New Wave of British Heavy Metal

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Diamond Head

The New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) started as an underground movement in England in the late 1970’s and grew to a worldwide phenomenon by the early 1980’s.  It  was created as an alternative to the down tuned, bluesy, and doom metal type sound of pioneers like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple.  NWOBHM bands vowed to make heavier, faster, and more harmonized metal than their predecessors.  There is some debate as to whether the speed and aggression of the British punk scene had any influence on the creation of this faster form of metal.  Iron Maiden will deny that punk had any influence on NWOBHM, while Motorhead and Judas Priest embrace the punk influence.  Nonetheless NWOBHM bands created a sound that would influence the creation of thrash and all forms of extreme metal.

NWOBHM is characterized by fast tempos, clean melodic vocals, and fast yet technical guitar solos.  Bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest would also use dual harmonized guitars and melodic solos that would become a staple of the genre, and would go on to be a major influence in the creation of melodic death metal and melodic metalcore.

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Rob Halford of Judas Priest

NWOBHM artists created a style that would become synonymous with heavy metal.  Most bands wore jean jackets, jeans, leather pants, sneakers, studs and chains.  This style became prevalent in the bay area thrash metal scene and continues to be used today by bands like Black Label Society.  The most influential NWOBHM band in regard to style influence was Judas Priest.  Their leather and stud appearance would be seen in many styles of heavy metal from the glam of Motley Crue to the early thrash style of Slayer.  No one realized at the time, that the style was actually taken from the gay community, as lead singer Rob Halford was still in the closet.  As fans and artists look back at the signature metal style, they can only wonder how they didn’t see it coming.

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NWOBHM  exploded into the U.S. music scene in the early 1980’s with bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon, Tygers of Pan Tang, and Diamond Head receiving the most MTV and radio airplay.  The scene would be very short lived as the glam metal and thrash movements emanating from California would soon take over.  During the decline, NWOBHM bands went in many different directions.  Def Leppard adopted more of a commercial glam metal style and met with major success.  To this day, they are still one of the most popular bands to come out of the NWOBHM movment.  Iron Maiden and Judas Priest stayed the course and were able to continue releasing successful albums.  Both bands still have a large loyal following of fans and sell out large scale tours worldwide.  Venom went in a much darker and even faster direction with their satanic imagery and evil lyrics helping to influence the birth of death and black metal.

Copyright Iron Maiden

One of the Top 10 Metal Albums Ever

Essential NWOBHM Albums:

  • The Number of the Beast (Iron Maiden)
  • British Steel (Judas Priest)
  • Power & Glory (Saxon)
  • Lightning to the Nations (Diamond Head)
  • High N’ Dry (Def Leppard)
  • Crazy Nights (Tygers Of Pan Tang)
  • Black Metal (Venom)
  • Ace of Spades (Motorhead)
  • Iron Maiden (Iron Maiden)
  • Denim and Leather (Saxon)
  • Borrowed Time (Diamond Head)
  • Killers (Iron Maiden)
  • Rock Until You Drop (Raven)
  • See You in Hell (Grim Reaper)
  • Shock Tactics (Samson)
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Iron Maiden: The Kings of Dual Harmonized Guitars

Iron Maiden is considered by most to be the face of NWOBHM and one of the most influential bands to come from the movement.  Lead singer, Bruce Dickinson, is the original energetic metal front man.  His high pitched melodic style mixed with his high energy performances influenced everyone from Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses to Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth of the thrash group, Overkill.  Their version of fast riffs influenced thrash bands like Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax.  Melodic death metal bands In Flames, Dark Tranquility, and At the Gates site Iron Maiden as the main reason that they decided to introduce harmonized guitars into death metal.  Modern metal bands like Avenged Sevenfold, Trivium, and Slipknot have all said they would not exist without the influence of Iron Maiden.  Maiden has sold close to 100 million records over their career and they continue to gain new fans each and every year.  The success and influence of Iron Maiden helped NWOBHM gain a resurgence in popularity in the 2000’s.

The vast influence that NWOBHM has had on all subgenres of heavy metal makes it one of the most important stages in the growth of heavy metal.  As new metal fans are born, many of them eventually go back and listen to NWOBHM releases and realize how much these bands from 30 years ago have  in common with their favorite current artists.  As long as heavy metal is around, NWOBHM albums will always be essential to the collection of any true metal fan and bands like Maiden will continue to sell out festivals and tours, until they reach the grave.


Speed Metal

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Lemmy of Motorhead

Speed metal took the speed, technical muscianship, and harmonized guitars of NWOBHM and mixed them with the abrasiveness and bass lines of hardcore punk.  Speed metal was characterized mostly by its really fast guitars and the use of harsh vocals instead of the clean soaring vocals used by bands like Iron Maiden.  Motorhead is credited with the creation of speed metal in the late 1970’s with the release of their second album, Overkill.  Bands like Venom and Anvil would follow in the early 1980’s influencing the birth of thrash metal and power metal.  Many thrash metal bands have been classified as speed metal, including Megadeth and Overkill.  Although they have some speed metal songs, thrash bands rely less on harmonized guitars and more on long fast riffs and rhythms.  Although speed metal was a minor movement, its influence can be heard in many current and past metal artists.  It had somewhat of a revival in the late 2000’s with the release of the documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil helping to bring their brand of speed metal to a new generation of metal fans.   Also, Motorhead continues to tour and remains one of the only speed metal bands to still have a large following.  Their album, Ace of Spades, is widely regarded as one of the best and most influential metal albums of all time.

Related Pages:

NWOBHM/Speed Metal Bands & Bios

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Liam Easley August 3, 2016 at 10:21 pm

Motorhead and Priest were not NWOBHM. They highly influenced the movement, but they were not part of it. Also, power metal didn’t come entirely from the NWOBHM movement. The NWOBHM only emphasized the subgenre. Power metal originated from Rainbow. Otherwise, I really enjoyed this article!


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