NWOBHM: A Legacy That Changed The World (2024)

If anyone wondered how NWOBHM influenced the music industry, the brief mention of Iron Maiden or Judas Priest should quickly answer their question. But some need to be educated on the topic.

What is NWOBHM? The New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) influenced the music industry throughout the 1970s and 1980s, with many British bands mixing technical playing styles with fast tempos and soaring vocals producing high chart sales and making millions of dollars worldwide tours.

The NWOBHM transformed the industry throughout the 1970s and 1980s, with bands becoming bolder in style, playing techniques, and presence on stage. It’s a revolution that caused bands in Europe and the US to take notice and embrace the changes to be successful and create their legacy. So let’s see how NWOBHM influenced the music industry.

NWOBHM and The Prog-Rock Platform

British bands have continually been redefining the shape of rock music, whether it was the pop persona of The Beatles or the oozing charisma of The Rolling Stones. Yet, the experimental whims of prog-rock would prove to be the true inspiration for many NWOBHM bands.

You only have to look at how Led Zeppelin fused other genres into their music or the experimental sounds utilized by Pink Floyd to see how different their music was from other big acts.

The bluesy guitar playings of Jimmy Page and Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore inspired guitar players to step their playing techniques a step further than many other known guitarists. These laid the foundations for emerging bands to take the mantle one step further based on their free-flowing styles and adapt it to the next level.

Alongside these new playing styles came bands growing in presence on stage to live up to the rockstar persona. Whether it was the livewire animations of Keith Moon or the makeup-clad look of Ozzy Ozbourne with Black Sabbath, both fans and media loved it.

You couldn’t escape reading about the antics of these individuals from week to week, building upon their legend. The myths behind the people inspired many to be larger than life on stage.

Black Sabbath – Paranoid

If you are looking at all of the early inspirations for NWOBHM, look no further than Black Sabbath and their hit song “Paranoid.”

You get all the crazy traits Ozzy is known for in the video, with his demonic looks overlaid with visual effects making him stand out even more. Tony Iommi epitomizes everything NWOBHM had behind its fame.

Fast chugging chords? Check. Melodic and flowing solo? Check. Songs like “Paranoid” set the standard for decades to come.

The Power Behind NWOBHM Music

It’s hard to see how different bands could put this all together into one new genre, given the breadth of NWOBHM bands. No matter how bands delivered their signature style, you could always find some fundamental similarities.

The most obvious was the mighty ranges of the vocalists. From the near-operatic tones of Bruce Dickinson to the varying wails of Rob Halford, it was a new style that dominated songs from the start.

What makes the styles of these vocalists stand out, though, is the sheer variations in vocals and conveying emotion. It was common to hear low, almost demonic tones in verses and bridges that prove ultimately deceptive.

These low tones would give way to surging and soaring choruses. These strong vocals would step up multiple octaves with high-pitched wails that crowds lapped up as songs reached their crescendo.

Moving these peaks and troughs kept listeners entertained throughout the entire song and always hearing something different with each playback.

Complementing the vocals, though, was layers and layers of instrumental sounds that drove songs forward. You would often have the galloping bass lines working in tandem with dual guitarists echoing riffs building the music up and breaking down again before rising to a solo section.

It wouldn’t be uncommon on the solos for guitarists to trade-off and replicate what each other played. Bands often took a “call and response” style, twisting it the varying solo types of different players gave songs an added edge not seen before in any popular music style.

Iron Maiden – Hallowed Be Thy Name

If any NWOBHM song uses instrumentation to tell a story, there is none better than Iron Maiden’s “Hallowed Be Thy Name.” The song builds everything up to match the mood until the ending rush and tells the story of a prisoner’s trip to the gallows.

The slow start with the low melancholic drones of Bruce Dickinson gives way later onto driving dual solos from Dave Murray and Adrian Smith before the rushing outro comes in.

The galloping bass riff of Steve Harris with Dickinson wailing “Hallowed Be Thy Name” sounds of sheer fear and desperation of the subject as his end draws near. A perfect example of how NWOBHM influenced so many in the music world.

How NWOBHM Influenced All Forms of Rock

Seeing the success of NWOBHM bands such as Iron Maiden in both the UK and the US wasn’t left noted by other emerging bands at the time. It came when many acts from continental Europe were struggling to find success in English-speaking markets until they embraced some of the principles of NWOBHM.

It would certainly be a gamble worth taking for some acts like Germany’s The Scorpions and Sweden’s Europe. Whether it was Michael Schenker’s diverse vocal range or Europe incorporating driving rhythms into their hit singles, the influence was clear to see.

Even in America, the influences of NWOBHM were identifiable in some of their most successful bands. The driving riffs in verses would set the basis for bands such as Slayer and Anthrax to pioneer the American thrash movement.

