Although this post should be interesting to anyone who has the even the remotest interest in rock, it is most likely to be useful for people who have had an interest in NWOBHM for a while.
Someone who’s dug a little deeper than one or two Maiden albums, is capable of articulating how soul crushingly beautiful the Diamond Head debut is and can tell the difference between Blitzkrieg and Satan. Let’s be honest, being a dedicated fan of NWOBHM has often been an awkward lifestyle choice to deal with, hasn’t it?
People sometimes acquaint fandom for something a little out of the norm with insanity. Well, the word ‘fan’ is short for ‘fanatic’, which comes from the Modern Latin fanaticus, meaning “insanely but divinely inspired”. So I’d say if you’re motivated by an extreme, unreasoning enthusiasm for a cause, it may as well be a good one…
There is no other metal subgenre with as many hurdles to navigate when explaining to unbelievers (who from this point on I’ll be optimistically referring to as ‘the uninitiated’) what it actually is… (I intend to bitch about the term ‘NWOBHM’ in the next post, I bet you’re on the edge of your seat.)
I have an unshakable belief that due to the variety of styles that exist under the late 70s/early 80s British heavy metal banner, most people have the potential to enjoy at least something from the era. It therefore follows that every human that laughs or dismisses our cultural choices has simply not had the right mentorship to fulfil their unrealised role as a NWOBHM connoisseur.
In day to day life, whenever I’m questioned about my ‘eccentric’ musical persuasion by the uninitiated, my tactic is to try to convert them. I’ll talk you through my controversial tactics right now. Feel free to use them yourselves… I know, it’s as if we’re trying to manipulate a victim into feeling the same torturous cultural outsiderness that we’ve suffered ourselves isn’t it?
First you need to assess your target. The best targets are people who already have an interest in something that can be referred to as ‘rock’. Such a generic term, and if someone is willing to be that unspecific in defining their musical tastes they deserve to be brainwashed… Because ‘rock’ fans are already attracted to something guitar based, half of the work has been done for you. Anyone who has enjoyed anything from Robert Johnson to Meshuggah has some idea of the excitement that can be felt in unearthing a rock rarity that never got the exposure it deserved. The ‘this is obscure, therefore its cool’ idiom is pretty universal, and that’s probably a good angle to follow while you’re brainwashing your victim.
I can normally make a tailor made selection of a track from my collection, which I consider most likely to demonstrate to the curious enquirer the boundless creativity and sheer expressiveness that established fans recognise as being features of the era. But choosing what to play them is a fine art. Here are some examples…
If your target really likes 90s stoner/desert rock and name checks Sabbath and Pentagram as their roots as if nothing happened between 1980 and 1994, you should play them ‘Black Ice’ by Aragorn. It chugs along way loose and heavier than Kyuss. Alright, I admit, Kyuss win in the production stakes, but this is criminally overlooked as a doom masterpiece (in my mind Aragorn are infinitely more doom than Witchfinder General, taking loads of cues from Germany’s The Hand Of Doom).
In the same kind of vein I reckon the Paralex ‘White Lightning’ EP has the same kind of effect, it has that fuzzbox power coupled with the a rhythm section who throw enough subtle surprises into this record’s throbbing grooves and hard hitting drums to make Fu Manchu or Monster Magnet weep.
I know this record has had a fair bit of criticism for it’s dodgy vocals (I love Phil Ayling’s voice, on this EP it had a kind of off-key rawness redeemed by irrepressible confidence), but I can see no reason to dis it aside from trying to ‘out NWOBHM’ Lars Ulrich, who lists this as a favourite. (Well Lars has done loads for our movement, I think he’s great!) So I’d say the key to a doom head’s heart can be found quite naturally embedded in countless examples of the rawer end of the NWOBHM spectrum. (how about Radium’s Angel Of Fear? Now THAT is fuzzed out doom power!)
OK, what if your target likes classic rock? Led Zeppelin? By the late 70s they were merely a poor man’s No Quarter! Deep Purple? White Spirit crystallised everything remotely entertaining they did since Machine Head into one album! Status Quo. Spider are Quo’s good era (from Ma Kelly’s to Blue For You ((the 1977 Live album’s pretty fucking amazing too))) on speed.
Prog metal champions Uriah Heep? Send them to Dickensian name relations Bleak House! That’s probably clutching at straws, but I guess calling Uriah Heep ‘prog’ would be considered clutching at straws by many prog fans…
Which brings us on to getting ‘proper’ prog fans to open up to NWOBHM. This task will be made hard by prog fans frowning upon anything that lacks the complexity or classical references of Yes or Emerson, Lake and Palmer. When people say prog in a NWOBHM context, they generally just mean there is some complexity, which I think shows our genre a great disservice. People always say Legend from Jersey are prog. I love this band so much, but don’t recognise anything remotely prog about them, they are just complex and powerful. (However, their sound is so individual and exciting, I think playing Frontline to anyone should trigger a positive response. Look at this video where singer Mike Lezla looks like a creepy uncle at a wedding…
No other band could pull this off! Anyone who watches this video and doesn’t immediately buy the anthology from here must be completely insane.)
