The new wave of British heavy metal (commonly abbreviated as NWOBHM) was a nationwide musical movement that started in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s and achieved international attention by the early 1980s. Journalist Geoff Barton coined the term in a May 1979 issue of the British music newspaper Sounds to describe the emergence of new heavy metal bands in the late 1970s, during the period of punk rock's decline and the dominance of new wave music.
Although encompassing diverse mainstream and underground styles, the music of the NWOBHM is best remembered for drawing on the heavy metal of the 1970s and infusing it with the intensity of punk rock to produce fast and aggressive songs. The DIY attitude of the new metal bands led to the spread of raw-sounding, self-produced recordings and a proliferation of independent record labels. Song lyrics were usually about escapist themes such as mythology, fantasy, horror and the rock lifestyle.
The NWOBHM began as an underground phenomenon growing in parallel to punk and largely ignored by the media. It was only through the promotion of rock DJ Neal Kay and Sounds' campaigning that it reached the public consciousness and gained radio airplay, recognition and success in the UK. The movement involved mostly young, white, male and working-class musicians and fans, who suffered the hardships brought on by rising unemployment for years after the 1973–75 recession. As a reaction to their bleak reality, they created a community separate from mainstream society to enjoy each other's company and their favourite loud music. The NWOBHM was heavily criticised for the excessive hype generated by local media in favour of mostly talentless musicians. Nonetheless, it generated a renewal in the genre of heavy metal music and furthered the progress of the heavy metal subculture, whose updated behavioural and visual codes were quickly adopted by metal fans worldwide after the spread of the music to continental Europe, North America and Japan.
The movement spawned perhaps a thousand metal bands, but only a few survived the advent of MTV and the rise of the more commercial glam metal in the second half of the 1980s. Among them, Iron Maiden and Def Leppard became international stars, and Motörhead and Saxon had considerable success. Other groups, such as Diamond Head, Venom and Raven, remained underground, but were a major influence on the successful extreme metal subgenres of the late 1980s and 1990s. Many bands from the NWOBHM reunited in the 2000s and remained active through live performances and new studio albums.
In the second half of the 1970s, the United Kingdom was in a state of social unrest and widespread poverty as a result of the ineffective social politics of both Conservative and Labour Party governments during a three-year period of economic recession. As a consequence of deindustrialization, the unemployment rate was exceptionally high, especially among working class youth. It continued to rise in the early 1980s, peaking in February 1983. The discontent of so many people caused social unrest with frequent strikes, and culminated in a series of riots (see 1981 Brixton riot, 1981 Toxteth riots). During this period, the mass of young people, deprived of the prospect of even relatively low-skill jobs that were available to the previous generations, searched for different ways to earn money in the music and entertainment businesses. The explosion of new bands and new musical styles coming from the UK in the late 1970s was a result of their efforts to make a living in the economic depression that hit the country before the governments of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
The desperation and the violent reaction of a generation robbed of a safe future are well-represented by the British punk movement of 1977–1978, whose rebellion against the establishment continued diluted in the new wave and post-punk music of the 1980s. These self-proclaimed punks were politically militant, relishing their anarchic attitude and stage practices like pogo dancing. They wore short and spiked hairstyles or shaved heads, often with safety pins and ripped clothes, and considered musical prowess unimportant as long as the music was simple and loud. However, not all working-class male youths embraced the punk movement; some preferred to escape from their grim reality in heavy metal, which was equally effective in providing fun, stress relief, and peer companionship – otherwise denied because of their unemployment.
