Diamond Head was a British heavy metal band that was a big influence on Metallica, who recorded this song in 1984. Anger and paranoia are common themes for both Metallica and Diamond Head, and this song has plenty of both: it's about a guy who seeks revenge and wonders if he is evil after his mother is burned for witchcraft. While Metallica got all the fame from covering this song when they released it as a B-Side to their "Creeping Death" single (and later on their Garage, Inc. album), Diamond Head has stated that they're flattered by the cover and the money they've earned from royalties paid by Metallica has played a role in keeping the band going.
The intro is based on a piece by British composer Gustav Holst called "The Planets." The piece has seven movements, each named for a planet, and the intro to "Am I Evil?" comes from the "Mars," which is the first movement.
In the book Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces, lead guitarist Brian Tatler says this about "Am I Evil?": "Something I've realized over the years - it's very hard to write songs with dynamics like that. Even now I don't really know how to do it. It's just something that came naturally at the time. It's just something that occurred back then and we managed to record it. Somebody once said to me, 'What you ought to do is write another 10 Am-I-Evils.' And I thought, that's easy for you to say. I simply can't rewrite 'Am I Evil?' You can take it apart and put it back together, but it's what it is and you've just got to leave it be."
Also in Precious Metal, lead singer Sean Harris says of this song: "It's such a benchmark. I still think for what it is, there ain't many songs better. The lyric is amazingly demonic, isn't it? It's probably a bit like the 'Stairway To Heaven' thing. Somebody on your shoulder telling you what to write."
Sean Harris, who wrote all the lyrics to the songs on Lightning to the Nations, also talks about his writing style in the same book's interview: "It was about arriving, you know. Being something, hopefully something sparkling, something new. The fantasy aspect was just sort of trying to reach beyond. I used to like Ronnie James Dio's fantasy lyrics, thought they were quite cool. And Milton, stuff like that. It's the two sides of me, I suppose, battling it out for supremacy! [Laughs]"
Dio isn't the only Black Sabbath member to have an impact on Diamond Head; their 1993 Death and Progress album also had guest contributions from Tony Iommi.
The song started with the verse riff, which Brian Tatler came up with the late '70s, then the band spent over a year adding to it. Tatler recalled to Eonmusic: "We added the intro separately; we added the fast section, the solo, the end. We were getting good at putting together songs and arrangements, Sean and myself, and we did it all or organically really, just a band in a room with a cassette player. We'd record a section and we'd listen to it. It was quite an innocent way of working, but it turned into a beast of a track, and I suppose as soon as we started playing it live, people picked up on it."
Hugh from Shrewsbury, United KingdomHeard this originally on the Diamond Head album and then saw them play it live where it was just as good. Then I had the misfortune of hearing Metallica play it at Donnington where they murdered it - especially the guitar solo. So nothing can beat the original for me.
Ryan from Anahola, HiThrash metal bands Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax all played this song during the "Big Four" tour.
Luke from Sc, Scmetallica owns this song! their version is much better than diamond head.
Nick from Cairns, AustraliaI agree. Nothin' beats the originals. Metallica's was great and a lot more distorted with the guitars and everything. That version was the one i heard the most until i heard the original version which turned out to be alot better. The solo is a lot cleaner too, even though i like the more heavy sounds, so i guess you could say metallica were inspired alot by the many bands of the new wave of british heavy metal (NWOBHM) scene.
Jeff from Austin, TxI heard this original version for the first time many years after hearing Metallica's cover. The original rocks just as hard!! Great song!