Deep Purple’s 1971 and 1972 releases were a true one two punch of Deep Purple’s Metallic might at the very height of their prowess. The first, 1971′s Fireball was, outside of Black Sabbath’s first three albums, the heaviest thing on the planet at that time. Fireball’s songs are towering, crunching, Proto-Metal monsters of the highest order. The album is built around one of the greatest songs of Heavy Metal’s original Era, the invincible Demon’s Eye. It’s kind of difficult to discuss the individual musical performance of Fireball because they are all so good. Deep Purple Mark II was a super tight cohesive unit at this point, and everyone in the band is at their individual apex. The Mule is simply incredible. Fools cooks. No One Came is astoundingly good. Anyone’s Daughter is pure fun. And No No No is fantastic. Five utterly perfect stars. —Karl
Hearing Black Sabbath for the first time was like dusting off and cracking open some ancient tome of infernal knowledge, with a nefarious collection of witches, warlocks, and Lucifer himself lurking around the corners of songs like “N.I.B.,” “The Wizard,” the chilling paralysis of “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” eerie acoustic drift “Sleeping Village,” and of course “Black Sabbath,” it’s diabolus in musica riff cracking open the egg on this thing called heavy metal. Hiding behind that hazy, creepy cover shot was a suite like arrangement of songs almost entirely devoted to exploring supernatural fears, rife with horror-themed imagery and the threat of unseen evil, delivered with a crushing blow rendered in stark, black and white production. Though the album drifts in it’s second act, with the extended workout on Retaliation’s “Warning” and a primitive Crow cover, “Evil Woman,” appearing on UK issues, US audiences were treated to the superior, stoned rumblings of “Wicked World.” Castle’s 1996 CD contains both tracks, though missing in action on this and subsequent Sabbath reissues are subtitles like “Wasp,” “Bassically” and “A Bit of Finger,” originally appended to the US release to pull in more publishing royalties to the band, but just adding another layer of enigma for those of us already lost in the forest, with nowhere to run as the figure in black drew closer. —Ben
When asked about music in England in the late 70′s, most anyone will reply with Punk. The images of the Sex Pistols decked out in Vivienne Westwood gear, Ian Curtis on stage in the fits of a seizure, and the classic Kings Road punks with safety pins through their cheeks. The media sensation around the scene was such a whirlwind it seized that little chunk of pop cultural time and handed it over to the punks. Fair enough. But while all that ink has been spilled about punk and its mutant offshoots, there was another, equally as important scene running parallel around the same time, and in the same place. Kids who grew up on the hard rocking sounds of Black Sabbath, Budgie, early Judas Priest, Zep, UFO, Deep Purple, Rush and Thin Lizzy. Working class youth who did not necessarily connect with the politics and fashion of punk. They remained loyal to the no-nonsense rock they were weaned on and did not cut their hair short in the summer of ’76. These kids had no time for the lofty art school pretension of the punk movement, yet they were too close to the impact of it to not be affected the anger, brevity and do it yourself ethos. When those elements of early punk were applied to the already fossilizing hard rock scene, a new and brilliant sound was born. The old form was trimmed of its excess fat, given a facelift and a new sleeveless denim jacket. As this fresh and revitalized take on hard rock and early metal was forged in England, the bands springing up in its wake went on to not only define classic Heavy Metal, in sound and look, but to change and shape rock in the long run just as much as the punks. This sound was christened…The New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
As this new scene took shape, younger bands like Iron Maiden, Diamond Head, Raven, Samson, Angel Witch and Saxon were gaining quite a devoted following of headbangers. The mainstream music press largely laughed it off, as it was in sharp contrast to the tepid new wave that was selling so well at the time. The die hard fans had created a demand for vinyl though, and independent labels, often run by fans with a true emotional investment in the music began to dot the landscape. Labels like Neat, Guardian and Heavy Metal Records were quick to meet the demand and began releasing single after killer single. Compilations served as an excellent way to showcase these new and numerous bands and these began to flood the import bins of record stores on the other side of the pond, and America too had developed a taste for NWOBHM. Neat Records from Newcastle is arguably the biggest label in the scene and released some of the most coveted and important records of the genre. The god-like Venom being the most well known. Interestingly, while punks mentality was one of ‘out with the old, in with the new’ the reverent NWOBHM fans stuck with their old favorites too and bands like Budgie and especially Judas Priest and Black Sabbath saw quite a resurgence during this phase. Countless fresh faced new metal bands were energized and began releasing LP’s and 45′s, touring consistently and influencing thousands of young kids around the globe to pick up guitars and give it a go. The ensuing international underground metal scene owes a giant debt to these bands. Metallica, Slayer, Celtic Frost, Mercyful Fate etc. all were formed out of a passion for these early British sounds. These bands ramped up the speed, aggression and image, helping lay the foundations for Thrash, Death and Black Metal a few years down the road. None of this would have been possible without NWOBHM bands like Venom, Blitzkrieg and Holocaust laying the rock solid foundation in the U.K. years prior.