The UK was a cradle of the first wave of heavy metal, which was born at the end of the 1960s and flowered in the early 1970s. Of the many British bands that came to prominence during that period, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple achieved worldwide success and critical acclaim. The success of the music genre, usually called heavy rock at the time, generated a community of UK fans with strong ties to psychedelia, hippie doctrines and biker subculture. Each of these bands was in crisis in the mid-to-late 1970s: Led Zeppelin were plagued by discord and personal tragedies and had drastically reduced their activities, Black Sabbath finally fired their charismatic but unreliable frontman Ozzy Osbourne, and Deep Purple disbanded. As a consequence, the whole movement lost much of its momentum and media interest, which were refocused on what British writer Malc Macmillan calls "the more fashionable or lucrative markets of the day" such as disco, glam, mod revival, new wave and electronic music. Just like progressive rock acts and other mainstream music groups of the 1970s, heavy rock bands were viewed as – in the words of journalist Garry Bushell – "lumbering dinosaurs" by a music press infatuated with punk rock and new wave. Some writers even declared the premature demise of heavy metal altogether.
The crisis of British heavy rock giants left space for the rise of other rock bands in the mid-1970s, including Queen, Hawkwind, Budgie, Bad Company, Status Quo and Nazareth, all of which had multiple chart entries in the UK and had conducted successful international tours. The British chart results of the period show that there was still a vast audience for heavy metal in the country, and upcoming bands Thin Lizzy, UFO and Judas Priest, also had tangible success and media coverage in the late 1970s. Foreign hard rock acts, such as Blue Öyster Cult and Kiss from the US, Rush from Canada, Scorpions from Germany, and especially AC/DC from Australia, climbed the British charts in the same period.
The band Motörhead was founded in 1975 by already experienced musicians. Their leader Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister was a former member of the space rock band Hawkwind, Larry Wallis had played with Pink Fairies, and Eddie Clarke had been a member of Curtis Knight's Zeus. Their previous experience is one element which divides critics and fans over whether the band belongs to the new wave of British heavy metal. Some believe that the band should be considered an inspiration for the movement, but not part of it, because they had signed recording contracts, toured the country, and had chart success before any NWOBHM band had stepped out of their local club scene. Motörhead were also the only metal band of the period recording songs with veteran BBC radio DJ John Peel for his Peel Sessions program and the first to reach No. 1 in the UK Albums Chart with the live album No Sleep 'til Hammersmith in June 1981. Lemmy himself said, "the NWOBHM ... didn't do us much good", because Motörhead "came along a bit too early for it".
Other critics view Motörhead as the first significant exponent of the movement and the first band to fully implement a crossover between punk rock and heavy metal. Their fast music, the renunciation of technical virtuosity in favour of sheer loudness, and their uncompromising attitude were welcomed equally by punks and heavy metal fans. Motörhead were supported by many NWOBHM bands on tour, and they also shared the stage with Lemmy's friends punk band The Damned. Motörhead's musical style became very popular during the NWOBHM, making them a fundamental reference for the nascent movement and for musicians of various metal subgenres in the following decades.
The NWOBHM involved both musicians and fans who were largely young, male and white and shared class origin, ethic and aesthetic values. American sociologist Deena Weinstein, in her book Heavy Metal: The Music and Its Culture, describes the rise and growth of the movement as the achievement of maturity for heavy metal, after its birth in the early 1970s and before branching out into various subgenres in the following years. British heavy metal fans, commonly known as muthas, metalheads or headbangers for the violent, rhythmic shaking of their heads in time to the music, dismissed the simplistic image of rebellious youth inherited from the counterculture of the 1960s and the psychedelic attachments characteristic of heavy rock in the 1970s, updating the shared principles and codes of the heavy metal subculture and definitely separating it from mainstream society.
Towards the end of the 1970s, British metalheads coalesced into a closed community of peers that exalted power and celebrated masculinity. According to Deena Weinstein's analysis, their male camaraderie and the general absence of women in their ranks did not turn into machismo and misogyny. In the same article, she wrote that British heavy metal: "is not racist, despite its uniformly white performers, and its lyrics are devoid of racial references." Another characteristic of the subculture was its latent homophobia, less violent, but not dissimilar to British skinheads' disposition; in his book Running with the Devil: Power, Gender and Madness in Heavy Metal Music, Robert Walser calls it a "collective affirmation of heterosexuality", and in a journal British sociologist John Clarke regards it as "a reaction against the erosion of traditionally available stereotypes of masculinity".
