October 6, 2020

Well, it seems to be Nostalgia Month here at VT – only last week I was waxing lyrical about the UK punk scene for the deluxe reissue of the debut album by Slaughter & The Dogs, and now here I am wrapping my ears around three CDs of some absolutely choice pickings from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal scene (in retrospect, how on earth did ‘NWOBHM’ catch on as a name?), and if that previous blast from the punk past sent me back to being 17, here we hit three years or so later with what became metal fans’ very own ‘punk scene’, with bands springing up with unprecedented energy and enthusiasm, and a marvellous ‘DIY’ attitude which made single-buying rather than merely looking out for albums an essential thing again. There were so many bands which exploded around ’79 – ’80 that it is impossible to even remember them all. 1980 in particular was an incredible year for heavy rock, with bigger bands like Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Judas Priest, AC/DC, Rainbow etc all putting out important albums, but with a host of rag-tag ‘garage’ bands snipping at their heels it was even more vibrant. Every week brought a new single, a new band – and it was hard to keep up with the great bands popping up in your local town centre pubs and clubs. Heady stuff indeed – and of course, a scene which birthed some real enduring talent, with Iron Maiden and Def Leppard bringing along others such as Saxon, Girlschool and their ilk in their slipstream – as well as directly influencing Metallica and the birth of thrash metal. This wasn’t just an exciting if brief flash in the pan, this was an important movement – and being a part of it was utterly exhilarating.

Even with 44 tracks on this collection, not everyone can be covered – and of course many have been swept up already on the previous release to this, 2018’s NWOBHM: Winds Of Time. Indeed, some great names such Angel Witch and White Spirit who were collected on that compilation are missing here – but their absence leaves room for other fascinating ‘goods, bads and uglies’ of the scene, Lemmy-like warts and all! Some cracking names from the Winds Of Time release do appear again here with different tracks: it’s always great to see Saxon, Witchfynde, Raven, Samson and Girlschool crop up, that’s for sure! There are a good number of A-List bands here – in addition to the above listed, we get Diamond Head (a classy In The Heat Of The Night), Praying Mantis (Flirting With Suicide), Tygers Of Pan Tang (giving Love Potion No. 9 a good kicking, just before John Sykes left), Raven (the excellent Break The Chain from their third album) and Rock Goddess (the splendidly named Satisfied Then Crucified). But let’s take a look at some of the other real highlights here.

Perhaps the most welcome inclusion here is Dark Star’s Lady Of Mars, a song which practically had its own fan club at the time, and unfortunately dwarfed the rest of their output. Even so, it has still kept their name alive, and with good reason – it’s a powerful, riff-tastic NWOBHM classic. Two tracks from the compilation New Electric Warriors turn up in the form of the unremarkable Tarot, but also the magnificent She’s No Angel by Streetfighter, a band who only released one single, but this earlier track featuring the second appearance here of a pre-Tygers John Sykes, is a lengthy, guitar-led beast of a track. Fist are often remembered as a little one-dimensional, but the sublime Lost And Found from their final album is a seven-minute subtly faceted cracker which indicates a sadly unfulfilled promise. Anyone remember the Pauline Gillan Band, fronted by Ian’s sister? I didn’t, but You Got Me Running, included here, is a fine song. There are also fine contributions from Cloven Hoof, Mantas, Hammerhead, Demon, Statetrooper and one I’d overlooked completely, Savage – with a seven minute classic called Stevie’s Vengeance (normally with these affairs it tends to be Satan taking care of the vengeance!)

There are a few disposable tracks: Burn This Town by Battleaxe is practically Motorhead’s Overkill with different words, Witchfynde’s I’d Rather Go Wild isn’t one of their finest, and we don’t really need Aragorn taking a stab at Radar Love. Out of the 44 selections though, it’s an excellent hit-rate, and all aspects of the scene from the fast and heavy, the more commercial sheen of some of the bands, and the proggy or power balladic elements, are covered. The booklet gives you all of the info you need about every single track, while the CD sleeves within the box are a collage of great old single picture sleeves. If you were there, this will take you right back (and like me, you might rack your brains to remember the likes of Metal Mirror, War Machine, Siege, Liaison or Demon Pact from the depths of your mind!) – if you weren’t, this will help you see what you were missing. Namely, one of the most vibrant, exciting and, above all, FUN times ever to be a youthful rock fan. This album lets you salute them all – the big stars in waiting, the second level bands with smaller yet fanatical followings, the half-forgotten names and even those who struggled in vain to advance out of their local pubs. To us, as a generation, they were all Heavy Metal Heroes.

It was only rock and roll – but we liked it.