New Wave of British Heavy Metal is so vast and varied in sound its impossible for me to list all of my favorites. So I will suggest a few LP’s and compilations to give a decent overview. The movement was given a blanket name, but the bands range in sound from the melodic AOR hard rock of Praying Mantis and Dark Star to the punky proto-hardcore assault of Venom and Jaguar, to the doomy stoned Sabbath worship of Pagan Altar and Witchfinder General. So here is a few of my favorites, but this is by no means a definitive list. Just a small torch to guide you through the ruins of this ancient and magnificent castle…
1. Diamond Head Lightning to the Nations (Happy Face, 1981) Unsurpassed masterpiece of the genre, and on a larger scale, all of rock itself. Perfect mix of fast and mid-paced hard rockers with one foot firmly in the 70′s and one foot in present, or 1980 in this case. Sean Harris delivers some of the best vocals ever laid down while Brian Tatlers riffs are poured out like thick but still liquid concrete into a steel foundation. Impassioned, intense and with astounding production, this band should be as renown as Sab, Zep and Lizzy. Most of my generation was turned onto them via Metallica’s covers of Am I Evil on the rerelease of Kill ‘em All or Helpless on the Garage Days Revisted record in 1987 which blew my 10 year old mind in half. Fault Lars Ulrich all you want, the guys choice of cover material was top shelf back in 1987. Essential.
2. Roxsnax/Roxcalibur Compilations (Guardian Records, 1980-1982) These are two label showcase LP’s recorded in ’80 and ’82 respectively, put out by the consistently excellent Guardian records. Absolutely amazing tracks from lesser known acts like Samurai, Hollow Ground, Saracen, Battleaxe, Marauder, Satan etc. Highly recommended for those of you looking for some of the most honest and true Heavy Metal from England at the time. Right down to the layout, song titles and band choices, these compilations embody the movement in my opinion. Follow these two comps up with the third in the series, ‘Pure Overkill’ from ’83 (featuring the amazing Spartan Warrior) for a birds eye view of what was going on at the time. A great starting point for those curious about the grittier underbelly of the dragon.
3. Iron Maiden Iron Maiden (EMI, 1980) The longest running and best known band to emerge from the NWOBHM, Iron Maiden’s first 2 LP’s feature Paul Dianno on vocals. Later replaced by the equally great Bruce Dickinson, Paul had way less range, but makes up for it in spades with his gruff, raspy and street sounding voice. Even on their first full length they are polished beyond belief, and playing with that accomplished fire and precision tightness that they are infamous for. Eddie on the cover looks like Paul sounds on the mic. The way they juggle scholarly technique with an almost amateur, punk sensibility and intensity is, and always will be, second to none. They became a legendary band for a reason and this record was the first major step in an unrelenting urge to run free and ahead of the pack.
4. Venom Black Metal (Neat, 1982) An obvious choice indeed, but Venom changed the entire landscape of music with this beast. The punk production and extremely occult atmosphere not only started the entire black metal movement but gave it a name and a plan of attack. Venom speaks with a harsh tongue, and those of us lucky enough to understand their dialect will forever be rewarded. Unlike anything before it and continually inspirational to this day. Neat Records made many wise choices. This may have been the wisest.
5. Legend Death in the Nursery (Workshop, 1981)
Their 2nd LP, and my favorite (although the self titled LP released prior is as good) Legend played a sophisticated and refined style that retained the flair and showmanship of the 70′s hard rock bands (think Stray etc.) but had all of the stripped down intensity and drive of the moment. Opening song ‘Choices’ might be one of my top picks of the entire era. Peter Haworth’s soloing and riffing on this record is punishing, lyrical and relentless. I would liken the power of ‘Death in the Nursery’ to that of a bulldozer, made out of an ultra lightweight compound that does not exist anywhere on the periodic table. If there was any justice in the world bands like this would be on the soundtracks to films like ’300′ and ‘Clash of the Titans.’