Headbangers showed little interest in political and social problems, finding in each other's company, in the consumption of beer and in the music, the means to escape their bleak reality; for this reason they were often accused of nihilism or escapism. In contrast with punks, they loved musicianship and made idols of virtuoso guitarists and vocalists, viewing the live show as the full realisation of their status. The fans were very loyal to the music, to each other and to the bands with whom they shared origins and from whom they required coherence with their values, authenticity and continuous accessibility. To depart from this strict code meant being marked as a "sell out" or "poseur" and being somewhat excluded from the community. The lyrics of the song "Denim and Leather" by Saxon reflect precisely the condition of British metalheads in those years of great enthusiasm. Access to this male-dominated world for female musicians and fans was not easy, and only women who adapted to their male counterparts' standards and codes were accepted, as attested by Girlschool and Rock Goddess, the only notable all-female metal bands of that era.
Saxon – "Denim and Leather" (1981)
"Denim and Leather" is an anthem which celebrates the NWOBHM movement and its members.
The music, philosophy and lifestyle of heavy metal bands and fans were often panned by both left-wing critics and conservative public opinion, described as senseless, ridiculous to the limit of self-parody, and even dangerous for the young generation. The 1984 mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap addressed many idiosyncrasies of British metal bands, showing comic sides of that world which external observers would judge absurd. Instead metal musicians regarded the movie's content as much too real.
The dress code of the British headbangers reflected the newly found cohesion of the movement and recalled the look of 1960s rockers and American bikers. The common elements were long hair and jeans, black or white T-shirts with band logos and cover art and leather jackets or denim vests adorned with patches. Following the example of Judas Priest, elements of S&M fashion entered the metal wardrobe of the 1980s and it became typical to show off metallic studs and ornaments, or for metal musicians to wear spandex or leather trousers. Elements of militaria, such as bullet belts and insignia, were also introduced at this time. This style of dress quickly became the uniform of metalheads worldwide.
Most bands of the NWOBHM had the same look as their fans and produced rock shows without special visual effects. A notable exception was Iron Maiden, which created the grisly character Eddie the Head as a stage prop to enrich their performances very early in their career. Other exceptions were Demon, Cloven Hoof and Samson, which used various props, costumes and tricks in their shows, while Pagan Altar and Venom became well known for their elaborate scenography inspired by shock rock and Satanism.
The NWOBHM – comprising bands with very different influences and styles – was promoted as both a movement and a distinct music genre only in its formative years during the mid-to-late 1970s. Especially in those early years, what characterised the flood of new music was its raw sound, due in large part to low-budget productions, but also to the amateurish talents of many young bands. Those young musicians were also linked by a shared inspiration from the works of the aforementioned successful heavy rock bands of the late 1960s and 1970s, and kept a sort of continuity with the earlier acts, whose music had temporarily gone out of fashion, but was still thriving underground. However, the media of the 1980s and the promotional literature of record labels typically placed rock music that employed loud guitars, but was not classifiable as "punk" under the blanket term "heavy metal", subsuming the entire spectrum of NWOBHM bands within a single music genre.
Following a largely organic and uncalculated impulse, many of these new bands infused classic heavy metal with the immediacy of pub rock and the intensity of punk rock, implementing to various degrees the crossover of genres started by Motörhead; in general they shunned ballads, de-emphasised harmonies and produced shorter songs with fast tempos and a very aggressive sound based on riffs and power chords, featuring vocals ranging from high pitched wails to gruff and low growls. Iron Maiden, Angel Witch, Saxon, Holocaust, Tygers of Pan Tang, Girlschool, Tank and More are notable performers of this style, which bands such as Atomkraft, Jaguar, Raven and Venom stretched to produce even more extreme results. Critics consider this new approach to heavy metal the greatest musical accomplishment of the NWOBHM and an important evolutionary step for the genre.
