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New Wave of British Heavy Metal

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The New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM for short) was a musical movement originating in Britain (hence the name) that lasted from the late 1970's to the early 1980's that is credited with the revival and reinvention of Heavy Metal as a genre. Though the movement is long over, its effects can still be felt throughout the genre.

Let's begin with some backstory: By the mid 70's, the genre of Heavy Metal seemed dead in the water. Black Sabbath was the only "true" metal band, and even it was in tatters from heavy drug use, and the genre had become bloated with many unoriginal and derivative acts that merely tried to repeat the success of the bigger bands of the genre, and weren't really even "metal" as they seem to be more rooted in earlier rock bands with a slight increase in volume, with little connection to later metal bands otherwise. Also, a new genre, Punk Rock, had appeared on the music scene. In addition to possessing metal's hardness and aggression, it was also faster and, unlike Heavy Metal, was critically well-respected. For metal, things looked grim indeed.

However, one band was about to change all that.

Judas Priest, a band from Birmingham, the same city that produced Black Sabbath and later Napalm Death, was that band. In 1978, after several high quality but Sabbathnote -derived albums, they released their album Stained Class. The album was dissimilar to pretty much any metal album that came before it, possessing high-speed tempoes, air-tight double-bass drumming patterns, and a level of aggression not seen outside Punk Rock. A second band at around the same time, Motörhead, combined an approach similar to that of Judas Priest and wed it to a brutal, distortion-heavy sound that was overtly punk-influenced on their albums Motörhead in 1977, and Bomber and Overkill in 1979. With the approaches of these bands in place, other bands began to copy them.

By the end of the decade, the movement was in full swing with a diversity of styles. Most bands, like Iron Maiden, Saxon, and Angel Witch, combined heavy riffing (typically featuring two lead guitarists, following the example of Thin Lizzy) with soaring, pseudo-operatic vocals, wailing guitar solos, and lyrics concerning fantasy, rebellion, and the Heavy Metal lifestyle. Others, such as Def Leppard, gravitated towards a more mainstream sound informed by Glam Rock. Others still, like Venom, chose to emulate Motorhead's aggressive style and exaggerate it, paving the way for Thrash Metal, Black Metal, and Death Metal. What united these bands was a shared sense of fashion (mostly consisting of long hair, denim jeans, leather jackets, studded metal belts and wrist bands, and band t-shirts/patches), a Punk-like aversion to the mainstream (Def Leppard being a major exception), and enthusiasm toward the music and its attending subculture.

All things must end, and so did the NWOBHM in the early 80's due to a combination of factors. One reason was that the movement, like the bands of the 70's, eventually became bloated and stagnant, with derivative ripoffs forming left and right and contributing virtually nothing new to the movement. Also, the movement began to face competition from other genres from other countries such as Canadian Speed Metal, American Thrash Metal, and European First-Wave Black Metal. These movements, which took inspiration from the NWOBHM, took the hard, fast, and loud aesthetics of the movement and made them harder, faster and louder still. Faced with competition that was more extreme than them in every way, shape, and form, the movement petered out. However, though the movement is dead, its legacy remains in the sound, fashions, and culture of an entire genre of music.

Not to be confused with New Wave Music, despite both movements taking influences from Punk.

Bands Associated With the Genre Include:

Predecessors to the Movement (Not part of the movement itself):

Major Bands:

Other Bands:

Tropes associated with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal include: