Music

How the New Wave of British Heavy Metal Changed Rock Music Forever

Winds of Time is a three-CD collection of songs by bands that barely anyone outside the UK have even heard of. It's also the Rosetta Stone of thrash metal.

Winds of Time: The New Wave of British Heavy Metal 1979-1985.
Various Artists

Cherry Red

29 June 2018

"You had to be there." Is there a more smugly passive aggressive rejoinder in all of the English language? You can have studied a subject for 50 years, read all the learned literature connected to it, taught it at University level and have a wardrobe full of T-shirts dedicated to it, but unless you were "there", your opinion carries less weight than someone who had the blind good luck to be in existence when whatever was happening, happened. Annoying isn't it? Even more annoying is the fact that there is some truth in it. A case in point is Cherry Red's latest archival release – Winds of Time: The New Wave of British Heavy Metal 1979-1985. Across the UK, men in their mid-50s are getting misty-eyed thinking about the contents of this three-CD set and wondering if their copy of the first Angel Witch album is still in the garage somewhere. When these gentlemen are quizzed on their over-excited reaction to a bunch of largely obscure songs being reissued, to a man, they'll reply "You had to be there". Well, did you?

The NWOBHM, for the unenlightened, was a short-lived but surprisingly influential movement that combined good old fashioned hard rock with a punk rock business model. Hard rock is up there with country music when it comes to being conservative, so young bands in the mid-late 1970s wouldn't have dreamed that there was any other path to success than slogging it out on the pub/club circuit and hopefully signing to a major label, only to be discarded as a tax loss with indecent haste. But what's this? In a cloud of safety pins, spit and vitriol, along come a bunch of punk rockers, swerving past the traditional system and making their own records or signing to teeny-tiny independent labels and getting written about in the music press. Hey – some of those guys can't even play their instruments properly!

The NWOBHM movement took hard rock from the concert halls, stadiums, and major labels, and put it in the hands of enthusiasts and bands making their first tentative steps in the world of showbiz. There was no posing or artifice. No agenda. Just a desire to make music which, if most of the music press was to be believed, had been side-lined by punk. Who knew that in a few years' time, the music recorded in low budget, backstreet studios on hire-purchase guitars would be ringing around the biggest stadiums in the world?

If you're looking for tunes by the big hitters of the genre, you'll need to look elsewhere. Def Leppard and Iron Maiden are conspicuous by their absence, their tracks either too expensive to license or deemed too embarrassing to revisit, by the bands or their management. It's a shame, as a track from Leppard's "Bludgeon Riffola" EP or Maiden's "Soundhouse Tapes" 7" would add depth to this package. Instead we have three CDs worth of the cream of the hard rock underground, from the bands that achieved a level of mainstream success (Saxon, Girlschool, Diamond Head) to those that managed a single or two, or possibly an appearance on NWOBHM guru, Tommy Vance's "Friday Night Rock Show" on BBC Radio One. Come the mid-1980s, most of those bands had put their Marshall amps in the cupboard under the stairs until the inevitable reformation 30 years later. Some of those more obscure bands punch well above their weight.

Thanks to the patronage of Lars Ulrich amongst others, this most "grassroots" of movements was elevated onto a world stage. Metallica covered a number of songs by Diamond Head and alerted their massive fan base to a band that under normal circumstances, would have been little less than a footnote in the history of UK hard rock. With that in mind, it's not surprising that, listening to this lovingly assembled compilation, you can hear the beginnings of thrash metal (Venom, Raven, Fist) and even the early stirrings of glam in Silverwing and Girl.

This collection may not be up there with Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, but, in a small way, it is. Aficionados, and uber-geeks will wring their hands and complain that there are omissions - aside from Leppard and Maiden, Praying Mantis – a band who worked incredibly hard on the scene, back in the day, don't get a look in and any NWOBHM compilation that overlooks "One of These Days" by Trespass needs to have a quiet word with itself. That said, there is much to admire here and to have these 51 tracks in one place is a joy. It's not definitive, but it's a great place to start.

Winds of Time: The New Wave of British Heavy Metal 1979-1985 may be slightly grubby and scuffed at the edges, but it's as real and heartfelt as anything that emerged at the same time. The production values may have been less than stellar (some of the single sleeves reproduced here are unintentionally hilarious) but this music came from the heart, and some of it accidentally changed rock music forever. Just ask Metallica. They'll tell you. And if you don't believe them, well maybe you just had to be there…

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