A style more melodic and more akin to the hard rock of bands like Rainbow, Magnum, UFO, Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake was equally represented during the NWOBHM. The music of Def Leppard, Praying Mantis, White Spirit, Demon, Shy, Gaskin, Dedringer and many others, contained hooks as much as riffs, often retained a closer link with blues rock, included power ballads and featured keyboards, acoustic instruments and melodic and soaring vocals. After the peak of the movement in 1981, this style was favoured by the media and gained greater acceptance among the British audience; it became prevalent when bands usually playing the more aggressive style of metal adapted to the more popular sound, which resembled that of mainstream American acts. These changes in musical direction disoriented some fans and led them to reject those bands which were perceived as having compromised key elements of their musical identity in the pursuit of success.
These two styles do not exhaust all of the musical influences found in the British metal music of the early 1980s, because many bands were also inspired by progressive rock (Iron Maiden, Diamond Head, Blitzkrieg, Demon, Saracen, Shiva, Witchfynde), boogie rock (Saxon, Vardis, Spider, Le Griffe) and glam rock (Girl, Wrathchild). Doom metal bands Pagan Altar and Witchfinder General were also part of the NWOBHM and their albums are considered among the best examples of that already established subgenre.
British writer John Tucker writes that NWOBHM bands were in general fuelled by their first experiences with adult life and "their lyrics rolled everything into one big youthful fantasy". They usually avoided social and political themes in their lyrics, or treated them in a shallow "street-level" way, preferring topics from mythology, the occult, fantasy, science fiction and horror films. Songs about romance and lust were rare, but the frequent lyrics about male bonding and the rock lifestyle contain many sexist allusions. Christian symbolism is often present in the lyrics and cover art, as is the figure of Satan, used more as a shocking and macabre subject than as the antireligious device of 1990s' black metal subculture.
Thin Lizzy, UFO and Judas Priest were already playing international arenas, when new heavy metal bands, composed of very young people, debuted in small venues in many cities in the UK. The country's larger venues were usually reserved for chart-topping disco music, because their use as rock music clubs was considered much less profitable. Like most British bands in the past, the new groups spent their formative years playing live in clubs, pubs, dance halls and social circles for low wages; this training honed their skills, created a local fan base and enabled them to come in contact with managers and record label agents.
Angel Witch, Iron Maiden, Praying Mantis and Samson from London, Son of a Bitch (later Saxon) from Barnsley, Diamond Head from Stourbridge, Marseille from Liverpool, White Spirit from Hartlepool, Witchfynde from Derbyshire, Vardis from Wakefield, Def Leppard from Sheffield, Raven and Tygers of Pan Tang from around Newcastle, and Holocaust from Edinburgh were the most important metal bands founded between 1975 and 1977 that animated the club scene in their respective cities and towns. The first bands of the newborn musical movement competed for space in venues with punk outfits, often causing clubs to specialise, presenting only punk or only rock and hard rock. Differences in ideology, attitude and looks also caused heated rivalries between the two audiences. What punk and NWOBHM musicians had in common was their "do-it-yourself" attitude toward the music business and the consequent practice of self-production and self-distribution of recorded material in the form of audio cassette demos, or privately pressed singles, aimed initially at local supporters.
It also led to the birth and diffusion of small independent record labels, often an extension of record shops and independent recording studios, which sometimes produced both punk and metal releases. Indie labels are considered important to the movement's evolution, because they removed the intrusion of corporate business which had hindered rock music in the late 1970s, giving local bands the chance to experiment with more extreme forms of music.
While British and international media covered punk intensively, the new grassroots metal movement remained underground until 1978, largely ignored by popular music magazines such as New Musical Express, The Face and Melody Maker and by radio stations. News about the bands and music circulated by word-of-mouth and fanzines, or through interested DJs, who travelled the country from club to club. Neal Kay was one of those DJs; he started to work in 1975 at a disco club called The Bandwagon in Kingsbury, North West London, housed in the back-room of the Prince of Wales pub and equipped with a massive sound system. He transformed his nights at The Bandwagon into The Heavy Metal Soundhouse, a spot specialising in hard rock and heavy metal music and a place to listen to albums of established acts and to demos of new bands, which circulated among fans through cassette trading.
