Saturday, 7 June 2014

NWOBHM

Possibly (or perhaps apocryphally/mythologically?), the first use of the term "Heavy Metal" in print was from the pen of William Burroughs, and was used to describe the guitar sound created by The Byrds.  "Heavy Metal" appears more clearly in the lyrics for Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild" from 1968.
Does it matter if either of these entomologies are true?
As a musical genre, it took the basis of blues, rock and psychadelia, turned up the volume and layered the sound with heavy, thick guitar riffs, power chords, screaming vocals and a thumping backbeat (you knew when it was loud enough because it shook the filling from your teeth).

Its earliest exponents are cited as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath.  Whilst all coming from a similar starting point, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple augmented their sound with pastoral, folk and orchestral elements, whilst Black Sabbath added a darker, more introspective tone to proceedings.
One could almost include Status Quo in the pantheon of 70s Rock/Heavy metal catalysts.  Other bands took the template, stripped back the blues noodling and went for the straight ahead, all out rock mode - Budgie and Judas Priest being perhaps the prime exponents of this sound in the middle(ish) 1970s.  Also active at this time, delivering a nice line in hippy-infused Space were Hawkwind.  Add in the influence of Motorhead (formed in 1975 following Lemmy's sacking from Hawkwind) and the template of late70s/early 80s Heavy Metal is set.  And not just in terms of sound and attitude, but sartorially too (denim, leather, biker boots, studded armbands, bullet belts - it can all be traced to this point).

The advent of punk had shaken up the record business, and it was no shown to be perfectly possible to be successful with small, independent record releases

In the period 1977 -1979, possibly as a result of the Punk attitude and proof of 'doing it yourself' and relesing your own records on independent labels, a whole bunch of bands were breaking out of the industrial areas of the North-East, the Midlands and London, and many other metropolitan areas of Britain.
During late 1978 and early 1979, these bands were going into recording studios and making their first recordings.  The results, when released, were often on small independent labels such as Gem, Bronze, Carrere, Logo and Neat (responsible for recording and issuing records by nearly evey band from the North East, including Tygers Of Pan Tang, Venom, White Spirit, Raven and Fist).  In two notable cases a completely independent, self-financed label - Iron Maiden: The Soundhouse Tapes (Rock Hard) and Def Leppard: The Def Leppard EP (Bludgeon Riffola).
It may be coincidental, but not long after these releases cane the first metions in the UK Music Press.  The first recorded mention in the national Music Press was by Geoff Barton in a May 1979 issue of Sounds.

If these releases are to be considered as the start of NWOBHM (not strictly true, but it is a good a marker as anything), then the two albums released by EMI in 1980 (and the associated EP) brought a host more bands to the attention of the public.


Metal For Muthas (released 1980)
Iron Maiden - Sanctuary
Sledgehammer - Sledgehammer
E. F. Band - Fighting for Rock and Roll
Toad the Wet Sprocket - Blues in A
Praying Mantis - Captured City
Ethel the Frog - Fight Back
Angel Witch - Baphomet
Iron Maiden - Wrathchild
Samson - Tomorrow or Yesterday
Nutz - Bootliggers


Metal For Muthas Volume II (released 1980)
Trespass - One of These Days
Eazy Money - Telephone Man
Xero - Cutting Loose
White Spirit - High Upon High
Dark Star - Lady of Mars
Horsepower - You Give Me Candy
Red Alert - Open Heart
Chevy - Chevy
The Raid - Hard Lines
Trespass - Storm Child

Muthas Pride (released 1980)
Wildfire - Wild Dogs
Quartz - Back in the Band
White Spirit - Red Skies
Baby Jane - Baby








Listening again, 34 years after original release, the contents of these 3 items still sounds good (Toad The Wet Sprocket stands out like a sore thumb amongst the other bands, but is not unenjoyable).  Yes, it may sound dated in places and some of the production quality may leave a bit to be desired in comparison to modern recording, but there is a rawness and energy running through each track.  If anything, and this maybe down to over-familiarity, or just basic musical snobbishness on my part, Volume II is a better listen than Volume I.  The fact that it opens with this track probably has something to do with swaying my decision.