6. Holocaust The Nightcomers (Phoenix, 1981)
Brutal and tough Scottish NWOBHM played by one of the most unpretentious and committed sounding bands I have ever heard. Their previous 12″ single for Heavy Metal Mania is mindblowing as is the followup single for Smokin’ Valves but their first full length LP The Nightcomers is a truly complete statement. The mid-tempo riffing and rough production is a killer combination, as the the crushing weight of the songs is really emphasized by not playing them too fast. True heavy metal with attention to melody and nuance, yet still managing to unleash the most primal urges. Listen to the song Death or Glory, or better yet look up footage of them on youtube playing it in a club in Edinburgh in the early 80′s and try to not bang your head until it falls off. I dare you.
7. Lead Weight Compilation (Neat, 1981) A Neat Records sampler that is quite common even today (a great start for any NWOBHM collection and can be picked up on ebay for around 10-15 dollars) and features the classic Neat roster in peak form. Tracks from Raven, White Spirit, Venom, Axe, Blitzkrieg, Aragorn, Fist, Axis, Bitches Sin, Warrior and Satan’s Empire.
Further Listening: Seeing as the New Wave of British Metal was driven by demo cassettes, live gigs and (often) self released 7″s, the scene was so vast you could spend years unearthing new bands and still have not scratched the surface. Lars Ulrich compiled an excellent 3 CD set called ‘Lightning the Nations’ which features almost 60 tracks of top shelf NWOBHM. A great place to check out some lesser knowns and then decide if you want to explore their catalog deeper. Of course, there are more well known groups who did not make the above list but are stone cold classic and I left off due to space constraints, Angel Witch, Jaguar, Gaskin, Saxon, Samson, Raven, Pagan Altar, Witchfinder General etc. are all well worth investigating. Label compilations are always a great starting point and Heavy Metal records did the Heavy Metal Heroes series which I highly suggest too. New labels are reissuing classic titles and demos at an alarming rate and Iron Maiden is still touring. Being between a rock and hard place is good for once. —Gary Abernathy
Wishbone Ash’s self-titled debut album is a triumph of early seventies rock. It successfully merges elements of hard, folk and progressive rock to form an original compound. The album starts with the rocking but somehow stuttering “Blind Eye”. The effect is almost teasing. Next up is the harder, more progressive “Whiskey Lady”. This particular track is like Atomic Rooster in some ways: the singing, some tasty, catchy, heavy riffs, longish instrumental sections and great soloing. But then it’s not as dark as most Atomic Rooster and doesn’t feature Vincent Crane’s Hammond organ. Still, it’s an excellent track and one of my favorites from these guys. This is followed by another progressive piece, “Errors of my Way”. This is altogether much gentler with harmony singing giving it a distinctly folky feel. It’s a lovely track, and another favorite.
The second half is devoted to just two tracks. “Handy” is an almost completely instrumental track at over 11 minutes ling. It hints at some of their beautiful, gentle compositions that were to appear on the next album. This is followed by “Phoenix” another long track (over 10 minutes). This again is an almost all instrumental track. Some of the guitar playing here reminds me of early Fleetwood Mac.
“Wishbone Ash” is a great achievement for 1970. —Jim
This is Heavy Metal before the genre had all of the Rock & Roll stripped away from it. Because it still has those roots, the album is refreshingly soulful and full of rich textures. Not to worry, though, it’s still plenty fast and heavy. “Invaders” crawls under your skin and sticks with you longer than the written-to-be-catchy chorus of the album’s big hit, “Run for the Hills.” Said hit is also a stellar track, however, as is the haunting “Children of the Damned.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but “Number of the Beast” rules! If you think that Iron Maiden is hokey, dated or “Satanic,” and you haven’t actually taken to time to listen to their work, then you are doing yourself a great disservice. Don’t confuse this classic with the throwaway nostalgia that was released by scores of imitators a few years later. Intricate, pounding, powerful and creative – if those are words that describe good music to you, then look no further than “Number of the Beast.” –Lucas
Loaded with no less than four primal Purple classics, Machine Head has gone on to be the general favorite studio slab from the esteemed MKII lineup, and with good reason, as among the empty corridors of Montreux’s Grand Hotel the band and producer Martin Birch laid to tape a set that pushed the heaviness of In Rock into a focused and accessible framework. The most enduring cuts here are synonymous with Deep Purple, the open highway insanity of “Highway Star” featuring a vintage Jon Lord classical workout and Richie wailing in high harmony with himself, while the King Kong sized riff of “Smoke on the Water” melds perfectly with Gillan’s clever, autobiographical lyrics. Elsewhere there’s the extended instrumental intro to the boogiein’ “Lazy” and rocket-propelled “Space Truckin’,” while lesser renowned entries hold their own, the studly “Maybe I’m a Leo” and “Never Before” clues to the band’s funky future, “Pictures of Home” chugging along to a melancholy gallop. Again, the sound of the band from their lead booted bottom end to the warm distortion of Lord’s Hammond and Blackmore’s Strat-wrangling works it’s magic on Machine Head, birthing an enduring, steel-plated standard for all hard lovin’ rock libraries. —Ben
In 1975 the Scottish Hard Rock band Nazareth released their masterpiece, and what is one of the greatest Hard Rock albums ever recorded, Hair Of The Dog. This album is simply amazing from first to last and doesn’t have anything resembling a weak song on it. What it does have is one hard hitting earth shaking song right after another. And they are all perfectly balanced by Danny McCafferty menacing, growly Vocals and Manny Charlton snarling searing Guitars.
