By Martin Popoff
The New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) is defined as the explosion of new heavy metal bands that mushroomed out of indie singles and stacked headbanging bills from Birmingham and Glasgow to Newcastle and London roughly 1979 to 1983. But into this fecund metal ambush on the industry wandered all manner of act, not strictly “of the rule,” bands that benefited greatly by the favorable climate for all things wailing, rollicking and riffy ‘round about 1980. These acts fall roughly into three categories: a) not from around here, b) old but fully accepted and c) slightly problematic for a small miscellany of reasons around timing, passport status to the personnel and stylistic divergence. And so we present to you, a 20-band strong melange of such acts, ranked from least-est to most-est, based on the criteria of quality and quantity of heavy metal delivered, despite each pirate gang’s reason for (and degree of) “not belonging.” Oh, just read on — you’ll get the point soon enough!
Fetching a NWOBHM-strong sound from this Chris Tsangarides-produced band, but alas, they were from France.
Vinyl Example: “Warning”
Sweden’s Heavy Load are the proud owners of a debut record that is arguably the heaviest record of the ‘70s, up against Rainbow “Rising” and Motorhead’s first three. Plus, they loved riffs and did Manowar first.
Vinyl Example: “Death or Glory”
People tend to forget that the NWOBHM was fairly proggy, epic and mystical on a regular, ahem, bassist. Most bands were full of card-carrying Rush fanatics, and it didn’t hurt for acceptance to the tribe that Rush issued heavy hit record “Moving Pictures” right into the thick of it.
Vinyl Example: “Moving Pictures”
Japanese metal acts like Bow Wow and Loudness got U.K. deals in the midst of the favorable environment for metal in the U.K., and Loudness was the most guitar-heroic of the two. Flower Travellin’Band was now a thing of the past.
Vinyl Example: “Devil Soldier”
They were British and not a first-generation metal band, plus they came on strong with ‘79’s “Down to Earth.” A headline spot at the first Donington Monsters of Rock ensured acceptance for Ritchie’s revolving door of a band right through the low ‘80s.
Vinyl Example: “Straight Between the Eyes”
Speaking of Donington, an unlikely visitor was Canada’s April Wine, bought into the tribe by issuing their three heaviest albums in a row at this time, namely “First Glance,” “Harder….Faster” and “The Nature of the Beast.”
Vinyl Example: “Harder....Faster”
14. Blue Öyster Cult
Old, American and not that heavy, nonetheless BÖC turned in their two heaviest — produced by British legend Martin Birch to boot — in “Cultösaurus Erectus” and “Fire of Unknown Origin.” Plus, the Brits just always dug these guys.
Vinyl Example: “Cultösaurus Erectus”
13. Uriah Heep
Special case here (well, they all are in some way). But on the positive, they are British, on the negative, Heep are definitely original wave metal from 1970 and often not very heavy. However… the band fully stormed the party with 1982’s kerranging and exciting “Abominog.” And lest anybody questioned what was in the tin, they put a really ugly demon on the outer wrap.
Vinyl Example: “Abominog”
Everybody loved AC/DC to the point of tacit suggestion that there should be more than one of them (The Angels, or Angel City, don’t quite feel ubiquitous enough to make this list). Ergo there goes likeable Swiss boogie rockers Krokus, welcomed with open arms, especially come “One Vice at a Time.”
Vinyl Example: “Hardware”
Dead exact situation as Heep for Burke and the boys. For all his talk of being embarrassed by his own closeted heavy metal tendencies, Burke Shelley nonetheless demonstrates the proverbial sell-out to the NWOBHM with “Power Supply,” the EP, and to a lesser extent “Nightflight,” save for the flagrant fowl of the cover art, an early Derek Riggs.
Vinyl Example: “If Swallowed, Do Not Induce Vomiting” EP
10. Black Sabbath
For all intents and purposes, Sabbath felt like a new band, or at least a reformed old band, offering the shiny and invigorating “Heaven and Hell” and then a strong follow-up in “Mob Rules.” So Sabbath were an old band doing new tricks, which must have felt like a compliment to younger metal fans taking a look in.
