NWOBHM: When Metal Crossed The Pond

It was 1979. Chevy Chevettes were still cruising our streets blasting music from 8 track players. Cassettes and record albums dominated record store shelves with 45 rpm records still selling millions. There weren’t any VCR’s or DVDs to watch music videos on and MTV wasn’t even around quite yet. The United States was still reeling from the disco effects of Saturday Night Fever. But, out of England came a roar. From British pubs came the hard heavy sounds that eventually invaded United States record stores. This sound was/ is commonly referred to as The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal or NWOBHM. 

I was in high school when I was first exposed to it. I remember being introduced to Eddie. I seen Eddie sitting on the shelves at Opus One in Ceredo Kenova, West Virginia. Eddie was unknown then but still very ominous looking. All metalheads know Eddie now. For now, Eddie graces a lot of bedroom walls and t-shirts. Then, he was making his first appearance on the debut self-entitled Iron Maiden album. Something inside of me told me I needed to buy this album. I didn’t have myspace or internet radio to go home and research them. The look in Eddie’s eyes told me this was special. Later, I used the same instinct to buy Saxon’s “Wheels of Steel” and Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades.” 

In the late 70's, bands like Led Zepelin, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath that had dominated the metal scene were slightly declining in production and popularity.  The new bands that were playing in British pubs were toning down the blues influence that those bands had and turned up the volume.  They incorporated elements of punk and sped up the music.  The lyrics often delt with mysticism and fanatsy. 
The Soundhouse in Britain became the first heavy metal disco.  DJ Neal Kay began playing songs by Thin Lizzy, Rush, AC/DC, and others.  New bands began playing live at the Soundhouse.  Iron Maiden was one of those bands.  Their first British release was called The Soundhouse Tapes.  A British music magazine called Sounds began charting Heavy Metal and the popularity of the music became widespread.  The magazine Kerrang! was later formed and kept progress of the NWOBHM as well as other hard rock and metal. 

Thirty years later, the New Wave of Heavy Metal is still flowing out of England.  The same bands that led the charge in the late seventies are still alive and well now.   

          IRON MAIDEN 

One of the bands that upped the irons and spread the metal around was Iron Maiden.  The band and their mascot - Eddie - have become world-wide metal legends.  On New Year's Eve in 1978, the band recorded a demo consisting of "Iron Maiden", "Prowler", "Strange World" and "Invasion".  The demo was given to DJ Neal Kay who began to play it at Soundhouse.  Five thousand copies were made and sold very quickly.  The EP is a very rare collector's item these days. 
 The band signed a long term deal with EMI.  They released two albums with original vocalist Paul Di'Anno.  Di'Anno's hard drinking and excessive partying led to his departure.  The band brought in Bruce Dickinson as the lead singer.  Dickinson was known as Bruce Bruce in the NWOBHM band Samson.  Samson had recorded a few albums and had success with the album "Shock Tactics" which featured the classic single "Riding With The Angels." 

Iron Maiden recorded their classic release "The Number Of The Beast" and their popularity started to explode.  They have sold around 75 million records.  They are recognized as one of the top bands in the world.  They play and sell out shows around the globe.  Their artwork and merchandise has made them a reconizable icon.  

In 2009, the band released "Iron Maiden: Flight 666 - The Movie" into theatres worldwide.  The documentry explored The Maiden tour which was something that had never been attempted before. Traveling the globe on a plane flown by their lead singer, the band flew in a specially customised Boeing 757 airliner with their crew and 12 tons of music and stage equipment on board, playing 23 sold out stadium and arena shows in 13 countries in just 45 days, travelling 70,000km and performing to almost half a million fans.  The band also released "Flight 666" as a 2 cd live audio release and as a 2 dvd set. 

          JUDAS PRIEST 

It is debateable if Judas Priest should be classified as a NWOBHM band.  They had already been playing for years and released several albums by the time the wave struck.  But, there isn't any doubt that their seixth release "British Steel" helped drive the success of NWOBHM.  The album, released in 1980, contained the monster anthems "Living After Midnight" and "Breaking The Law."  The record landed at number 4 in the UK and made it to number 34 in the United States. 

Anthrax guitar player Scott Ian said in an interview in the documentary Heavy Metal: Louder than Life: that British Steel was probably the album that really defined heavy metal, because it, according to him, did away with the "last shards of blues" that had otherwise been characteristic of the genre. He said, "Even the title... how does it get more metal than that?" 

Judas Priest released "Screaming For Vegeance" in 1982.  This album made them world stars and elevated lead singer Rob Halford to Rock God status.  It reached number 11 in the UK and 17 in the US.  The album featured a more mainstream sound and the single "You've Got Another Thing Coming" helped fuel the pop metal craze of the eighties. 