Besides participating in air guitar competitions and watching live shows, the audience could also vote for Kay's selections. The DJ made a weekly Heavy Metal Top 100 list of the most requested songs at The Soundhouse, by both newcomers and established bands and sent it to record shops and to the music journal Sounds, the only paper that showed interest in the developing scene. Many young musicians realised that they were not alone in playing metal only through that weekly list, which included bands from all over the country. At the time, Geoff Barton was a staffer at Sounds who wrote features on the new up-and-coming metal bands and was pivotal in directing the developing subculture of metalheads with his articles. At the suggestion of his editor Alan Lewis and in an attempt to find a common stylistic element in the bands' music, he used the term "New Wave of British Heavy Metal" for the first time in his review of a gig on the Metal Crusade tour featuring Angel Witch, Iron Maiden and Samson at The Music Machine in London on 8 May 1979. The term soon became the identifier for the whole movement.
Compilation albums featuring bands from the nascent movement started to circulate, issued by Neat Records, Heavy Metal Records and Ebony Records, companies that became leaders in the independent metal label market during the 1980s. The fresh outlet of Neal Kay's chart, the attention of Sounds and the many compilations issued by independent labels, focused the efforts of the new bands on producing demos and singles. Iron Maiden's The Soundhouse Tapes is one of the best known collections of such demos. As Barton recalled: "There were hundreds of these bands. Maybe even thousands. Barely a day would go by without a clutch of new NWOBHM singles arriving in the Sounds office."
Tommy Vance, a BBC radio host, took notice of the phenomenon and played singles by the new metal bands on his late night Friday Rock Show on BBC Radio 1. Along with John Peel's broadcast, Vance's was the only corporate radio show to feature songs from underground metal acts, many of whom were invited to play live at BBC studios under the supervision of long-time collaborator and producer, Tony Wilson. Alice's Restaurant Rock Radio, a pirate FM radio station in London, also championed the new bands on air and with their own "roadshow" in rock pubs and clubs.
Despite the transition of the young bands from being local attractions to touring extensively in the UK, major record labels' A&R agents still did not recognise the rising new trend. Thus, most new bands signed contracts with small independent labels, which could afford only limited printings of singles and albums and usually offered only national distribution. Many other bands, including Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Diamond Head, self-produced their first releases and sold them through mail order or at concerts. Saxon were the first to sign with an internationally distributed label, the French Carrere Records, followed by Def Leppard with Phonogram in August 1979, and Iron Maiden with EMI in December 1979. In early 1980, EMI tested the market with the Neal Kay-compiled album Metal for Muthas and a UK tour of the bands that had contributed to the compilation, eventually signing Angel Witch (who were dropped after the release of their first single) and Ethel the Frog.
Sounds gave Metal for Muthas a poor review, but the album was nevertheless a commercial success and may have been instrumental in encouraging major labels to sign a few more bands. A II Z, Fist, White Spirit and Praying Mantis were dropped after the release of their debut albums, while Tygers of Pan Tang, Samson, More, Demon and Girlschool had more success and lasted longer on major labels' line-ups. The new releases by these bands were better produced and some of them, with the support of intensive tours in the UK and Europe, obtained good chart results. The best chart performances of that period were for Iron Maiden's debut album Iron Maiden and for Wheels of Steel by Saxon, which reached No. 4 and No. 5 on the UK Albums Chart respectively, while their singles "Running Free", "Wheels of Steel" and "747 (Strangers in the Night)" entered the UK Singles Chart Top 50. The immediate consequence of that success was increased media coverage for metal bands, which included appearances on the British music TV shows Top of the Pops and The Old Grey Whistle Test. The emergence of many new bands in the period between 1978 and 1980 was another remarkable effect of the promotion of the movement to a relevant national phenomenon.[a]
The momentum behind the NWOBHM also benefited already established bands, which reclaimed the spotlight with new and acclaimed releases. Ex-Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan returned to sing heavy metal with the album Mr. Universe in 1979 and was on the forefront of the British metal scene with his band Gillan in the following years. His former Deep Purple bandmate Ritchie Blackmore also climbed the UK charts with his hard rock group Rainbow's releases Down to Earth (1979) and Difficult to Cure (1981). Black Sabbath recovered and returned to success with the albums Heaven and Hell (1980) and Mob Rules (1981), featuring the ex-Rainbow singer Ronnie James Dio. 1980 saw several other entries by hard rock and heavy metal bands in the top 10 of the British charts: MSG's first album peaked at No. 8, Whitesnake's Ready an' Willing at No. 6, Judas Priest's best-seller British Steel and Motörhead's Ace of Spades at No. 4, while Back in Black by AC/DC reached number one.