The thing is, NWOBHM prog is generally prog in the quirky sense of the word, and perhaps more entertaining because of this? Check out this Dawnwatcher song. Their use of keyboards was so original, Ges Smith (RIP 1947-2014) created these wild, powerful, almost transcendental soundscapes while simultaneously playing bass at live shows. Check out how experimental, sophisticated but at the same time insanely heavy this is. Any prog fan who doesn’t buckle and proclaim this song to be more fun than Jethro Tull on laughing gas is beyond pretentious.
Strangely, there’s also a ‘bit like Rush’ subgenre to NWOBHM that’s worth mentioning here. You know the annoying tendency journalists have in saying Burke Shelley from Budgie is ‘like Geddy Lee’ just because he has a high voice and plays the bass? Well Big Daisy’s Merv Spence has often been a victim of this lazy NWOBHM summarising.
Bristol’s Shiva have also been referred to as ‘NWOBHM’s answer to Rush’, and some prog inclined souls find them almost as entertaining as I do.
However my favourite NWOBHM prog album is probably the incredible Chasar debut.
These guys from Alloa in Scotland were always massively influenced by Rush and their tribute band (which has the same lineup as when they play as Chasar these days, as they did at this year’s Brofest) is headlining RUSHfest in Scotland on 18th April 2015, playing as ‘RUSHar’. Go and see them if you’re up there, they’re marvellous!
If I’m trying to convert a punk fan, I always tend to say ‘any punk after 1979 is just bad NWOBHM’. When I regain consciousness following the severe beating that follows, I try to play them something grotty and Venom-esque. I guess it may sound like I’m doing Punk a disservice though, so I’ll explain myself. In my brain, if you consider the influx of well played British rock to be a reaction to the tidal wave of less focused work that came with the punk explosion, it follows that aggressive guitar bands from this era had missed the party. The talented ones either survived the death of punk and adapted by becoming ‘post punk’ or did an Onslaught and ‘became NWOBHM’. This made sense in light of the fact that punk had been done to death by this stage. (OK, so NWOBHM went on way after OUR wave had broken, but I have such admiration for heavy bands who stuck to their guns throughout the eighties in the face of changing fashions. Although I’m massively biased, I feel that sticking to your guns as a punk newcomer after the initial explosion is slightly less admirable…)
So punk heads should get some kind of enjoyment from Tank (Algy Ward was in both the Saints and the Damned before forming this ass kicking 3 piece, blah blah blah…)
There are countless other rock genres that can be loosely connected to NWOBHM some way or another, so just be creative in your choices and force-feed the uninitiated with the music of the gods.
You see, I have this naive opinion that once you have led them across that threshold they should be hooked, and become a lifelong NWOBHM disciple thereafter… However in reality, I consistently end up feeling disconcerted at my inability to achieve this challenge. Often the ‘subject’ will admit that there is something special about what I have played them, but won’t then immediately spend a fortune on obscure records with biro drawn sleeves like this one
…or grab their diary to fill it with reformation gigs where men in their 50s sing songs they wrote as teenagers about the devil.
My disturbed brain just keeps repeating ‘how can it be possible for someone with taste and an interest in any form of popular culture possibly be ignorant to something that’s so much fun and kicks this amount of ass?’
But I don’t give up that easy. I like a challenge. So, the next step is to just keep talking to the subject/ taget/ victim about NWOBHM.
All the fucking time.
‘Your sadness at being picked on in the workplace corresponds to the way Deep Machine must have felt at being unable to find a record deal despite their obvious talents’.
‘Your feelings of inadequacy that lead you to behave in a sleazy way towards the opposite sex in order to appear confident are somewhat akin to Jaguar’s strange choice to follow up Power Games with This Time’.
‘Your inability to feel comfortable in a long term relationship is comparable to the consistently unstable line-ups of Angel Witch and Cloven Hoof over the last 30 years’.
Quite obviously, this Early 80s British Heavy Metal counselling strategy leads my friends and associates to feeling even more depressed. And of course there is only one cure for depression. Obscure heavy metal by people who look like this
Or like this
Once I have forced the unwitting patient into submission, I can get them to utter those sacred words ‘I like NWOBHM’. They normally then break down in floods of tears and beg me to not tell anyone of their shameful confession.
Once you have triggered that ‘eureka’ moment there is no turning back. You will now be able to coerce them into discussions about which is the best band called Warrior, and which is the trashiest band of the early 80s glam revival, Macclesfield’s Silverwing or Evesham’s Wrathchild? (Personally, I feel that Silverwing’s commitment to cramming the words ‘rock and roll’ into as many of their song titles as possible makes them clear winners).
Well I hope you have enjoyed this window into my world so much that you want to enter that window and join me as a leper of popular culture, who has no shame in proclaiming the sacred powers of NWOBHM. Until next time, here’s a song that is perfectly suitable for either the uninitiated or the converted. A fun, ridiculous and sublime masterpiece from Lancashire’s Frenzy, their first 1981 single, This is the Last Time. Bang your head!