The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. NWOBHM. A term you would have seen written countless times in countless articles all over the world. But who were the main players in this movement?
Well, let’s take an abbreviated look at the history.
In the late 60’s early 70’s we had the beginnings of metal. Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple. They were all absolute monsters, influencers to millions, who then went on to become legends, eventually. But not before falling away in the late 70’s. Ozzy was fired, Deep Purple broke up, Led Zeppelin had scaled back everything and then were hit with tragedy, punk was taking it’s place and then new wave electronic music was becoming bigger.
Now, it’s not like heavy music had died or went away, it was simply in a transitional period. Something would come, as it always does, and it came in the form of a new genre, so to speak. Bands taking the punk ethos of ‘fast is good’ and injecting (in some cases) virtuoso performers was the beginning of the NWOBHM.
Though it may have spawned a million bands, only a few really enjoyed worldwide success. Here are some of the main players.
It’s been argued, of course, that Motorhead were at the forefront of the movement. Hard to argue against, except Lemmy himself stated “the NWOBHM ... didn't do us much good", because Motörhead "came along a bit too early for it". Which makes it a bit confusing. Too early for it, but so influential to it. I can’t just think of the NWOBHM and not think of Motorhead. I think Lemmy was being humble, as he was known to be, and perhaps didn’t like the idea of being a trendsetter. He was, after all, Lemmy, and there is only, and will only ever be one Lemmy. So, despite his statement, Motorhead are in.
2. Tygers of Pan Tang
They came to be in 1978, and were featured on compilation albums and played by pirate radio DJ’s in the UK. Those compilation albums did very well in the charts, and while some bands fell away, Tygers of Pan Tang obviously struck a chord (pun intended) with the masses as their first album ‘Wild Cat’ went to #18 on the UK charts, and their 1982 album The Cage rose to #13, thanks mainly to their awesome cover of Love Potion No.9
Spinal Tap anyone?
3. Iron Maiden
I’m not sure what I can write about Iron Maiden that hasn’t already been written, such is the popularity of this band, and their history so vastly written about. But yes, they were right there at the forefront of the NWOBHM and probably the famous exponents of the style. Obviously, the bruce Dickinson stuff is the best.
Whilst their debut album didn’t chart, it was their second album, Wheels Of Steel (1980), that went to #5 on the charts that launched them, and made them a major player. Now, with over 15 million album sales worldwide, Saxon is one of the more successful bands to emerge from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal.
5. Def Leppard
Like Iron Maiden, where do you start with Def Leppard’s importance to the scene? A chance meeting on a school bus saw Joe Elliot join the band, some ups and downs followed, but there’s no doubting their solid standing in the movement and their status as one of the highest selling bands of all time.
They were on the softer side of what was happening, more hard rock than metal, and eventually almost pop rock, but that accessibility made them what they are.
Really coming to prominence at the end of the first wave, Venom’s first album took a lot of aural cues from Motorhead. Fast, heavily distorted fuzzed guitars and bass, straight 4/4 drumming, definite punk elements that would then go on to identify as speed and thrash metal. A HUGE influence on the Bay Area thrash scene in the US. Listen to early Metallica for example, you’ll hear lashings of Venom in their sound.
7. Diamond Head
A definite stalwart of the movement, Diamond Head are often cited as an influence for many a thrash band as well. Their early recorded work, though cheap and laid down quickly, produced critically excellent songs, enough in fact to land them support spots on AC/DC and Iron Maiden tours. While the NWOBHM was only getting larger with bands being signed to major labels, Diamond Head stayed independent until 1982, when they signed MCA Records, which ultimately was a mistake. Add that to not having proper management and musical style changes, Diamond Head would never achieve the success they could have, or should have.
As with any list, this could go on and on as it’s been noted that in the decade from 1975-1985, there were approximately 500 recording groups who fit the category. So honourable mentions to A II Z, Angel Witch, Blitzkrieg, Ethel The Frog (check their cover of Eleanor Rigby), and Raven.
By listing the ones that I have, it’ll scratch the surface and send you on a fantastic listening voyage which will hopefully allow you to find your own path through an incredible time in heavy music.