The New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) emerged in the late 70s, in part a reaction to the contemporary decline of traditional heavy metal bands such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, all three of which had been submerged by a mixture of personal problems, tiredness and punk. NWOBHM reacted against the artifice of contemporary pop, placing an emphasis on musicianship and amplification, the former trait setting it apart from punk; yet, unlike progressive rock, which similarly placed an emphasis on musical ability, the NWOBHM thrived on volume, speed, and directness, with an idealised working class image which shied away from intellectualism. Reviled or ignored by the critics, the NWOBHM nonetheless dominated Britain's early-80s rock scene.
The movement was most associated with Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Saxon and Diamond Head, along with hard rock acts such as Motörhead and AC/DC which were nonetheless not strictly part of the NWOBHM (and, in the latter case, not actually British). Both Iron Maiden and particularly Def Leppard went on to flirt with considerable, lasting mainstream success, with Def Leppard in particular being embraced by the American market, whilst many of the less well-known bands were influential on later American bands such as Mötley Crüe, Poison, Guns N' Roses and so forth.
NWOBHM was musically characterised by power chords, fast guitar solos and screeching vocals, with lyrical themes often, stereotypically, drawing inspiration from fantasy fiction, the occult and role-playing games. The movement's music was surprisingly melodic, eschewing both the cacaphony of punk and the sheer technical prowess of later speed metal acts such as Metallica and Megadeth.
The NWOBHM existed mostly outside the world of mainstream pop and rock culture; magazines such as The NME, Sounds, The Face and Melody Maker did not generally feature NWOBHM acts at all, whilst the genre did not lend itself to success in the pop singles market; NWOBHM acts typically emphasised albums. In response to this lack of recognition a popular subculture of NWOBHM magazines and fanzines emerged, most notably Kerrang!.
NWOBHM suffered the same fate as many other musical movements; the majority of its leading lights were unable to follow up their initial successes, whilst the genre's superstars moved further away from the genre towards mainstream hard rock or pop metal. By the middle and end of the 1980s, America had become the epicenter of heavy metal, most notably with such bands as Van Halen, Guns N' Roses and the aforementioned Metallica. The latter two in particularly were declared fans of NWOBHM, recording cover versions of songs by Saxon and Angel Witch respectively. The few NWOBHM acts which remain popular today, most notably Iron Maiden, increasingly benefit from nostalgia feelings for the early 1980s.
List of artists:
- A II Z
- Angel Witch
- Charlie Ungry
- Def Leppard
- Diamond Head
- Grim Reaper
- Iron Maiden
- Judas Priest
- Praying Mantis
- Sweet Savage
- Tygers of Pan Tang
- White Spirit
- Witchfinder General
- The NWOBHM Online Encyclopaedia (http://www.nwobhm.com/)
- The BNR metal pages (http://www.bnrmetal.com/), which includes a useful section on NWOBHM acts.