would have been any demand blowing in the sails of this tome had Metallica not provided the hot air?
And while I possess live tapes of Metallica performing the Misfits songs we’ve all become accustomed to them doing, as well as lesser known covers of “London Dungeon” at various UK shows in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the number of times they’ve aired out Diamond Head songs in comparison to Misfits tracks does favor the English headbangers. However, as the details of the aforementioned agreement between Danzing and the Caiafa brothers were never made public, we can’t say for certain if Danzig has been collecting performance royalties when the various iterations of the Misfits air the early material live. Either way, having seen the Jerry Only-fronted version of the band a couple of times over the past few years, it should be noted that their set continues to be weighed in favor of the classic years by a good 70-30%. Not that any money changing hands in these situations had anything directly to do with Metallica, but the relevance of the Misfits and that early material – to this day, the biggest crowd reaction arguably still follows “Last Caress” – lays largely in Metallica’s hands, and the money trail isn’t hard to follow regardless of how much or little money is actually on it.
So, what, if anything, can we conclude, from this mess? Can we say one way or the other who has benefited more from Metallica’s ongoing salutation and fandom?
I’m still not entirely sure. I didn’t think settling a score that didn’t really need to be settled – or was a score that even existed in the first place – was something definitively attainable; I just thought this would be a fun little exercise. Some might attempt to nip the entire argument in the bud by taking a look at the patched up battle jacket Hetfield has been sporting on stage recently, but that wouldn’t solve a thing because a quick Google image search reveals he has patches from both bands on the two jackets he wears most, plus a host of other bands Metallica have covered and a few more who are praying they do before it’s too late. Of course, someone in the comments section will shit all over anything anyone has to say before telling you they have all the answers, but as stated at the beginning of this, without solid numbers there’s not a lot we can firmly state. From the outside looking in, it would appear that Diamond Head benefited more from sustained and ongoing support as they were resurrected on two separate occasions at the hand of Metallica’s continued references. Similarly, though, the Misfits saw albums/collections released after their first break-up that likely would have never seen the light of day had the demand not been there, a demand created by you-know-who. For my money, I’m going with Diamond Head mostly because the support has been more salient and ongoing lo these many years, but you can’t deny that Metallica played a huge role in resurrecting the profile of a broken up punk band and generated attention for the future endeavors of its frontman.
I think what can be concluded is that despite all the shit thrown at Metallica for “abandoning” metal during the Load/Re-Load years, their perceived inability to write sequels to Ride, Master and/or Justice, the astronomical amounts of money they have, the aspects of their lives that people who’ve never been in the biggest metal band ever can’t relate to (but will still harp on endlessly because the band has been a mainstream super-entity for years), Metallica have done more than anyone in a similar position when it comes to acknowledging one’s roots and supporting at least a handful of the bands that played a role in making them who and what they are. Sure, not every band from the NWOBHM or early punk and hardcore scenes is going to start seeing residuals from Metallica covers, but you rarely see anyone else tipping their hats to the bands they grew up on, especially this far into the game.