It’s back! Well, it never went away in my house. The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. NWOBHM. I grew with it. In the pages of ‘Kerrang’. In my school blazer pocket. Unfolded at lunchtime and pored over by school friends. It was a door opener, that mag, it was a secret handshake, a barely perceptible nod, a semiology if you want to take all the fun out of it.
That mag introduced us to so many bands. Bands we hadn’t even heard, but they looked good and the music sounded even better – the way it was written about, anyway.
NWOBHM wasn’t just music. It was a cultural phenomenon which meant so much, it even got onto the telly, ‘Top Of The Pops’ and ‘TISWAS’ – your favourite secret music, in the mainstream!
As the Financial Times put it;
‘NWOBHM is the starting point of modern heavy metal,” Tom G Warrior, the founder of the pioneering Swiss metal bands Hellhammer and Celtic Frost, told me in an interview for my book Denim and Leather: The Rise and Fall of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. “All the bands who have shaped modern metal directly are in turn directly influenced by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.”
I loved it. And I love the return of the music too. Oh yes, bands like Screamer and Wings Of Steel, bands who may have raided their parents’ record collection, coming up with wonderful music and we have a new White Spirit album this year, that band who never really made it out of NWOBHM and course the survivors like Saxon, Def Leppard and Iron Maiden.
So here is a wallow in nostalgia. Or a primer for new music. I present my overlooked NWOBHM bands; mine, only mine, but maybe it will create some chat, chin-stroking and V-flicking, which is all fine.
Because this is about music.
Athletic Rock. That’s what the Gallagher brothers, John on bass and vocals, Paul on guitar, were Rob ‘Wacko’ Hunter on drums, were called. Well, Hunter wore an American Football helmet and it was said he nutted cymbals, but it was the racing, sprinting energy of their music that brought the title.
But Raven were Influential because they were NWOBHM trendsetters and because of where the trend was; Newcastle. Neat Records were there and they had influential Venom, credited with the creation of Black Metal and also overlooked Blitzkrieg, influential in the way they pumped up their local shows.
Raven were seen at the time as the speed of light Rock, but their debut, ‘Rock Until You Drop’, re-release this year as a several CD box set with live recordings, had a huge belt of melody which took their music further.
They went to the States for 1985’s ‘Stay Hard’ and many were concerned they hadn’t, but the Metal still shines through and after a hiatus, they returned as excellent as ever with uncompromising Metal albums like ‘ExtermiNation’ and 2020’s ‘Metal City’ – the quality hasn’t dropped.
Now getting attention for their older and newer tracks, Raven look well set up; revisit earlier albums like ‘All For One’ or choose their later music, it’s all metalically marvellous.
These trailblazers weren’t given the plaudits they deserved at the time. Perhaps now…
We have to include this, after all, this band were thought of as being the closest thing to Led Zepellin coming out of the NWOBHM, but they never made it. Cue many ‘where did it all go wrong’ stories…
The band had a sharper, better constructed; classic rock sound with stunning riffs from Brian Tatler and a Rock God snake hip-shaking vocalist Sean Harris.
Seems simple, eh? Nope. Their debut ‘Lightning To The Nation’ album arrived with a plain white sleeve and little fanfare, but the songs knocked people out and when some of those songs were replicated on properly presented ‘Borrowed Time’ in 1982, they seemed to be on their way.
And then we waited. And waited. For their breakthrough album. And there it was. ‘Canterbury’. But the music sounded different, more accessible perhaps, more radio ready; it had excellence and brilliance, but it wasn’t what was required.
Diamond Head missed their NWOBHM chance. And that was that, the reason for a thousand articles- that was extended by Metallica covering many DH tracks.
And that gave them another chance. They returned with a reconstituted band in the early 2000s and have been delighting us metalically ever since – perhaps the unlucky Diamond Head struck lucky in the end, they combine enhanced versions of their excellent earlier albums with remarkable new work – but fewer seem to want to write about that…
There has to be one. A band who didn’t even get an album out in the white heat of the NWOBHM world, this was a band who did get music released, but not until 1982, a period when the movement was petering out.
And yet Spider were eponymous; a mainstay of the NWOBHM bible, ‘Kerrang’. These Liverpool lads were mentioned regularly, I remember, in news or live reviews – so many live reviews. Another similar band? Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts; these were 2 bands who had a certain sound which perhaps didn’t match the NWOBHM sharp urgency; Spider were often compared to Status Quo because of their Boogie Rock basis.
You might think that would help, but Quo were in their pomp at this time; their 1979 and 1980 albums had ‘Whatever You Want’ and ‘What You’re Proposing’, two big hits – Spider were bound to wither in comparison.
Mainstays, but not popular enough?
Theatrical, Satanic and utterly brilliant, Staffordshire band Demon earned their stripes in the NWOBHM time and then blossomed, only to have their possibilities unrealised.
Yes, they had a Satanic character, but only as a dramatic piece of showmanship, their debut appeared late in the NWOBHM, 1981, but ‘Night Of The Demon’ was Hammer horror Hard Rock, just a precursor for the next though, ‘The Unexpected Guest’ was grand Guignol based seance theatre with catchy choruses, it’s a classic.
But their next release was the real winner, not for the units sold, ‘The Unexpected Guest’ charted higher, but because of the buzz it caused. Or maybe it was just in my little world. ‘The Plague’ was a concept album about a cadaverous gentleman in a pinstripe suit who was injecting citizens with said Plague – a big metaphor and no mistake.
As well as the musical change, which featured more keyboards for a Proggier sound, there was the design. This was the first time I’d seen artwork which stuck closely to the songs, black and white drawings of that pinstriped gentleman of chaos.
And Demon looked to be on their way – the ‘British Standard Approved’ Titanic-themed album was softer but more dramatic, showing a band settling into their brilliance. And then co-writer, guitarist Mal Spooner, suddenly passed away; the band didn’t, releasing albums to a probably less interested audience. Inevitably, they’re back and brilliant, from the eclecticism of ‘Spaced Out Monkey’ to the more metallic ‘Cemetery Junction’.
They could have been contenders, but the enduring memory of Samson is that this is where Iron Maiden got their singer from – that bloke with the ‘tatche called Bruce Bruce? That’ll be Bruce Dickinson.
But Samson were better than that. Led by Paul Samson, Blues Rock guitarist of excellence, they had a good chance of blazing a trail in NWOBHM, after all, they were around in the early days of that musical movement and achieved a top 49 album with their 2nd, 1980’s ‘Head On’. Sadly, it just didn’t work, they couldn’t capitalise with ‘Shock Tactics’ and that may have been because the songs just weren’t quite catchy enough or hard enough for NWOBHM, Paul Samson was a fantastic guitarist but had a Blues basis and the songs, really enjoyable though they were, didn’t chime with the times.
They carried on with great voice Nicky Moore, but the band never really hit the heights and there was to be no break up and resurgence here, sadly Paul Samson passed in 2002.
Overlooked, perhaps cruelly.
Both Angel Witch and White Spirit who barely got off the NWOBHM starting blocks, but the former have released well done Classic Rock albums in recent years, the latter found their songs from an intended second album and released them as a stunning ‘Right Or Wrong’ this month.
Tygers Of Pan Tang had a heavy rock and US rock straddle, pleasing loads but confusing too. Perhaps having a cover of ‘Love Potion No9’ as their most popular song was a millstone, but they are back with a vengeance – their recent albums are fantastic.
80’s kids TV star Neil Buchanan (remember ‘Art Attack’?) had a band who were loved by many, Marseille, who had a go at coming back 10 years or so ago, but nothing since.
Venom were said to have invented Black Metal and their blast of nastiness might have done so, they have a box set retrospective out soon, whilst Tank, who had a similar Metallic barrage, are a bit forgotten.
This is a personal list of course and will leave out your favourites, I feel sure. Bands like Saxon and Motorhead had a good NWOBHM too, picking up fans, but if we want this tied up in a neat bow, 2 bands from opposite ends of the Metal spectrum made it out of the NWOBHM to super stardom – Iron Maiden from the tougher side, certainly on their first two albums with Paul Di’Anno as vocalist and Def Leppard, who reached across the pond with their 3rd ‘Pyromania’ album and have thrilled both the US and UK ever since.
Oh, and don’t forget Judas Priest! Blimey, that NWOBHM was more influential than even I thought…