The Polishing of Metal
Part 3 - Evolution
By Derek McDonald
In 1979 the British invaded (or came back) with their flavor
of Metal. Now harder, louder and faster with more energy they became known as
the NWOBHM, a name dubbed by Geoff Barton, a writer for the British weekly
Sounds. It was probably the clumsiest acronym ever to be used, but it stuck.
The "New Wave Of British Heavy Metal" brought Metal out of the underground and
set standards which are still followed today. It was intended as a backlash
against the growing punk movement of the late '70's but ended off being
influenced by it. NWOBHM was the saving grace for Metal which, by 1980, was
down for the count and on its knees. This massive injection of energy and
youthful change saw Metal rise like the phoenix.
Before we continue, let's pause for a second to remember the
decade that was the 1980's. It was the decade of decadence and greed. The
decade of yuppies, car phones, the home computer, Dallas, Miami Vice, the
falling of the Berlin Wall, VCR, Chernobyl, ET, the Dungeons and Dragons Game,
MTV (who started the new era by (appropriately enough) playing: Video Killed
The Radio Star), Much Music (Canada's Music Video empire), and the Sony Walkman
who's "Walkman Overspill" (the extra sound from a users headset) has become the
demon of public transit riders throughout the western world! Coke changed its
formula. It was also the decade that Heavy Metal became "cool.
The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II - The Metal
Years, Penelope Spheeris' follow up to her debut film on LA Punks, premiers in
June of 1988. This is a documentary which covered the Heavy Metal scene with
footage of Ozzy Ozbourne, Kiss, Alice Cooper, Lemmy (of Motorhead), Faster
Pussycat and Chris Holmes of WASP in a famous poolside scene as well as
Hollywood hopefuls and babes in jacuzzis. It is criticized as funny to crap.
It's accuracy is not determined but the soundtrack was great.
1980 also saw the Reading Music Festival, a large yearly
outdoor rock extravaganza, fall second to a new monster, the "Castle Donnington
Monsters Of Rock festival," its Heavy Metal replacement. It was founded by
Ex-Deep Purple guitarist Richie Blackmore. It has been a yearly pilgrimage for
UK Metal Heads ever since, except for 1989 when two fans, the year before, were
killed during a Guns N' Roses set. The first bands to play it were: Rainbow,
Judas Priest, Scorpions, Saxon, April Wine and Touch.
It was also the decade of Thrash and NWOBHM.
It all started in the pubs of London and came to public
attention when, in 1980, EMI published the Metal For Muthas I, II & III
compilation, albums featuring these new NWOBHM bands. Other record companies,
afraid of missing the boat, followed suit with their own compilations and soon
complete albums were hitting the street.
The NWOBHM albums that were released could do no wrong in
the early 1980's. Albums like Iron Maidens self-titled debut routinely
hit the top 5.
This flavor of the music dominated the '80's Metal scene and
ended off being a marketing engine by selling billions and billions of records,
T-shirts, videos and concert tickets worldwide. Such groups as Tygers Of Pang
Tang, Def Leppard, Angelwitch, Holocaust, Saxon, Venom and the big mamma of
them all; Iron Maiden to name a few, are still considered to be standards
TYGERS OF PANG TANG were probably the first NWOBHM band to
have success. Most of their success leaned heavily on their first album Wild
SAXON came on the scene in the late '70's and published a
small collection of albums the most famous of which are Denim And Leather and
Wheels Of Steel. At the height of their career (the mid 1980's) they roared
into second place in the hearts of Metal fans, outselling almost everybody.
Everybody except Iron Maiden. Unfortunately, although their music is good, it
softened over the years and as a result they lost much of their fan base. The
group has since attempted a come back but it is unlikely that they will ever
achieve their former glory. In the words of a local record seller, "They are
about as marketable as Milli-Vanilli.
VENOM were no strangers to the night. They became famous for
their occult Metal antics and were known only by their stage names: Cronos,
Mantas and Abbadon. Many people argue that the band isn't worthy of honorable
mention because they weren't that good. In their own admission they may have
been meant more as a joke than a serious effort, but they maintain a loyal fan
base to this day. Venom are recorded into history as being the crossover point
of NWOBHM to Thrash.
IRON MAIDEN (named after the medieval torture device)
probably became the biggest success and the kings of marketing above them all
with their releasing of singles, albums and EPs in several different formats
continuously. They also set the standard of Heavy Metal art by the presentation
of their wrath-from-the-grave demon "Eddie" who was gleefully plastered onto as
many posters, records and T-shirts that was technologically possible. Iron
Maiden started on the east side of London in 1976, but didn't make it big until
their discovery by EMI Records in 1980 and their first self-named album Iron
Maiden. After shedding their original singer Paul Di'Anno, ex-Samson singer
Bruce Dickinson became the voice of the Maiden from their hit The Number Of The
Beast onward until 1993 when he was replaced by ex-Wolfsbane singer Blaze
Bayley. Their very first publication, The Soundhouse Tapes EP, is a highly
sought after collectors item as it is one of the only recordings that exists
before they became big in 1980; only 6000 exist. Iron Maiden is an essential
element in Metal. If it wasn't for them much of the NWOBHM movement would not
have started -leaving the Thrash and Death sub-genres to never rise and also
leaving Metal to die before its time.
ANGELWITCH was one of the first NWOBHM bands. A power trio,
the bands' first album, self-titled Angelwitch, concentrated on satanic and
witchcraft imagery combined with doom-laden riffs. The band broke up shortly
after. With some attempts at regrouping in various forms the band has never
been able to match this first album or its single Sweet Danger, their best
effort, which reached number 75 for one week in the UK charts.
HOLOCAUST debuted in 1981. Their basic hard sound summed up
all of what the NWOBHM movement was about. Unfortunately, they were short lived
and folded in 1984. Such bands as Metallica have featured their works as cover
songs which has inspired a new interest in NWOBHM for the '90's and the band
has, as a result, been trying to reform.
DEF LEPPARD hit the lights in 1979. This is a band that has
managed to stay alive in the NWOBHM field with a more pop sound than hard rock.
In 1983 they had the second biggest selling album. Second only to pop star
Michael Jackson's Thriller.
Many of the NWOBHM bands also embraced performance as much
as their marketing and music. Their acts were a feast to the eyes as well as
the ears. Images of the Dungeons and Dragons theme, leather, studs, fire, smoke
and lights were welcomed by the youthful audiences.