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The New Wave of British Heavy Metal (frequently abbreviated as NWOBHM) was a heavy metal movement that started in the late 1970s, in Britain, and achieved international attention by the early 1980s. Sometimes compared to Beatlemania,[1] the era developed as a reaction in part to the decline of early heavy metal bands such as Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.[2] NWOBHM bands toned down the blues influences of earlier acts, incorporated elements of punk, increased the tempo, and adopted a "tougher" sound, taking a harder approach to its music.[2] It was a scene directed almost exclusively at heavy metal fans. The era is considered to be a major foundation stone for the extreme metal genres with acts such as the American band Metallica citing NWOBHM bands like Saxon, Motörhead, Diamond Head, and Iron Maiden as a major influence on their musical style.[2][3]

Reviled or ignored by many mainstream critics in both the UK and the US, the NWOBHM nonetheless came to dominate the hard rock scene of the early-mid 1980s. NWOBHM was musically characterized by fast upbeat tempo songs, power chords, fast guitar solos and melodic, soaring vocals, with lyrical themes often drawing inspiration from mythology and fantasy fiction. Many of the bands of this era were signed to Neat Records, who has released volumes of NWOBHM compilations in later years.[4][5][6]



Welsh group, Budgie, are considered precursors to the movement for they have been cited as, "a seminal influence on the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM)"[7]. Also Judas Priest, who while predating the movement by several years would later become a part of it.[8]

Iron Maiden

The early movement was associated with acts such as Iron Maiden, Saxon, Motörhead,[9] , Angel Witch, Tygers of Pan Tang, Blitzkrieg, Avenger, Sweet Savage, Girlschool, Jaguar, Demon, Diamond Head, Samson and Tank, among others.[10] The image of bands such as Saxon, consisting of long hair, denim jackets, leather and chains, would later become synonymous with heavy metal as a whole during the 1980s. Some bands, although conceived during this era, saw success on an underground scale, as was the case with Venom and Quartz.



New Wave of British Heavy Metal suffered the same decline as many other musical movements. Many of the movement's leaders were unable to follow up on their initial successes. In addition, many bands moved further away from the era towards mainstream hard rock, with Def Leppard in particular targeting the American market with a more refined sound despite having major success. By the mid 1980s, young rock fans searching for their own identities had found a new metal scene emanating from Los Angeles led by bands such as Van Halen, Mötley Crüe and later Guns N' Roses. Record companies also latched onto the Los Angeles artists over the more underground NWOBHM bands. In addition, thrash metal, another new but much less mainstream metal scene, emerged around the same time, and attracted many rock fans for being even faster and even heavier than NWOBHM, despite originating from the movement.[10]

Some of the more popular bands of the movement, however, went on to considerable, lasting success. Iron Maiden and Motörhead stayed with a more traditional heavy metal style, which won them a large and loyal fanbase even after bands with a similar sound had declined. Iron Maiden has since then become one of the most commercially successful and influential heavy metal bands of all time. Def Leppard, despite discarding their earlier, heavier sound, became even more successful when they used MTV to play their promotional music videos, and thus commercializing their hard rock sound in order to help sales of their albums on strengths of singles.[11]

Subsequent influence

Groups such as Motörhead, Iron Maiden, Venom, and Saxon, as well as many lesser-known ones, became part of the canon that influenced American bands that formed in the early eighties, such as Metallica. Metallica's early material has been influenced by a number of NWOBHM bands, including Diamond Head.[12]

In 1990 Lars Ulrich of Metallica compiled a double CD compilation album, titled NWOBHM '79 Revisited, featuring bands as obscure as Hollow Ground right through to the 'Supergroups' of the era.[1]


The widespread popularity of the internet in the late 1990s/early 2000s helped New Wave of British Heavy Metal fans to communicate again and some New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands experienced a minor revival. Encouraged by the success of tribute bands and nostalgia acts, many of the original NWOBHM bands reformed for successful tours and the revival was championed by Classic Rock magazine, a new publication featuring many of the original NWOBHM writers of the 1980s including Geoff Barton.[13]

Media support

The New Wave of British Heavy Metal existed mostly outside the world of the mainstream pop and rock culture. Magazines such as The NME, The Face and Melody Maker did not generally feature NWOBHM acts at all. It was left therefore to Sounds to feature NWOBHM artists. Geoff Barton began writing features on the new up and coming metal bands and Sounds even featured a weekly Heavy Metal chart compiled from record requests at “The Soundhouse”, a heavy metal 'disco' in North West London and the spiritual home of the movement. Barton set up Kerrang!, the first magazine exclusively devoted to heavy metal. Making a massive impact for the genre in London, both on air and with their own 'roadshow' with many appearances in rock pubs & clubs, was pirate rock station Alice's Restaurant Rock Radio.