Trespass - One Of These Days


For me, the 2 main ommissions from these albums are Def Leppard (signed to Phonogram Records) and Diamond Head, the often (certainly at the time) forgotten third axis of NWOBHM influence.
Diamond Head released their first single (Shoot Out The Lights) and album (Lightning To The Nations) in 1980 on their own Happy Face Records, but it wasn't until 1982 that they landed a major record label contract (with MCA).
Sadly for Diamond Head, 1982 was probably the point where NWOBHM ceased to exist as a concept, or "thing" was pretty much all over by 1982.

It was at this point that the genre started to show signs of splintering.  There was a certain mainstream commercial acceptance of the music and bands (Iron Maiden had a Top 10 single with Run To The Hills, Motorhead performed Ace Of Spades on The Young Ones (whose characters included Vyvyan, often wearing a Whitesnake T-Shirt and a studded denim jacket adorned with the phrase "Very Metal") and Def Leppard were about to go to America and sell something like 900 million copies of Pyromania.

So Britain had set the original template, and further toughened it up with NWOBHM, it was now the turn of the American bands to be the focus in the mid-80s.  Bands like Hanoi Rocks, Motley Crue and Guns n Roses took the tough sound and added elements of 1970s Glam Rock and slweaze in equal doses to create the commercially successful Glam Metal/Hair Metal scene.  At the same time, Thrash Metal came into view.  Toughening the sound further, and increasing the speed, the (supposed) "Big Four" were Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax.
The primary influences on Thrash were hardcore punk, Black Sabbath and a host of NWOBHM bands (Venom being one notable name).
Certainly, one of Metallica biggest influences was Diamond Head - the NWOBHM band that never quite made it, and only got to release an album when the whole thing was falling apart.
Am I Evil and The Pronce were recorded for the Metal Up You Ass demo, and Helpless made an appearance on the $5.98 Garage Days Revisited EP.  These tracks, along with Blitzkrieg (by Blitzkrieg) would continue to make regular appearances in Metallicas live set.
Diamond Head: The band that never really made it, now seen as a seminal influence on one of the worlds biggest bands.

Diamond Head - Am I Evil:

Despite giving the world 4 of the biggest bands at the time (Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Judas Priest and Motorhead), and along with old stagers like Ozzt Osbourne, Ian Gillan, Richie Blackmore and David Coverdale (in the guise of Whitesnake, soon to go massive in the commercial hair metal fraternity) all doing big business, the British Metal scene was somewhat lacking.  The focus and energy of the original bands and NWOBHM had faded, and a plethora of bands catering for different audiences.

In 1990, 10 years after NWOBHMs birth, rock journo Geoff Barton (he who penned the original Sounds article, and Metallica tub-thumper Lars Ulrich compiled an album celerbrating NWOBHM, featuring the big, the small and the long forgotten.  Yes there is some crossover with the Metal For Muthas compilations (obviously), but what you get here is 31 tracks of the best NWOBHM available to your ears.

Diamond Head - Its Electric
Sweet Savage - Eye of the Storm
 Saxon - Motorcycle Man
White Spirit - Cheetah
Raven - Don't Need Your Money
Paralex - White Lightning
Def Leppard - Getcha Rocks Off
Weapon - Set the Stage Alight
Samson - Vice Versa
Hollow Ground - Fight with the Devil
Girlschool - Demolition Boys
Witchfynde - Leaving Nadir
Iron Maiden - Sanctuary
Jaguar - Back Street Woman
Tygers of Pan Tang - Killers
Gaskin - I'm No Fool
Sledgehammer - Sledgehammer
Venom - Angel Dust
Angel Witch - Extermination Day
Trespass - One of These Days
Holocaust - Death or Glory
Vardis - If I Were King
Blitzkrieg - Blitzkrieg
Diamond Head - Helpless
Dragster - Ambitions
A II Z - Treason
Witchfinder General - Witchfinder General
Black Axe - Red Lights
Fist - SS Giro
Praying Mantis - Captured City


For even more NWOBHM, the 2005 compilation Lightning To The Nations: 25th Anniversary of NWOBHM is worth seeking out.  Covering not just the 79-82 period, but also including bands from later who kept "the flame alive" (or just happened to be British and were playing the same type of music) - either way, you get a further 56 tracks (again there are duplications) none of which make you want to reach for the Skip button.


