Monday, May 11, 2015

Q&A with the HMP: My 10 Favorite NWOBHM Albums

After my last post, reminiscing a bit about Raven and reviewing their latest (and amazingly good) album, one of the followers on my Facebook page asked me:  "Out of curiosity, what are some of your favorite NWOBHM albums?"  I responded that I'd have to think about it, but I wanted to strike before the iron cooled off, and since Sunday is -- while not a day of rest for me, since I held a 2-hour online class session in my Philosophical Foundations class! -- a day when I get to indulge myself a bit, I thought over some IPA and cigarillos, I'd put other writing projects aside and hammer out this post.

There's some dispute about just what precisely counts as New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), but while acknowledging that, I'm not going to really discuss that tangled issue here -- it will supply fodder for another blog post down the line, I promise!  I'm not going to include any works by bands that, while not British, play with a definite NWOBHM sensibility -- like the American band, Riot, the Finish act, Oz, or the Japanese group, Loudness.  I also won't include Judas Priest or Motorhead, since although they played a significant and even seminal role, they do antedate the movement somewhat (and by not discussing them, it opens some space for less well known acts).  It's going to be -- as these sorts of things always are -- rather subjective.  but in any case here they are:

My Top 10 (+1 extra) NWOBHM Albums:

I'll say right off the bat, that with quite a few of these bands, it's more challenging to pick a single album.  I suspect that this is partly a factor of the fact that they've got quite a few excellent albums to pick from.  But it's also harder for me in the present -- and this is a topic that might well be worth exploring in a post -- because of what the newer technology involved does with my listening.  In the past, albums were physical artifacts.  Not only would you have to eagerly await them to come out, then go down to the record store to buy them on LP and later on cassette (or, in my case, more often, wait until a friend got them, borrow it after they'd had it a few weeks, and then copy them onto tape!), you also had to listen to them as a whole.  It wasn't like having them in iTunes, where I can simply put a band's whole oeuvre onto "random" and listen to them for a few hours.  You had to listen to songs in the order they were arranged on the medium, and then actually flip the record or tape.  So, I can't say I actually listen to an album as an album all that often (except when I first purchase or download it).

There are also quite a few bands that might have made the list, except for the fact that at present, I haven't enough to really go on -- and that's more a factor of my own disorganization, sloth, or penuriousness than their merit.  I'll start with the last.  We keep a tight budget here -- and that means that I spend $20 per month on new iTunes acquisitions, which are spread not only over NWOBHM, but also 70s proto-metal and metal, 1980s American metal, 1980s European and Japanese metal, and new albums by classic and contemporary metal acts. (So, if any generous-minded readers of this blog want to send me stuff. .  . I'll definitely not turn it down!)  It's also possible to acquire these stuff on the downlow download (I've got in mind YouTuve-mp3 converters -- that might also merit a post sometime), but I'm a bit lazy about doing the work involved. . .  So, some great acts like Legend, Persian Risk, Tygers of Pan Tang, and Jaguar, I've got to admit that I haven't got enough tracks to make any determinations about an album.

My Top 10+1 List.

Iron Maiden, Killers (1981)
Sampson, Head On (1980)
Diamond Head, Lightning to the Nations (1980)
Girlschool, Demolition (1980)
Def Leppard, High and Dry (1981)
Raven, Rock Until You Drop (1981)
Venom, Welcome To Hell (1981)
Witchfinder General, Friends of Hell (1983)
Rock Goddess, Rock Goddess (1983)
Tank, Honor & Blood (1984)
Tokyo Blade, Night of the Blade (1984)

I think you'll notice that there's a bit of a common denominator here, in terms of dates.  A lot of these albums came out in one period that turned out to be particularly fortuitous for the ascendency of metal -- 1980 and 1981.  Quite a few of those -- the Diamond Head, Girlschool, Def Leppard, Venom, and Raven -- are debut albums, and will end up providing key standards not only for the repertoires of those acts, but inspiration for so many other later bands.  1983 and 1984 also turn out to be a key year for NWOBHM acts, including some of those whose earlier albums I'm highlighting here (Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, and Raven in particular.

It would hardly be befitting for a philosopher -- and although some of the posts here might not be particularly philosophy-heavy in content or theme, as the Heavy Metal Philosopher, I do place some focus on the last part of that epithet! -- not to discuss the WHY of the entries in this list, so here they are:

 

11 Great NWOBHM Albums

Iron Maiden, Killers:  It would be unimaginable not to include this band in a listing of NWOBHM acts, unless it was one focused solely on those who lacked talent or who didn't make it big.  By far the most successful of all of these bands -- a good portion credit going to stalwart back-end man, Steve Harris -- they also in many respects set the agenda for acts far outside of this movement,  Harris is in many respects a point of reference for metal bassists -- when I hear astoundingly good metal bass playing, anchoring the root, sneaking in fills, supporting the riffs, my tendency is to compare them to Steve Harris, not least since so many great metal bassists have studied his work.
In some respects, Maiden is the elephant in the room -- it's not a question of whether they make it into the list, but rather the more difficult matter of deciding which album to select among their first four (Powerslave is very good, but not great).  They are all worthy of inclusion, but if I personally have to select which of them I had to choose to the exclusion of the others, well, it's this one. . . .

