The NWOBHM defined heavy metal in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Here are the Top 13 bands from the influential era
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a musical revolution known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal swept across the United Kingdom, forever altering the landscape of rock and metal music. With its roots embedded in the classic heavy metal sound pioneered by bands like BLACK SABBATH and JUDAS PRIEST, the NWOBHM era ushered in a new wave of energy, intensity, and rebelliousness.
This article explores the origins, development, key bands, and lasting impact of the then burgeoning sound, focusing on the monumental contributions of such bands as BLACK SABBATH, JUDAS PRIST, IRON MAIDEN, SAXON and more.
Roots and Development:
The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal emerged as a response to the commercial decline of heavy metal in the late 1970s. Dissatisfied with the dominance of disco and glam rock, a group of young and ambitious musicians sought to resurrect the raw, powerful sound that characterized the early days of heavy metal. Influenced by pioneers like BLACK SABBATH, DEEP PURPLE and LED ZEPPELIN, these bands harnessed the heaviness and melodicism of their predecessors while injecting a newfound energy and urgency into their music.
Overall Influence and Staying Power:
The NWOBHM left an indelible mark on the music industry, inspiring subsequent generations of rock and metal bands. It reinvigorated heavy metal by reintroducing the genre’s core elements: heavy guitar riffs, soaring vocals, and thunderous rhythms. The movement’s DIY ethos, fueled by independent record labels and fanzines, allowed aspiring musicians to create and distribute their music outside of the mainstream industry. This paved the way for the global expansion of heavy metal in the following decades.
The genre’s impact extended beyond the UK, influencing bands in Europe, the United States, and beyond. It set the stage for the rise of subgenres such as thrash metal and power metal, as well as influencing iconic acts like METALLICA, SLAYER and MEGADETH. Moreover, its influence is still evident in contemporary metal, with bands like GHOST and AIRBOURNE incorporating the spirit and sound of the era into their music.
The New Wave of British Heavy Metal emerged from the frustration with prevailing musical trends, bringing a revitalized energy to the rock and metal scene. Groups like BLACK SABBATH, JUDAS PRIEST, IRON MAIDEN and SAXON spearheaded this movement with their innovative sound, distinct identities, and captivating performances.
This list of NWOBHM bands pays tribute to the groups of the era that reestablished heavy metal’s place in popular music and also paved the way for countless artists to follow, leaving a lasting legacy that continues to inspire and shape the metal landscape to this day.
13 – RAVEN
RAVEN, hailing from Newcastle upon Tyne, are a pioneering force in the world of heavy metal, and have left an indelible mark on the genre with their fierce and unyielding sound.
Formed in 1974 by brothers John (bass/vocals) and Mark Gallagher (guitar), along with drummer Rob “Wacko” Hunter, RAVEN emerged during the formative years of metal, becoming one of the precursors to the thrash metal movement.
The band’s early albums, such as “Rock Until You Drop” (1981) and “Wiped Out” (1982), showcased their dynamic blend of speed, aggression, and melodic sensibilities. Their influence reverberated through the metal community, inspiring countless bands with their energetic performances, high-octane guitar work, and distinctive vocal style.
RAVEN‘s commitment to pushing musical boundaries and their influential live shows helped solidify their role as forebearers of the genre, earning them a devoted global fanbase. Their impact on the evolution of heavy metal remains evident in the fervor of modern bands, demonstrating the enduring legacy of RAVEN‘s uncompromising spirit.
Despite numerous lineup changes over the years, predominantly behind the drum kit, they remain active today, touring and releasing new music.
12 – PRAYING MANTIS
PRAYING MANTIS, a stalwart of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement, has played a pivotal role in shaping the genre’s distinct identity.
Emerging from London in 1973, the band’s early history intertwined with the burgeoning British hard rock scene. However, it wasn’t until the late ’70s and early ’80s that PRAYING MANTIS became a driving force within the metal movement, characterized by their melodic yet powerful sound.
Their debut album, “Time Tells No Lies” (1981), exemplified their ability to seamlessly fuse harmonious melodies with hard-hitting riffs, showcasing a style that would become emblematic of the era.
PRAYING MANTIS‘ influence on the genre is unmistakable, as their craftsmanship and commitment to melodic sensibilities have paved the way for countless bands. Their significance lies in their ability to bridge the gap between traditional heavy metal and a more melodic approach, leaving an enduring mark on the evolution of British metal and beyond.
11 – ANGEL WITCH
ANGEL WITCH, a revered figure within British metal, stands as a cornerstone of the genre’s foundation.
Formed in London in 1977 by guitarist and vocalist Kevin Heybourne, the band burst onto the scene with their eponymous debut album “Angel Witch” in 1980. Renowned for its blend of heavy riffs, intricate guitar work, and occult-inspired themes, the album became a touchstone for the emerging NWOBHM movement.
With its dark and captivating sound, ANGEL WITCH helped shape the sonic landscape of the era. The band’s influence on the genre is palpable, as their pioneering approach bridged the gap between traditional heavy metal and a more intricate, progressive style.