As proof of the successful revival of the British hard rock and metal scene, tours and gigs of old and new acts were sold out, both at home and in other European countries, where the movement had spread. Groups arising from the NWOBHM were no longer precluded from world tours and were often chosen as opening acts for major bands in arenas and stadiums. Iron Maiden supported Kiss in Europe in 1980, embarking on their first world tour as headliners in 1981, as well as opening for Judas Priest and UFO in the US. Def Leppard visited the US for the first time in 1980 for a three-month trek supporting Pat Travers, Judas Priest, Ted Nugent, AC/DC and Sammy Hagar. Saxon opened for Judas Priest in Europe and for Rush and AC/DC in the US in 1981. NWOBHM bands were already present on the roster of the famous Reading Festival in 1980, and were quickly promoted to headliners for the 1981 and 1982 events. The 1980 edition was also remarkable for the violent protests against Def Leppard, whose declared interest in the American market was received badly by British fans. In addition to Reading, a new festival called Monsters of Rock was created in 1980 at Castle Donington, England, to showcase only hard rock and heavy metal acts.
The NWOBHM eventually found space in newspapers and music magazines other than Sounds, as journalists caught up with the "next big thing" happening in the UK. Melody Maker even published a weekly heavy metal chart based on record shop sales. Sounds' publisher exploited his support of the movement to launch the first issue of Kerrang!, a colour magazine directed by Geoff Barton devoted exclusively to hard rock and heavy metal, in June 1981. Kerrang! was an unexpected success and soon became the reference magazine for metalheads worldwide, followed shortly by the American Circus and Hit Parader, the German Metal Hammer and the British Metal Forces. The attention of international media meant more record sales and more world tours for NWOBHM bands, whose albums entered many foreign charts. Their attempts to climb the British charts culminated in Iron Maiden's The Number of the Beast topping the UK Albums Chart on 10 April 1982 and staying at number 1 for two weeks. The album charted at number 33 in the US, where the band acquired a reputation as Devil-worshippers due to the album cover's depiction of a hellish scene.
The success of the music produced by the movement and its passage from underground phenomenon to mainstream genre, prompted its main promoter Geoff Barton to declare the NWOBHM finished in 1981. He felt disappointed by the low quality of the new bands and frustrated by the ease with which record labels exploited enthusiasm for heavy metal. Coincidentally, in the same year, the Bandwagon was closed and the Prince of Wales pub was subsequently demolished to build a restaurant. Although the movement had lost some of its appeal for diehard fans, as evidenced by the increased popularity of American-influenced AOR releases on sales-based national polls, it retained enough vitality to launch a second wave of bands, which rose from the underground and released their first albums in 1982 and 1983.[b]
NWOBHM bands had been touring steadily in the United States, but had not yet received enough FM radio airplay there to make a significant impression on American charts. Def Leppard remedied that, releasing Pyromania at the beginning of 1983, an album with a more melodic and FM-friendly approach in comparison with the more aggressive sound of their earlier music. The band's goal of reaching a wider international audience, which included many female fans, was attained completely in the US, where Pyromania peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart behind Michael Jackson's Thriller. Thanks to a string of hit singles and the heavy rotation of their music videos on the recently launched MTV, the album had sold more than six millions copies in the US by 1984 and made Def Leppard superstars. The overwhelming international success of Pyromania induced both American and British bands to follow Def Leppard's example, giving a decisive boost to the more commercial and melodic glam metal and heralding the end of the NWOBHM.