List of NWOBHM artists

This is a list of bands signed to record labels who emerged during the NWOBHM era of music:

The Soundhouse

The Soundhouse was London’s first heavy rock disco based initially at The Bandwagon, a disco/nightclub venue attached to the Prince of Wales public house in Kingsbury, North West London. The Soundhouse’s popularity really took off with the arrival in 1975 of Neal Kay, a rock DJ with a talent for showmanship and publicity who transformed the venue into the centre of the new movement. In addition to rock disco nights, Neal would promote early live performances of NWOBHM bands such as Samson, Angel Witch, Praying Mantis, Saxon and Iron Maiden, who titled their debut EP release “The Soundhouse Tapes” in honour of the venue.

The Soundhouse also gained approval from the more established rock bands and Motörhead, Sammy Hagar, April Wine, Rainbow and Judas Priest all turned up to mingle with punters and enjoy an evening of metal and beer; many of them being cajoled into judging headbanging and air guitar competitions featuring "imaginary bands" made up of the club's regular punters. Among these was one Robin Yeatman, a local wedding photographer and heavy rock fanatic, who went by the nickname of Rob Loonhouse. Rob fashioned a cardboard (and later hardboard) guitar which he took to the club and pretended to play during his favourite songs.

The craze caught on, with other club goers following suit and the development of various ad-hoc headbanging bands: Willy Flasher & The Raincoats being among the most popular. Loonhouse himself was to feature in many of the music press articles about the Soundhouse - cutting a distinctive look in canvas fishing hat and sweat-soaked Blue Öyster Cult T-shirt, while wiedling his homemade axe. An edition of the pop culture TV show, 20th century Box, included footage from the Soundhouse and interviews with Loonhouse, in which, sadly, his tongue-in-cheek humour was lost. Wisely, Loonhouse ditched the hardboard guitar soon after and retreated from the media spotlight.

Kay successfully grew The Soundhouse franchise beyond Kingsbury helping to spread the NWOBHM word through “Heavy Metal Crusade” tours with the likes of Saxon and Iron Maiden and warming up the crowds at other London venues such as Camden’s Music Machine.

In 1980, a disagreement with the brewery led to “The Soundhouse” moving to “The Headstone” public house in North Harrow and subsequently, “The Queen’s Arms” in Harrow and Wealdstone, “The Royal Standard” in Walthamstow and “The Clay Pigeon” in Eastcote which hosted the final Soundhouse night in 1992. The new millennium, however, has seen Kay perform at annual Soundhouse reunion events at “The Rayners” public house in Rayners Lane, near Harrow, although with the closure of this venue in 2006 the organisers are now searching for a suitable alternative venue.


  • Agarwal, Manish. Dimery, Robert. ed. 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Quintet Publishing Limited. ISBN 0-7893-1371-5. 


  1. ^ a b Rivadavia, Eduardo. "allmusic ((( New Wave of British Heavy Metal '79 Revisited > Overview )))". Retrieved 7 August 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c "NWOBHM at allmusic". Allmusic. Retrieved 2007-08-21. 
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Dimery 2006 pg. 460, "Though originating in 1973, Priest slotted into the new wave of British heavy metal, alongside Iron Maiden and Def Leppard."
  9. ^ "New Wave of British Heavy Metal". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-04-11. 
  10. ^ a b "What Is New Wave Of British Heavy Metal?". Retrieved 7 August 2009. 
  11. ^ "Def Leppard". Retrieved 7 August 2009. 
  12. ^ jamesgill (20 February 2009). "MH podcast: Diamond Head talk Metallica". Retrieved 7 August 2009. 
  13. ^ "Geoff Barton". Retrieved 7 August 2009. 

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