RockStory - Heavy Metal: N.W.O.B.H.M.
N.W.O.B.H.M: New Wave Of British Heavy Metal

New Wave Of British Heavy Metal

By Fredrik Nilsson


By the late 70’s the big dinosaurs from the decade was beginning to falter. Deep Purple split up in -76, Led Zeppelin were on the decline (culminating in the death of John Bonham in 1980), Black Sabbath lost front man Ozzy Osbourne and Uriah Heep were making more and more lacklustre efforts.


Some bands like Judas Priest, Van Halen, Motörhead, AC/DC and Rush were on the rise, but hard rock as a whole were on the decline.

The rebirth of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal came from were it once arose a decade earlier, from the English suburbs in what was to be dubbed The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal.


Iron Maiden was arguably the most important heavy metal band of the 80’s. Formed by bass player Steve Harris, and going through numerous line-ups in the late seventies, the band released their debut album in 1980 with singer Paul Dianno, drummer Clive Burr and guitar players Dave Murray and Dennis Stratton.

The most striking thing about Dianno as the front man, other than his great voice, was the short hair which was a rarity in the metal community (even Rob Halford sported long hair back then).

He looked more like a punk rocker than a heavy metal front man, and also the album had almost a punkish attitude to it. But it was undoubtedly still metal, with guitar harmonics and the Purple/Sabbath school of song writing courtesy of Harris (who would remain the undisputed band leader up to this day). Songs like “Phantom Of The Opera”, “Prowler”, “Running Free” and “Iron Maiden” still remains as some of the band’s most beloved songs.

The follow up album called Killers released the following year was equally good, and with an excellent production job by Martin Birch (who had worked with Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult, Rainbow, Whitesnake among others).


 Martin would remain as Maiden’s producer for over ten years. By this time Stratton had been replaced by guitar player Adrian Smith. But just as the band was beginning to gain momentum as one of the biggest heavy metal bands in the world, Dianno was fired (much due to problems with drugs and alcohol).

He was replaced by former Samson front man Bruce Dickinson, and in -82 with this new line-up the band released what was to be one of the most important albums of the decade.

The album The Number Of The Beast contained numbers such as “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, “Children Of The Damned”, “Run To The Hills” and the classic title track. It was nothing short of brilliant and established Iron Maiden as the biggest metal band at that time.

Following albums such as Piece Of Mind in -83, Powerslave in -84, Somewhere In Time in -86 and Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son in -88 saw the band and their tours growing bigger and bigger. Along with Judas Priest the band was in large responsible for heavy metal reaching the big stadiums throughout the states (and the world) in the 80’s.

Their mascot called Eddie who was on every album cover and t-shirt could be seen in almost every record collection or on every metal fan’s clothing throughout the whole decade. The famous Iron Maiden sound was often copied, but never bettered. And their down-to-earth attitudes have kept the band alive up to this day.

Def Leppard was a group of high school buddies from Sheffield, who got to release their debut album On Through The Night in 1980. At this time the band had already released a classic demo the year before, and most of the members were still teenagers.

The band members were singer Joe Elliot, drummer Rick Allen, bass player Rick Savage, and guitar players Pete Willis and Steve Clarke.

If Iron Maiden were from the Purple/Sabbath-school then Def Leppard were more from the AC/DC/UFO-school. Simpler arrangements, but packed with good musicianship and great songwriting skills.

But the band found more of their own identity with the follow up album High & Dry, which was better in every aspect. Much thanks to former City Boy-producer John ‘Mutt’ Lange, the songwriting gelled and almost Queen-like harmonies were introduced.




And with the album Pyromania in 1983 (were Pete Willis was replaced with Phil Collen, due to problems with alcohol), the band was the first heavy metal band to really cross-over to the non-metal audience (especially in the states). The album was a masterpiece, and deservedly sold millions of copies. Songs like “Rock Of Ages”, “Foolin’”, “Photograph” were big hits both as singles and as videos on the then relatively new TV channel MTV.

But bad luck hit the band just after they came home from the very successful Pyromania-tour, when drummer Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car accident. Determined to keep the band together they encouraged him to remain in the band, and learn to play with one arm (which is one of the biggest accomplishments ever in the history of hard rock).

But it would take four years until their next album Hysteria, which outsold Pyromania and is one of the biggest selling albums in the music history. The album contained seven big singles, and the success would haunt the band through the rest of their career (where they tried to regain the momentum with the more softer sound displayed on Hysteria).


The legacy of the band could be seen in all melodic rock bands of the decade, and the AOR-scene. The band also raised the bar in great sounding records, and was clearly one of the best and most successful hard rock bands of the decade.

Other important bands, 1980-1982

Other important bands from the NWOBHM-scene were Saxon, Angel Witch, Diamond Head and Tygers Of Pan Tang.

Saxon had their creative peak between 1980 and 1982, with albums such as Wheels Of Steel, Strong Arm Of The Law, Denim & Leather and Power And the Glory. All four of them are classic metal albums, but unfortunately the quality of their output would get worse and worse after that. But after Iron Maiden and Def Leppard, they were the third most successful band from the NWOBHM.

Other classic albums from this scene are the debut album by Angel Witch, Lightning To The Nations by Diamond Head, Spellbound by Tygers Of Pan Tang and Shock Tactics by Samson (with singer Bruce Bruce, who changed his named to Bruce Dickinson when he joined Iron maiden in -82).

There are countless other worthwhile albums to be checked out from the NWOBHM, and the whole scene would prove to be one of the most fruitful eras of heavy metal filled with great bands and great music.


Judas Priest, Motörhead and Budgie

Along with the newly found success of heavy metal in Britain, some of the older bands like Judas Priest, Motörhead and Budgie were lumped in under the moniker and they became more successful than ever.

British Steel (1980) and Screaming For Vengeance (1982) by Judas Priest and Overkill (1979) and Ace Of Spades (1980) by Motörhead were some of the most important albums of the NWOBHM.era, even if the bands technically wasn’t part of the new breed of bands.

Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath also found new life with former Rainbow singer Ronnie James Dio, and released two masterpieces in the form of Heaven And Hell (1980) and Mob Rules (1981), before they unfortunately disbanded again (to resurface in -83 with former Deep Purple front man Ian Gillan on vocals, lasting one album).

The rest of decade Tony Iommi would be the sole original member left, but the band still managed to release worthwhile albums throughout the decade with Tony Martin behind the mike (and also Glenn Hughes for one album).


The Australian band (residing in England) AC/DC recovered from the death of their front man Bon Scott, and released one of the best hard rock albums ever. The album Back In Black released in 1980 was their biggest commercial success ever, with some of hard rock’s biggest anthems like “Hells Bells", “You Shook Me All Night Long” and the title track.

AC/DC would never make such a great album again, but they still made one solid release after another the following years. And they were definitely one of the biggest hard rock live attractions in the 80’s and onward.

Thin Lizzy

Thin Lizzy also wanted to capitalize on metal’s new found popularity, with Phil Lynott bringing in the extremely talented Tygers Of Pan Tang guitar player John Sykes.

The album Thunder And Lightning was fresh and heavier (though not necessarily better) than anything the band ever had released, but it was sadly the last breath of a truly great band. They disbanded after a final tour, and Phil sadly passed away in 1986 after many years of drug usage.