Samson - Vice Versa
White Spirit - High Upon High
Raven - Don't Need Your Money
Sledgehammer - Sledgehammer
Bitches Sin - Always Ready
Blitzkrieg - Blitzkrieg
Girlschool - Take It All Away
Chevy - Chevy
Persian Risk - Ridin' High
Satan - Trial By Fire
Dark Star - Lady Of Mars
Avenger - On The Rocks
Heavy Pettin - Love X Love
Xero - Cutting Loose
Hellanbach - Let's Get This Show On The Road
Bronz - Night Runner
Saracen - We Have Arrived
Bastille - Hard Man
Silverwing - Rock N Roll Are 4 Letter Words
Diamond Head - Lightning To The Nations
Saxon - Motorcycle Man
Angel Witch - Angel Of Death
Vardis - If I Were King
Fist - Name, Rank And Serial Number
Marseille - Rock You Tonight
Quartz - Street Fighting Lady
Atomkraft - Future Warriors
Aragorn - Black Ice
Shy - Give Me A Chance
Venom - In League With Satan
Jess Cox - Piece Of The Action
Tysondog - The Inquisitor
Cloven Hoof - Laying Down The Law
Dedringer - Hot Lady
Axis - Messiah
Lone Wolf - Nobody's Move
Mammath - Rock Me
Tygers Of Pan Tang - Don't Touch Me There
Praying Mantis - Captured City
Streetfighter - She's No Angel
Sweet Savage - Killing Time
Trespass - One Of These Days
Holocaust - Heavy Metal Mania
Girl - Hollywood Tease
Ethel The Frog - Fight Back
Savage - Let It Loose
Jaguar - Axe Crazy
Black Rose - Knocked Out
Sabre - Miracle Man
Turbo - Running
Crucifixion - Take It Or Leave It
Warfare - Burn Down The Kings Road
Horsepower - You Give Me Candy
Tarot - Feel The Power
She - Never Surrender
Steel - Rock Out

The track listing of the original release intended to include Iron Maiden - Sanctuary and Def Leppard - Rocks Off.
Whether any of these pressings were ever released has not been confirmed (ie I can't find any reference on the interweb), but subsequent releases contained a sticker over the reverse of the box revising the track listing of Disc One accordingly (it was obviously cheaper to produce a pile of stickers and affix them to already printed stock, than to discard and order a new re-printed batch).


The first album I bought was Iron Maiden - Number Of The Beast (£3.99, Listen Records, Butts Centre, Reading, March 1982 (don't remember the exact time of purchase though).  This purchase led to me buying anything and everything Heavy Metal related (current, past, future, all genres (although Napalm Death was maybe a bit too extreme), some good, some bad, some totally unlistenable.  I must add that this was not to the exclusion of all other music which was bring consumed equally as voraciously (as far as paper round wages would allow)By the late 80s/early 90s I was personally tiring of the 'samey-ness' of many of the records I was buying, particularly the thrash/speed variety, and the glammed up, pretty boy Hair Metal just din't do it for me.  But NWOBHM (and its forefathers) is one era of music that I can happily return to again and again.

To me, NWOBHM is the very DEFINITION of Heavy Metal - it took the template, added its own elements and attitudes and in the main conquered all that lay before it.

6 comments:

  1. The NWOBHM was the first musical movement that I got excited about. i got into it around 1980 or so (when i was 10!) and bought Kerrang regularly when it came out in 1981. There was something exciting and tribal about buying Saxon , Girlschool and Iron Maiden singles and reading Kerrang - you felt that you belonged to a community (and it's this community aspect that I think is the most attractive thing about the Metal culture).

    The problem the NWOBHM bands had was that they were competing with the bands that influenced them. Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, AC/DC etc were still around and making good records, so they gobbled up the press and the pocket money. Good as the records you've described above were, with the exception of Iron Maiden's first album, they couldn't compete with Heaven & Hell, Back in Black, Black Rose, British Steel et al.

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    1. Couldn't compete because the other bands were firmly established and many people weren’t even aware of the albums…at least in the U.S.,that is a shame because there defiantly albums that are as good,in my opinion.

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  2. The lead singer of Paralex runs a pub here now. I found out today that he won money when Jockey Wilson died. The amount in pounds? 180!

    Can't add any more to that. Good blog post.

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    1. Love the videos on You Tube…PARALEX - Rockin' The Force - Newark 1981

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  3. 1 - Hello, just found this blog and think I'll be hanging around here!

    2 - Top tunage here. In fact I have just ripped the Ulrich/Barton compilation to help get me across the Atlantic next week. I didn't really get into metal until about 86/87 but can't now imagine what my life would be without it.

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    1. A Great moment in music was the NWOBHM

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