Monday, October 26, 2015

Heavy Metal Monday: A Most Welcome British Invasion



 Iron Maiden mascot Eddie carrying the Union Jack. Cover art for The Trooper

Iron Maiden recently released their 37th album, Book of Souls. Iron Maiden was one of the originators of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. The NWOBHM was a major influence on Heavy Metal in general.



 

Political Origins

The New Wave of British Heavy Metal began in the late 1970s with a recession in Britiain. Masses of unemployed seeking ways to earn money. One way was to perform music. The Punk phenomenon arose during this period, with both its music and its attitudes advocating rebellion.

Not everyone who was unemployed sought to use music as a catalyst for a political movement and sought to express their disillusionment through the darkness that heavy metal is known for. The metal scene evolved separately from the punk movement until a new band called Mötorhead - whose members were friends with members of the Punk Rock band The Damned - incorporated elements of punk rock with heavy metal and speeded up the tempo. Mötorhead went on to establish their own style - to the point where they famously refuse to consider themselves a Heavy Metal band - but the precedent was set and many new bands followed this style. 

 

Influence on Heavy Metal Music

Beyond Punk Rock influences, NWOBHM was not one continuous style of music. 

Iron Maiden's speedy and melodic style of music led to the development of Speed Metal and later, Power Metal and Thrash Metal. Def Leppard was the innovator of Glam Metal. Other bands, like Angel Witch, Witchfinde and Venom were instrumental in the development of speedier and darker types of metal

NWOBHM led to a similar resurgence of heavy metal in the US and the growth of its popularity in Europe.

 

Decline

NWOBHM in many ways became a victim of its own success. With the launching of MTV in 1982 and the explosion of cable television, NWOBHM and its derivatives gained a lot of exposure. Music video production was too expensive for smaller labels, limiting the exposure of bands attached to them. Speed, Power and Thrash gained popularity, overshadowing NWOBHM in Europe.

In the US, the music industry favored Glam with its sex-driven themes and other growing genres of music.

 

Rebirth

In the early 2000s, the internet allowed many fans of NWOBHM (and other metal subgenres) to commucate. Bands that split up siezed upon this and reunited, while survivors capitalized on it.

 

Prominent Bands

Iron Maiden 

Iron Maiden is by far the best known NWOBHM band, and the most influential of all Heavy Metal bands. The band was formed in 1975 in Leyton, East London by Bassist Steve Harris. The band survived the decline of NWOBHM and maintained mainstream success despite that and vocalist Bruce Dickenson's years as a solo artist, and have 37 albums under their belt as a result. Ironically, the band has done so with little radio and television support. Iron Maiden's vocalist, Bruce Dickenson, is also a pilot and flies the band's private jet, a 747-400 called Ed Force One.







Saxon

Saxon is almost as well known as Iron Maiden, but have had a much more varied history. The band was formed in 1976 by vocalist Biff Byford and bassist Paul Quinn in South Yorkshire as Son of a Bitch. They changed their name to Saxon shortly after and gained popularity by supporting bands such as Mötorhead and released their self-titled debut album in 1979. Saxon released its self-titled album, Wheels of Steel, The Power and the Glory, Strong Arm of the Law, and Crusader to widespread popularity, but switched to a more mainstream style to attract US audiences. This bid failed, as tastes on both sides of the pond were changing, but the band regained a following with the more intense Dogs of War and subsequent albums. Saxon has released 22 albums and continues to tour around the world. 




Def Leppard

Def Leppard, like Iron Maiden, has maintained a mainstream following long after the NWOBHM movement ended. The band was formed in 1977 in Sheffield as Atomic Mass. The band's guitarist, Bill Elliot, proposed the name Deaf Leopard, which was later changed to Def Leppard to make it seem like less of a Punk band. The band gained success early on, though was heavily criticized for trying to appeal to US audiences (in 1980, the band's performance at a UK festival was cut early when the audience pelted the stage with bottles). Despite this, the band's success has remained consistent and is the only NWOBHM band other than Iron Maiden to make the US Top 40 multiple times.




Diamond Head

Diamond Head formed in 1976 in Stourbridge, England. The band members, Brian Tatler and Bill Scott, originally performed in their school's music hall, where their success inspired them to write more. The band produced demo tapes, improving their style until in 1979, they were approached to support AC/DC and Iron Maiden. Diamond Head's success was limited as a result of the band's management and a stylistic change beginning with the third album Canterbury, which had a more progressive sound. The band split up twice, but has managed to survive in the 2000s. The band was a major influence to Metallica and Megadeth, and by extension, Thrash Metal in general. 


Venom 

Venom was started in 1979 in Newcastle, England. The band's members were inspired by older metal bands, such as Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Kiss. The band's members Eric Cooke, Tony Bray and Ian Kell wanted to outdo Black Sabbath's tendency to sing about evil, satanic things and released Welcome to Hell in 1981, which became a major inspiration for Thrash Metal and Death Metal. The band followed up with Black Metal a year later in an even more extreme style, beginning Black Metal as a genre. Venom's music inspired the Big Four (Megadeth, Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer). Venom split up in 1992 and reunited in 1996 and still continues to produce music. 


Witchfynder General

Witchdynder General was started in 1979 in Stourbridge, England by Zeeb Parkes & Phil Cope. Black Sabbath was their primary influence and they sung in a dark, mid-paced style that became the genesis of Doom Metal. The band's lineup changed frequently and the band only produced three albums, two of them in the 1980s and one when the band reunited in 2008.


Lesser Known Bands

Tank

Tank was formed in 1979 by Bassist Algy Ward and is one of the more Punk-themed heavy metal bands. The band's debut album, Filth Hounds Of Hades, was a big hit but mostly maintained a cult following. In 1989, the band split up, but guitarist Mike Tucker reunited the band in 1997. In 2013, AlgyWard formed his own version and both bands have produced albums. 






Girlschool 

Girlschool formed in 1978 and is the longest running all-female band. The band started out as a school band called Painted Lady. Three of the four original members, Kim McAuliffe, Enid Williams and Denise Dufort, still perform, though the lead guitarist Kelly Johnson died from cancer in 2007.



Oral

Oral is another all female band. Very little is known about the band other than, as the name indicates, sex was the main theme. The band released only one demo.



 Angel Witch

 Angel Witch formed in London in 1977 from the splitting of another band, called Lucifer. The band's successes was few, with one single (Sweet Danger) and their self-titled debut album making the chart. After that, the band has reformed on multiple occasions. Despit their fall from grace, many thrash bands cite Angel Witch as an influence and have sung cover songs. 

 

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