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The New Wave of British Heavy Metal (frequently abbreviated as NWOBHM or N.W.O.B.H.M.) is a heavy metal music movement that started in the late 1970s, in the United Kingdom, and achieved some international attention by the early 1980s. The era developed as a reaction in part to the decline of early heavy metal bands such as Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. NWOBHM bands toned down the blues influences of earlier acts, increased the tempo, and adopted a tougher sound, taking a more hardcore approach to its music. Not intended to win a wide audience, it was a scene directed almost exclusively at heavy metal fans. The era is considered to be a main foundation for subsequent heavy metal sub-genres with acts such as Metallica citing NWOBHM bands like Diamond Head and Motörhead as a major influence on their musical style.Characteristics
NWOBHM’s music reacted against the artifice of contemporary pop, placing an emphasis on musicianship and amplification, the former trait setting it apart from punk rock. Yet, unlike progressive rock, which placed a far greater emphasis on musical complexity, and unlike post-punk, which emphasized ‘strangeness’ and innovation, the NWOBHM thrived on volume, speed, and directness, with an idealised working class image.
Reviled or ignored by many mainstream critics in both the UK and the US, the NWOBHM nonetheless came to dominate the hard rock scene of the early-mid 1980s. NWOBHM was musically characterised by power chords, fast guitar solos and melodic, soaring vocals, with lyrical themes often drawing inspiration from mythology, fantasy fiction, and the occult. The movement’s music was, however, often surprisingly melodic, and surprisingly parallel to punk and post-punk.Decline
NWOBHM suffered the same fate as many other musical movements. First, the majority of its leading lights were unable to follow up on their initial successes. Second, many bands moved further away from the era towards mainstream hard rock, with Def Leppard in particular targeting the American market with a more refined sound despite having major success. By the mid 1980s, young rock fans searching for their own identities found a new metal scene emanating from Los Angeles led by bands such as Mötley Crüe and later Guns N’ Roses. Record companies also latched onto the L.A. scene over the NWOBHM scene because the L.A. bands brought them the one thing heavy metal hadn’t yet brought into the fold - legions of female fans. Glam metal simply proved to be more profitable for record companies during this era. In addition, thrash metal, another new but much less mainstream metal scene, had fully emerged around the same time period, which attracted many rock fans for being much faster and even heavier than NWOBHM and often having political lyrics, though the entire genre itself was largely influenced by it.
Some of the more popular bands of the movement, however, went on to considerable, lasting success. Def Leppard, despite discarding their earlier, heavier sound, became even more successful when they used MTV to play their promotional music videos, and thus commercialising their hard rock sound in order to help sales of their albums on strengths of singles. Iron Maiden and Motörhead however stayed with a more traditional heavy metal style, which won them a large and loyal fanbase even after bands with a similar sound had declined.