Samson, Head On:  These guys are often mistaken as a mere staging ground for Bruce Dickinson, who is soon to assume the frontman slot in Iron Maiden, after Paul Dianno gets canned.  But they could be that precisely because they were a great band in their own right.  Their first album, Survivors, definitely suffers from the lack of a great vocalist, but with the addition of Dickenson, they're in top form, putting out not only straight-out metal but also more experimental stuff.  You definitely want to give "Hammerhead", "Take It Like a Man", and "Walking Out on You" a listen.

Diamond Head, Lightning to the Nations: These are the guys who never caught a break, and who knows what they might have become had they had better management and the right label.  This album would be worth getting just to hear the original Holst-referencing "Am I Evil?"  Add to it "Lightening to the Nations," "Sucking My Love," and "Helpless," and you have some amazing innovative metal works, which manage to be such while just overdriven -- no real distortion to speak of.

Girlschool, Demolition: One of the major early female metal acts (others would include the Runaways and their spinoff Lita Ford, Acid, the Plasmatics and WOW, and . . . see below), they did amazing work on their own, creating standards that are still solid today -- "Demolition Boys," "Not For Sale," "Breakdown," "Midnight Rendezvous" -- hard-rocking track after track on this album! Add to this their soon-to-come collaborations with Lemmy, and the fact that they cover Motorheads "999 Emergency," and you have definite entries into the NWOBHM pantheon.

Def Leppard, High and Dry A band that one might associate more with their glam, highly produced work from Pyromania on, their earlier work is right at the forefront of the NWOBHM.  This debut album features tracks like the title song, "On Though the Night," the high-energy instrumental "Switch 625," "Another Hit and Run", and the ballad, such a harbinger of their future direction (without sucking, like their post-Pyromania work arguably does) "Bringing on The Heartbreak"

Raven, Rock Until You Drop:  With this band, like Iron Maiden, which of their first four albums do you pick?   They're all amazing, and I have to admit that I wavered between all four of them for quite some time.  These guys are simply a top-tier act that were, at this time, at the very forefront.  This debut album showcases some of their standards that they continue to play in concert even today -- "Rock Hard" furnishing a prime example -- but it also includes some really ahead of the curve, proto-thrash stuff that one needs to hear to appreciate, "Tyrant of the Airwaves" and "Don't Need Your Money" as cases in point.

Venom, Welcome to Hell:  I'd be remiss if I didn't include the guys who coined the phrase and inspired the genre of "black metal", but even if none of that stuff emerged in their wake, this legendarily poorly produced debut album would still make my list.  "1000 days in Sodom" is arguably the musically best and most interesting track.  Raw, raw, raw. . . . what else needs to be said?  Maybe this:  this is definitely an answer to the question, What is metal supposed to be?

Witchfinder General, Friends of Hell:  I wavered between this and their debut album -- I only wish that I had four early album to pick between, (as with Iron Maiden and Raven above!) because both of their first two albums are pretty amazing stuff.  They became what Black Sabbath had ceased being, and had a definite set of themes, taking the Sabbath ideas into the 1980s (to be sure, Sabbath was definitely revitalized by the new Dio blood, but that's a story for another day!)  These guys, along with Sabbath, are the originators of a new genre -- Doom Metal.  Why this album then?  If I had to pick one song as the deciding vote, it would be "Love on Smack."

Rock Goddess, Rock Goddess:  This is one of the most overlooked bands -- both as a girl-band as as part of the NWOHM -- on my list, and this self-titled debut (when the drummer was 15 and the lead guitar/vocalist was 19) is simply amazing stuff. I hate to say it, but Jody Turne's vocals are even better than Girlschool's Kim McAuliffe, gravelly and powerful far beyond her years.  If I had to pick just three songs to listen to, I'd say:  "The Love Lingers Still," "My Angel," and "Satisfied Then Crucified."

Tank, Honor & Blood:  This one, for me, is a bit idiosyncratic, I'll admit (there's actually a story about how I ended up with this album. . . ) Their earlier work is rightly likened with that of the earlier Motorhead -- they had a punk sensibility, and they were a power trio, with an amazing bassist who had a distinctive voice, in Algy Ward.  With Honor & Blood, though, they really came into their own, adding a second guitarist, some well-produced polish, and as a happy result putting out one of the heaviest, most uncompromising albums of the decade.  Every single song is worth checking out, but the one I'll single out is actually a cover of Aretha Franklin's Motown "Chain of Fools"!

Tokyo Blade, Night of the Blade:  Another great album, again forcing me to choose between their earlier (and later) work and this one, with considerable difficulty.  I guess, if push came to shove, I'd have to admit that the fact that "Night of the Blade" made an early imprint upon my musical sensibilities, as the very first song of theirs that I heard, might be a deciding factor.  But it's really a solid album, reminiscent (in its bass work, and in its guitar attack) of Iron Maiden, but with a distinctive sound and ethos of its own.  There's a lot of great songs on this one, but I'd say after hundreds of listens, my favorites (besides the title track) are the alternately plaintive and heavy "Dead of the Night" and (on the remastered bonus track version) "Schoolhouse Is Burning."