ANGEL WITCH‘s impact extends beyond their immediate contemporaries, leaving an enduring legacy that continues to inspire and influence subsequent generations of heavy metal enthusiasts and musicians.
10 – SAMSON
SAMSON, a trailblazing force within the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, has etched an indelible mark on the genre’s landscape.
Formed in 1977 by guitarist and vocalist Paul Samson, the band quickly gained prominence with their electrifying live performances and a sound that seamlessly blended traditional metal with raw power. Their early lineup included future IRON MAIDEN vocalist Bruce Dickinson, further solidifying their ties to the burgeoning movement.
SAMSON‘s debut album “Survivors” (1979) garnered attention for its ferocious energy and captivating melodies, setting the stage for their influential contributions. The album “Shock Tactics” (1981) further showcased their innovative prowess, paving the way for their distinctive style.
SAMSON‘s influence on the genre is undeniable, as they played an instrumental role in shaping the sound and attitude that defined the movement. Their legacy lives on as a driving force that helped propel the NWOBHM to international recognition, leaving an indelible imprint on the evolution of metal.
9 – GIRLSCHOOL
GIRLSCHOOL are an iconic and trailblazing presence within the New Wave of British Heavy Metal who proved that you don’t have to be male to deliver pummeling, aggressive music.
Formed in London in 1978, the band’s driving force was the quartet of talented women: Kim McAuliffe (vocals/guitar), Enid Williams (bass/vocals), Kelly Johnson (guitar/vocals), and Denise Dufort (drums). Their debut album “Demolition” (1980) burst onto the scene with a fierce blend of hard-hitting riffs, raucous energy, and a defiant spirit.
GIRLSCHOOL‘s contributions resonated deeply within the movement, showcasing their relentless determination while breaking down gender barriers in a male-dominated genre. The album “Hit and Run” (1981) further solidified their reputation as pioneers, boasting anthemic tracks that became emblematic of their sound.
GIRLSCHOOL‘s unwavering influence within metal is exemplified by their dynamic stage presence, pioneering attitude, and unapologetic approach, making them a beacon of inspiration for subsequent generations of heavy metal artists and fans alike.
8 – TYGERS OF PAN TANG
TYGERS OF PAN TANG are a band who embraced the melodic side of the NWOBHM movement.
Emerging from Whitley Bay in 1978, the band quickly gained traction with their potent blend of gritty riffs, melodic sensibilities, and electrifying performances.
Led by founding member and guitarist Robb Weir, the TYGERS OF PAN TANG‘s sonic prowess was showcased on their debut album “Wild Cat” (1980), which highlighted their distinctive sound and captivating songwriting. The subsequent album “Spellbound” (1981) further solidified their status, presenting a seamless fusion of hard-hitting anthems and infectious melodies.
TYGERS OF PAN TANG‘s impact on the genre of heavy music is undeniable, as they contributed to its meteoric rise and played a vital role in defining the era’s sonic identity. Their enduring legacy continues to resonate through subsequent generations of heavy metal artists, exemplifying their influential and lasting contributions to the genre.
7 – VENOM
VENOM, a pioneering force in the world of heavy metal, has carved an indelible path with their dark and aggressive sound.
Formed in Newcastle, England, in 1979, VENOM burst onto the scene with their debut album “Welcome to Hell” (1981), which unleashed a new level of intensity and extremity. Comprised of Cronos (vocals/bass), Mantas (guitar), and Abaddon (drums), the band embraced a raw and visceral approach, coining the term “black metal” in their music and aesthetics.
Their second album, “Black Metal” (1982), further solidified their iconic status, influencing the burgeoning thrash and extreme metal subgenres.
VENOM‘s influence reverberated through the metal community, spawning legions of devoted fans and inspiring generations of bands to embrace a more aggressive, uncompromising sound. Their contributions to heavy metal’s evolution remain pivotal, shaping not only the music but also the rebellious spirit that defines the genre.
6 – DIAMOND HEAD
DIAMOND HEAD is a legendary heavy metal band hailing from the UK, renowned for their significant impact on shaping the genre of metal during its formative years.
Formed in Stourbridge, England, in 1976, DIAMOND HEAD gained prominence in the late 1970s and early 1980s as pioneers of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement. Their distinct blend of powerful riffs, melodic solos, and soaring vocals established a blueprint that countless metal acts would draw inspiration from in the years to come. The band’s influential sound, characterized by intricate guitar work and dynamic songwriting, played a pivotal role in defining the classic metal sound.
DIAMOND HEAD‘s 1980 debut album, “Lightning to the Nations,” is a cornerstone of the genre, featuring timeless tracks like “Am I Evil?” and “Helpless.” These songs, particularly “Am I Evil?,” achieved legendary status and were famously covered by METALLICA, further solidifying DIAMOND HEAD‘s enduring influence on metal.
Over the decades, their impact remains palpable as their music continues to inspire and resonate with new generations of metal enthusiasts, cementing their legacy as true icons of heavy music.
5 – SAXON
SAXON are a quintessential heavy metal band hailing from England who made an incredible mark on the history of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal since their inception in 1977.