The UK had been a home for music video pioneers. When the music video cable channel MTV started broadcasting in 1982, the importance of videos abruptly grew, changing the video from an occasional promotional tool to an indispensable means of reaching an audience. MTV filled its programs with many hard rock and heavy metal videos, but these were too expensive for bands who either had no recording contract or had signed to small, independent labels. Moreover, music videos exalted the visual appeal of a band, an area where some British metal groups were deficient. So the NWOBHM suffered the same decline as other musical phenomena that were based on low-budget productions and an underground following. Many of its leaders, such as Diamond Head, Tygers of Pan Tang, Angel Witch and Samson, were unable to follow up on their initial success; their attempts to update their look and sound to match new expectations of the wider audience not only failed, but also alienated their original fans.
By the mid-1980s, image-driven, sex-celebrating glam metal emanating from Hollywood's Sunset Strip, spearheaded by Van Halen and followed by bands such as Mötley Crüe, Quiet Riot, Dokken, Great White, Ratt and W.A.S.P., quickly replaced other styles of metal in the tastes of many British rock fans. New Jersey act Bon Jovi and the Swedish Europe, thanks to their successful fusion of hard rock and romantic pop, also became very popular in the UK, with the former even headlining the 1987 Monsters of Rock Festival. Record companies latched on to the more polished glam metal subgenre over the NWOBHM bands, which maintained a fan base elsewhere in Europe, but found themselves crowded out of the UK and US markets by the success of these American groups. While the attention devoted to the NWOBHM bands waned, a new succession of far less mainstream metal subgenres began to emerge and attract many British metalheads. Power metal and thrash metal, both stemming from the NWOBHM and maintaining much of its ethos, were gaining critical acclaim and commercial success in the second half of the 1980s with their even faster and heavier sound. Bands such as Helloween, Savatage, Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax captured much of the market share of those metalheads who were not content with the sound or style of more mainstream, pop-oriented metal bands.
The N.W.O.B.H.M. Encyclopedia by Malc Macmillan lists more than 500 recording bands established in the decade between 1975 and 1985 and related to the movement.[c] Probably as many bands launched in the same period, but never emerged from their local club scene, or recorded nothing more than demo tapes or limited pressings of self-produced singles. The disinterest of record labels, poor management of bands, internal struggles and musical choices that turned off much of their original fan base, resulted in most groups disbanding and disappearing by the end of the decade. A few of the best known groups, such as Praying Mantis in Japan and Saxon, Demon and Tokyo Blade in mainland Europe, survived in foreign markets. Some others, namely Raven, Girlschool and Grim Reaper, tried to break through in the US market signing with American labels, but their attempts were unsuccessful. Two of the more popular bands of the movement, however, went on to considerable, lasting success. Iron Maiden has since become one of the most commercially successful and influential heavy metal bands of all time, even after adopting a more progressive style. Def Leppard became even more successful, targeting the American mainstream rock market with their more refined hard rock sound.
The widespread popularity of the Internet in the late 1990s/early 2000s helped NWOBHM fans and musicians to reconnect and rekindle their shared enthusiasm. The NWOBHM experienced a minor revival, highlighted by the good sales of old vinyl and collectibles and by the demand for new performances. Statements of appreciation by metal bands of the 1990s, the success of tribute bands, the re-issues of old albums and the production of new thoroughly edited compilations, attracted the media's attention and encouraged many of the original groups to reunite for festival appearances and tours. According to Macmillan and AllMusic reviewer Eduardo Rivadavia, probably the most important of those compilation albums was New Wave of British Heavy Metal '79 Revisited, compiled by Metallica's drummer Lars Ulrich and former Sounds and Kerrang! journalist Geoff Barton. It was released in 1990 as a double CD, featuring bands as obscure as Hollow Ground right through to the major acts of the era.