Vinyl Example: “Heaven and Hell”
The Youngs were originally Scottish, they still had family there, they always seemed to be hanging around and then Bon dies there. Plus AC/DC were new enough, really only hitting the radar around ’76, ’77. Sure wasn’t a NWOBHM sound or sentiment, but they were universally welcomed all the same.
Vinyl Example: “For Those About to Rock”
The third and best album from these upstate New Yorkers didn’t even come out in America, and in any event, it was called “Hail to England.” Manowar should be credited above and beyond all foreign acts for wearing right there on their animal pelt sleeves the recognition that British support for metal in the early ‘80s was far outstripping the response stateside.
Vinyl Example: “Into Glory Ride”
Riot could arguably take placement higher on this list because many were actually calling these clean-cut New Yorkers America’s NWOBHM band, or at least America’s Def Leppard. Plus, really, any excitement generated around them came from the likes of Neal Kay and the Soundhouse gang, who helped Riot get a new record deal through a heartstring-tugging petition. But yeah, basically, Riot and Van Halen were the two top baby bands of American metal. Riot played that first Donington as well.
Vinyl Example: “Fire Down Under”
Similar situation to Riot here, in that San Francisco’s Y&T were a second generation heavy metal band fairly ignored on home turf. Plus, Y&T was coming on strong with their new A&M deal, issuing “Earthshaker,” “Black Tiger” and “Mean Streak” to an effusive U.K. response. Plus, they recorded “Mean Streak” in the U.K. with that most amiable and British of metal knob-twiddlers, Chris Tsangarides.
Vinyl Example: “Mean Streak”
5. Judas Priest
With roots to ’69 and a first record in ’74, Priest didn’t really come alive until ’76, and so they didn’t feel that old to folks. Plus, as the NWOBHM took hold, they enthusiastically embraced the metal brethren through their leather and chrome visuals and through their fist-pumping lyrics. And then just as the mania comes to a full boil, they issue their mass appeal “British Steel” record. Indeed, some pretty smart metal-watchers tend to include Priest as a NWOBHM band, perhaps just as many as those who want to kick Motörhead out, for being too early or too dirty, or both.
Vinyl Example: “Screaming for Vengeance”
With music derivative of AC/DC (like Krokus), Rose Tattoo felt closer to part of the tribe because they were from Australia, a country part of the commonwealth and closer in mien to the Brits than the Canadians were. Plus, everybody loves them some Angry Anderson.
Vinyl Example: “Assault & Battery”
Another form of special case here. Unlike Sabbath, this really was a whole new band, and although three of four members were old (British) warhorses dragging about town, the sound was fresh, nimble, exciting and street-ready.
Vinyl Example: “Diary of a Madman”
Germany was closest in western sentiment to the U.K. than any non-English speaking country, and it was always a bit of a head-scratch why there wasn’t anything but Scorpions thus far from there. Accept to the rescue, with ‘81’s “Breaker,” ‘82’s “Restless and Wild” and ‘83’s “Balls to the Wall.” The case isn’t as strong on other factors, but on quality and quantity of musical contribution, please accept this ranking.
Vinyl Example: “Restless and Wild”
No. 1 on our list is the lovable pint-lifters about town collectively called Gillan. Personally, I’ve always defended them as true NWOBHM, but detractors say Ian comes from 1970, and even this battle-ready band started a wee bit too early. Bollocks to that — no one dove into the fray with more singles (a prime NWOBHM characteristic) more colourfully, plus the full-length albums, plus the fun factor and the keyboards and the manic, NWOBHM-trashy recordings… A personal fave band of this writer’s, I’m putting that aside to strongly make the point that there’s nothing more NWOBHM fuzzy-wuzzy than seeing an old dog learn some new headbanging tricks.
Vinyl Example: “Glory Road”