The band swiftly rose to prominence with their energetic and anthemic sound. Fueled by the powerful vocals of Biff Byford, intricate guitar work, and hard-hitting rhythms, SAXON became synonymous with the classic metal sound that has stood the test of time.
Their breakthrough album, “Wheels of Steel” (1980), is considered a cornerstone of the genre, featuring iconic tracks like “747 (Strangers in the Night)” and the title track.
SAXON‘s influence on metal is profound, as they not only contributed to shaping the emerging sound but also inspired subsequent generations of bands, both within and beyond the heavy metal realm. Their ability to fuse melody with sheer power and deliver memorable live performances has solidified their place as true pioneers of metal, maintaining their relevance and impact over the decades.
4 – MOTÖRHEAD
MOTÖRHEAD, an iconic heavy metal band formed in 1975 by the legendary Lemmy Kilmister, stands as a force of nature within the genre. With their raw and unrelenting sound, MOTÖRHEAD not only helped define metal as a genre but also played a pivotal role in the creation of speed metal and thrash metal.
The band’s history is a testament to their enduring influence, characterized by an uncompromising attitude, relentless speed, and Lemmy‘s distinctive gravelly vocals.
Their 1980 album “Ace of Spades” remains a seminal work, showcasing their signature blend of hard rock and punk influences.
MOTÖRHEAD‘s music embodies the spirit of rebellion, loudness, and unapologetic authenticity that continues to resonate with fans and musicians alike. Their relentless touring and ferocious live performances further solidified their status as true pioneers, inspiring generations of metalheads to push boundaries and embrace the rebellious essence of heavy metal.
3 – DEF LEPPARD
DEF LEPPARD is a renowned British rock band that played a significant role in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Formed in Sheffield, England, in 1977, the band’s early years were marked by a raw and energetic sound that blended heavy metal with glam rock influences. DEF LEPPARD‘s debut album, “On Through the Night” (1980), showcased their burgeoning talent and established them as a rising force in the scene. However, it was their follow-up releases, “High ‘n’ Dry” (1981) and the groundbreaking “Pyromania” (1983), that catapulted them to international fame.
Despite personal and creative challenges, including the tragic loss of drummer Rick Allen‘s arm in 1984, DEF LEPPARD persevered and reinvented their sound with the massively successful “Hysteria” (1987).
Throughout their early years, DEF LEPPARD‘s relentless pursuit of innovation and their fusion of rock elements contributed significantly to shaping the NWOBHM movement and solidified their status as enduring rock icons.
2 – JUDAS PRIEST
JUDAS PRIEST are a monumental metal band formed in Birmingham, England who should be considered more a direct influence to the NWOBHM then as a product of it. Yet the band stand as one of the genre’s most enduring and influential forces. From their early days, the band exhibited an unwavering commitment to pushing the boundaries of metal, both musically and visually.
Led by the iconic twin-guitar attack of K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton, along with the piercing vocals of Rob Halford, JUDAS PRIEST played a pivotal role in shaping the sound and aesthetics of metal which carried through into the rising genre.
With albums like “British Steel” (1980) and “Screaming for Vengeance” (1982), they solidified their status as trailblazers and innovators of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement. Their fusion of hard rock, intense riffing, and soaring melodies established a template that helped define the modern heavy metal sound. Additionally, their leather-clad image and theatrical stage presence set a precedent for metal bands to embrace larger-than-life personas.
JUDAS PRIEST‘s influence can be seen in every corner of the genre, from their influence on speed and power metal to their impact on the look and feel of metal culture. Their legacy endures as they continue to inspire generations of metalheads and musicians alike.
1 – IRON MAIDEN
IRON MAIDEN, formed in 1975 in London, stands at the pinnacle of the NWOBHM movement.
Rising to prominence during the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement, IRON MAIDEN‘s early years with singer Paul Di’anno showcased their raw and rebellious spirit. Di’anno‘s gritty vocals combined with the intricate guitar work of Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, and the galloping basslines of Steve Harris created a distinctive sonic tapestry.
Their self-titled debut album, “Iron Maiden” (1980), and its follow-up, “Killers” (1981), introduced a blend of melodic aggression and storytelling that captured the imagination of metal enthusiasts. Tracks like “Running Free” and “Wrathchild” embodied the band’s energetic live performances, helping to shape the archetype of the metal frontman.
IRON MAIDEN‘s early era set the stage for their future success, as their unique blend of melody, harmonies, and gritty edge laid the foundation for the epic compositions and operatic storytelling, courtesy of Di’anno‘s eventual replacement and former SAMSON singer Bruce Dickinson, that would become their hallmark.
Their influence on the genre is immeasurable, as they not only inspired subsequent generations of metal bands but also revolutionized live shows with their elaborate stage productions, further cementing their status as pioneers of heavy metal.
The top 13 NWOBHM bands have left a massive mark on the world of metal music. Their influence continues to shape the genre, and their music remains cherished by fans worldwide.
While some bands have faced challenges and undergone lineup changes, their legacies endure, inspiring generations of metal musicians.
From the energetic performances of RAVEN to the iconic sound of IRON MAIDEN, these bands embody the spirit of the New Wave OF British Heavy Metal and its lasting impact on the history of heavy music.