Judas Priest recorded several more albums with Rob Halford and a few without him.  Tim "Ripper" Owens recorded with Judas Priest in Halford's absence.  The story of Owens fronting Judas Priest inspired the 2001 movie "Rock Star" starring Mark Wahlberg in a role based on Owen's entrance into Priest. 

Rob Halford has since returned to Judas Priest and released two critically acclaimed Judas Priest titles in the new millineum and a live cd "A Touch Of Evil Live" in 2009. 

          DEF LEPPARD 

Def Leppard was mentioned in the same breath as Iron Maiden in the early days of NWOBHM. They toured with AC/DC, Judas Priest, and the Scorpions. The average age of the band in 1979 was 16.  They released 2 albums claimed by NWOBHM (On Through The Night and High and Dry) but record companies were continously stearing them toward a more commercial sound.  They found that pop metal sound which rose them to great heights.  The albumsPyromania and Hysteria sold over 10 million copies a piece.     

Def Leppard have become international superstars.  The dramactic tale of their rise and several tragedies that have struck the band were detailed in a VH1 movie.  They were not only part of the NWOBHM but also part of the hair metal pop/metal success of the 80's.  They released the cd "Songs From The Sparkle Lounge" in 2008.  The cd contained a duet with country superstar Tim McGraw.  They performed on CMT's show "Crossroads" with new country sensation Taylor Swift and the dvd is an exclusive Wal-Mart release.  In 2009, they conducted a summer tour with Poison and Cheap Trick.  Def Leppard may have abandoned their NWOBHM roots but they played a vital role in the genre's success and have become international superstars in the process. 



Motorhead came in on the punk side of the NWOBHM.  Heavily inspired by the Damned, Motorhead played/ plays in your face rock at a frenetic punk pace and cranks it up to high volume.  The band's no holds barred attitude has made it legends with anthems like "Ace Of Spades", "Overkill", and "Bomber."  Lemmy Kilmster the bass player and vocalist has been the common thread in the band.  The band started with Lemmy, Philthy Phil Taylor, and Fast Eddie Clarke.  The music centered around Lemmy's whiskey soaked growl, a very identifiable voice.  The music was/ is straight at you and over the top.  The band quickly built a cult following and the consistency of the bands quality of album releases (no matter who came into the band to play with Lemmy) has been amazing for an over thirty year period.  Once dubbed the loudest band in the world Motorhead inspired thrash rockers like Metallica.  Motorhead's popularity is still increasing.  Lemmy, himself, has reached legendery status.  He released an autobiography entitled "White Line Fever".  He has also claimed to have bedded over 2000 women.  He has appeared on numerous tribute albums performing songs by Queen, Ted Nugent, AC/DC, Metalicca, and others.  The original members Lemmy, Philthy Phil, and Fast Eddie have passed but Motorhead lives on.


Saxon were the most underrated of the bands of the NWOBHM.  They found success in England but never found chart success in the United States.  Saxon has put out solid release after solid release since 1980, when they released their second effort "Wheels Of Steel".  That album was recognized as an instant classic.  The album was released in the United States and started a cult following over here but did not chart.  In 1981, they released another classic album called "Strong Arm Of The Law."  These two albums are regarded as two of the best NWOBHM albums that have been released.  In 1982, they released "Denim and Leather", which may have been their most successful release in America.  The single "Denim and Leather" received slight notice in the US and the video saw action on MTV.  They released the followup "Power and The Glory" in 1983.  These albums are regarded as the strongest and most well-known in the Saxon catalogue.   

Saxon has never quit releasing albums.  They have a strong fanbase that supports Saxon.  The band has done despite not ever enjoying airplay in the US.  Although they have had several lineup changes, Biff Byford has been the lead singer since the beginning.  It has been his distinctive vocals that have kept the band relevant for around thirty years. 

A movie called "Saxon: Heavy Metal Thunder: The Movie" is being released November of 2009.  It is a documentry celebrating the 30th anniversary of Saxon.  The film will look at the ups and downs of one of the first NWOBHM bands.  The band released "Into The Labyrinth" in 2009.  It is their 18th studio release. 


There were several other bands that helped NWOBHM make an impact on the music scene.  The Tygers of Pan Tang were one of those bands and they are still releasing cds and playing shows in the UK.  Diamond Head were cited as major influences of Metallicca.  Girlschool toured heavily with Motorhead.  There were many bands coming out of Britain in the eighties that held the heavy metal banner high. 

The bands that were mentioned in the article are still going today.  They are still playing loud and proud all over the world and recording studio cds.  There have been may fads in music.  The British Invasion of the 60's, disco, the punk movement of the 70's, and the New Wave Movement of the late 70's, but NWOBHM has proven the test of time and has proven that it was not a fad.  NWOBHM bands have been recording influential albums and playing sellout shows for thirty years.  The roar is still very evident.  Crank it up!!!

Leave a comment

    Add comment