A new publication called Classic Rock, featuring Barton and many of the writers from Kerrang!'s first run, championed the NWOBHM revival and continues to focus much of its attention on rock acts from the 1980s. Starting in the 2000s, many reunited bands recorded new albums and revisited their original styles, abandoned in the second half of the 1980s. Their presence, at metal festivals and on the international rock club circuit, has been constant ever since.
The NWOBHM triggered a renaissance in a stagnant rock genre, but took on heavy criticism for the excessive local media hype surrounding a legion of typically mediocre musicians. Detractors think that, unlike heavy metal of the preceding decades, their music was unoriginal and included no classic rock recordings. Nevertheless, these bands and their diverse output offered a blueprint that counterparts across the Western world would later emulate and expand. The collision of styles that characterised the NWOBHM is now seen as key to the diversification of heavy metal in the second half of the 1980s into various subgenres that came to the fore in the 1990s. The stardom of Def Leppard in the US provided a catalyst for the growth of glam metal, just as bands like Angel Witch, Witchfynde, Cloven Hoof and especially Venom[d] generated the music, lyrics, cover art and attitude that sparked black metal in its various forms in Europe and America. Motörhead, Iron Maiden, Raven, Tank, Venom and other minor groups are viewed as precursors of speed metal and thrash metal, two subgenres which carried forward the crossover with punk, incorporating elements of hardcore while amplifying volume, velocity and aggressive tone.
Starting around 1982, distant points such as North America, West Germany, and Brazil each became the locus of its own distinctive thrash metal scenes – East Coast and Bay Area, Teutonic, and Brazilian thrash metal. Their debt to the NWOBHM was acknowledged for example by Metallica's Lars Ulrich, an active fan and avid collector of NWOBHM recordings and memorabilia. Under his influence, the setlists of Metallica's early shows were filled with covers of British metal groups. The sound of the NWOBHM even "cross-pollinated" a subgenre of punk, as UK 82 street punk bands like Discharge blended punk music with elements of metal. The birth of speed metal in the early 1980s was also pivotal for the evolution of power metal in the latter half of the decade, as exemplified by Helloween from Germany, and Manowar, Savatage, and Virgin Steele from the US.
Metallica – "Am I Evil?" (1984)
Diamond Head's "Am I Evil?" was one of the cover songs played by Metallica in their early days and is still part of their live setlist.
Since the beginning of the NWOBHM, North American bands like Anvil, Riot, Twisted Sister, Manowar, Virgin Steele, The Rods, Hellion, Cirith Ungol, and Exciter had a continuous exchange with the other side of the Atlantic, where their music was appreciated by British metalheads. In this climate of reciprocity, Manowar and Virgin Steele initially signed with the British indie label Music for Nations, while Twisted Sister recorded their first two albums in London.
The sound of Japanese bands Earthshaker, Loudness, Anthem and other minor groups was also influenced by the NWOBHM, whose British sound engineers were used for their early albums. The Japanese band Bow Wow even transferred to England to be part of the British metal scene. Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, France and Spain promptly welcomed the new British bands and spawned imitators almost immediately. Acts like Accept, Grave Digger, Sinner and Warlock from Germany, E. F. Band from Sweden, Mercyful Fate from Denmark, Killer and Ostrogoth from Belgium, Picture and Bodine from the Netherlands, Trust and Nightmare from France, and Barón Rojo and Ángeles del Infierno from Spain, formed between 1978 and 1982 and were heavily influenced by the sound of the NWOBHM. Many of these bands signed with the Dutch Roadrunner Records or with the Belgian Mausoleum Records, independent labels that also published recordings of British NWOBHM acts.
We don't do gigs, we do shows. It's fucking massive. If you stand at the front of the stage you're gonna get your head blown off!