This album stands tall as one of the greatest Hard Rock icon albums of the 1970’s and of all time. –Karl
Any time the infamous, heavy-hatin’ thought police at Rolling Stone review an album saying “if this group makes it I’ll have to commit suicide,” you know you’re on to something good, and Uriah Heep’s debut remains a cornerstone of vintage hard rock, delivering a crushing assault that belies its 1970 release date. The bloodthirsty “Gypsy” sets things up with some burning guitar/organ interplay before diving into a Paleolithic riff over which Byron soars with layered vocals. It’s those wild, dramatic harmonies and the band’s authoritative thud that stamps these tunes as something uniquely intense and remarkable – Heep ain’t just the poor man’s Purple, folks! Check out the wild “Bird of Prey,” which predicts Queen with it’s jarring vocals (and kudos to whover swapped this in for the useless “Lucy Blues” from the UK issue), heavy boogie beast “Real Turned On,” and churning entries like “Walking in Your Shadow” and “I’ll Keep on Trying.” The melancholy ballad “Come Away Melinda,” and more involved concept pieces “Dreammare” and “Wake Up” are cool diversions from the mayhem, the band stretching out without losing the plot. Factor in a spacious, detailed production that places you right in the crossfire, and you can hear the metal being forged right inside your aching skull. —Ben
Psychedelic rock emerging from its Technicolor cocoon as a decidedly more metallic butterfly. This is one of the first metal albums and still one of the best. It runs through a quick half hour of seriously kick-ass riffs and tricky rhythms that would suffice to leave some of us sufficiently breathless were it not also for the stoner imagery and a general atmosphere of stoopid awesomeness that I find transporting—despite myself. Sure, it gets overly dopey towards the end, but most of its listeners are doped up by that point, anyway. Guitar, bass, and drums manna for those of us who like that sort of thing. As for the rest of you… well, who asked you, anyway? Highly recommended late-night listening. –Ben
Melissa unleashed the dark majesty of Mercyful Fate on welcoming hordes of eager metalheads ready to set sail on a lake of fire, the band picking up where Priest left off with their late 70′s platters of pain and injecting an elevated sophistication and malevolence embodied in the angelic blasphemor wails of King Diamond. While the edge of Melissa’s sacrifical blade is slightly dulled by the tangled fortress “Satan’s Fall” on side two, the purity of purpose in classics like “Evil,” grave robbing “Curse of the Pharaohs,” and the pummeling “Black Funeral” let loose such torrents of spectral ferocity and hell-spawned riffage that Melissa stands as an all-consuming plethora of wicked delights. –Ben
This was a pleasant surprise because I’d heard so many bad things about this album both from critics and the band themselves. Stories of being too drugged up to continue in the studio don’t seem to gel with the final product, which sounds crisp and well mixed to me, the spectacular drumming up front and Ozzy’s vocals not sounding in the least druggy. I guess there’s a lot to be said about post production. But the songs to me sound better and more musically adventurous than those on Sabotage or even the Dio era albums that followed. Particular highlights are the psychy, wah wah feel of Junior’s Eyes and Iommi’s riffage on Shock Wave. All in all, I really don’t think it was a bad album for Ozzy to bow out on. –Neal
Like everyone else my age, The Black Album was the introduction into metal and the undeniable force known as, Metallica. So, obviously I had to do a bit of working backwards to familiarize myself with their other (heavier) albums. I came to enjoy all of their 80’s material, but Ride the Lightning struck me the hardest with its tremendous sound that was brought to the forefront by James Hetfield’s growling voice, Lars Ulrich’s powerful drumming, Kirk Hammett’s severely commanding guitar playing, and Cliff Burton’s intense bass. Each member proved to be pivotal to the genius sound they created on this record and while, Master of Puppets usually gets all the accolades for being their finest, I still come back to this one much more and truly feel that it’s by far the greatest thrash metal album of all-time. –Jason