Metal History – New Wave of British Heavy Metal 2 – Downfall and Resurgence

April 10, 2013 — Leave a comment

In Part 1 of this history concerning the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), we saw a crop of classic bands emerge from Great Britain sporting a big new sound that was filling arenas around the world. For the first half of the 1980s, NWOBHM was the definitive form of heavy metal music in the world. As the decade went on, NWOBHM remained a big draw, but the mainstream became more dominated by hair metal, while another type of metal, thrash metal, would take control of the underground.


The music evolved somewhat during this time. A key interesting moment was when Iron Maiden, one of the most respected and biggest bands in the world by 1988, introduced a synthesizer (okay, a synthesized guitar, but still—gasp!) on its “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” album that year. Some fans were put off by it, but it has aged well enough that Maiden can still play opening track “Moonchild” live to great fanfare.

Things slowed down for NWOBHM in the 1990s as metal took on new forms, although Judas Priest got the decade off to a roaring good start with its Painkiller album.

Nevertheless, tragedy struck as the lead singers of both Iron Maiden and Judas Priest split from their bands before the 90’s could really get started, leading to much heartbreak among fans. The former worked with vocalist Blaze Bailey for the duration of the decade, the latter with Tim “The Ripper” Owens. Although both featured different vocal styles from their replacements and inevitably weren’t as well received, they did well enough in the absence of Rob and Bruce. Considering who they had to fill in for…

At the time, Motorhead hadn’t released an album for nearly 4 years—imagine fans’ surprise when on the closing track for the album “1916,” Lemmy actually sings!

So it was clear just from the first couple of years of the new decade that metal was going in a different direction from the previous. New subgenres were taking root in the USA and around the world. But the fanbase would never abandon its beloved, original heroes, and in the 2000s there was much rejoicing as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest reappeared with their original vocalists to shepherd a new generation of fans into the new millennium, as they continue to do into 2012.

Saxon, too, has remained consistently successful during this time; in fact, fans argue that they’ve gotten even better as they’ve aged. The song “State of Grace,” from the 2007 album The Inner Sanctum, finds Saxon at a heavier, more medieval sound than their 80s heyday, much to fans’ delight.

With the lineups now relatively stable, NWOBHM bands have embraced their newfound roles as heavy metal’s elder statesmen. Judas Priest wrapped up its farewell tour, appropriately entitled EPITAPH, from 2011-2012, after 40 years on the road. They will continue to be active in the studio, however. Here they are below, performing their comeback single right after the reunion announcement, “Judas Rising.”

Motorhead today, is the same Motorhead as ever, with Lemmy craning his neck up to reach the microphone with that smoke-and-alcohol-ravaged growl of his, even as he pushes into his 60s.

But the band that has enjoyed the greatest resurgence in popularity over the last decade is Iron Maiden. In fact, they are more popular now than they ever have been, even including their 80s heyday. The reunion album with Bruce Dickinson, Brave New World, was released in 2000 and lit the fuse for a colossal rebirth of the band’s career. The album still ranks in the top five heavy metal albums of the 2000s, with new anthems like “The Wicker Man” enthralling newer, and younger, audiences the world over.

Not many bands can lay claim to topping the UK Charts after a 30-year-plus career, but Iron Maiden managed to do it ten years after Brave New World in 2010 with The Final Frontier, the title track of which is performed below in Chile. It is a fitting capstone that they managed to score the #1 album in their home nation of the United Kingdom. It’s as if the golden age of metal never ended, and in fact, it hasn’t.

On a personal note, NWOBHM is my favorite form of heavy metal, an unmatched combination of catchiness, power, and heaviness. And it’s crazy fun to sing, especially with a passionate audience that’s just as into it as you are! No doubt I am missing someone’s favorite song out of all these groups…go ahead and add them in the comments if you desire! Horns up, and I’ll see you next time to talk about where metal went from here, in both the mainstream and in the underground.


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