Even hardcore punk bands dabbled with it as Bad Religion and Sick of It All fused NWOBHM with punk formats to create the hardcore punk movement that dominated the 1990s East Coast.

Moving further south to Latin nations such as Brazil, you can see these influences, with Sepultera and Soulfly emerging with their darker mix of thrash and NWOBHM.

On stage, the energetic and dramatic displays also gave bands more room to experiment with their entire identity. Not every band would go as far as creating their own “Eddie,” but the use of pyro, props, and playing to the crowd was much more prevalent.

The over-exuberance of lead singers now became a must-have even in the world of metal, and the actions of stars like Rob Halford and Ozzy Osbourne would influence future stars like Bret Michaels and Axl Rose further down the line.

The Hurricanes – Rock You Like A Hurricane

Perhaps the most significant act of Germany in the 1980s, The Scorpions was a band that managed to break into the lucrative English markets. The pinnacle of their success comes with the 1984 anthem “Rock You Like A Hurricane.”

The influences are clear to see whether it was the surging bridge into the big chorus, driving chords mixed with a big solo, and Michael Schenker’s dynamic vocals throughout the song. The song was a massive hit in the US and combined NWOBHM traits with the hair metal look that was all the range. It was a great mix of styles that showcased the broader influence of NWOBHM on international bands.

Definitive NWOBHM Bands That Changed The Face Of Music


Barnsley’s Saxon is the bridesmaid of the NWOBHM era, yet they were often just as successful as some of their more mainstream brethren. Enjoying massive success in continental Europe, Saxon’s big sound and epic solos helped them sell over 15 million records altogether.

Saxon has not failed to chart in the album charts in Germany since 1981, and their 2018 release Thunderbolt cracked the top ten for the first time.

Defining Albums:

  • Wheels of Steel
  • Strong Arm of the Law
  • Power & The Glory


Best known for giving Metallica their debut on British soil, Raven’s influence is often underrated. Forming in 1974, the Newcastle-based band proved themselves to be some of the technically best musicians in the genre.

Their whole sound is cited to inspired bands worldwide, from Anthrax to Megadeth putting out a new platform for others to follow.

Defining Albums

  • Rock Until You Drop
  • Wiped Out
  • All For One

Diamond Head

If Metallica covers multiple songs of a band, there is no questioning their legitimacy. Diamond Head’s mix of metal and prog formed a sound like no other.

Throw in some of the best technical musicians around, and it was a recipe for success. The cult following of the band has never ceased to exist, with tracks such as “Am I Evil” known across the world.

Defining Albums:

  • Lightning to the Nations
  • Death & Progress
  • Diamond Head


The instant moment you hear the gruff vocals of Lemmy or the driving rhythm sections immediately tells you what a Motorhead song is. The success of “Ace of Spades” as an all-time anthem showcases just what the band is about.

Other well-known staples include “Overkill” or “Bomber.” With a following that features in mainstream media such as WWE and the Guitar Hero franchise, there is no doubting Motorhead’s legacy.

Defining Albums

  • Overkill
  • Ace Of Spades
  • Iron Fist

Def Leppard

Straddling the line between NWOBHM and hair metal, Def Leppard were the quintessential superstars of the British scene. Many of their songs had massive hooks, and the twin guitar sound of Phil Collen and Steve Clarke was unmatched by any other band in the industry.

With two diamond-certified records and over 100 million record sales worldwide, it’s little wonder why Def Leppard continues to inspire musicians to the current day.

Defining Albums:

  • Pyromania
  • Hysteria
  • Adrenalize

Iron Maiden

If you were to create a genuine NWOBHM band from scratch, the result would be Iron Maiden. They’ve got all the NWOBHM wins:

  • Soaring vocals
  • Melodic riffs and solos
  • Driving bass lines

The result is that Iron Maiden has a cult following unlike any other band in the world. With their theatrical live shows, the Eddie logo in the background, and four platinum records in the US, it’s no wonder why Maiden is still a tour de force decades since they first started.

Defining Albums:

  • The Number of the Beast
  • Piece of Mind
  • Powerslave
  • A Matter Of Life & Death

NWOBHM’s Renaissance to NWOTHM

The fading of NWOBHM in the early 1990s into different subgenres evolved seemed to spark the end of its place in the music industry. However, the cornerstones of NWOBHM still lingered in some subsections of the scene.

However, the genre’s demise was a bit off. The rejuvenation of the genre has come with the rebirth of one of its pioneers – Iron Maiden. Maiden’s comeback album A Matter of Life and Death in 2006 gave the entire scene an adrenaline boost with their classic lineup reuniting to put together the album.

Once again featuring Maiden’s signature melodic riffs and the soaring vocals of newly re-joined frontman Bruce Dickinson, the album was a major commercial and critical hit. The album’s lead single – “Different World” – hit number 3 in the British charts and number 1 in both Finland and Spain.

It backed up an album that reached several new heights for the band, including numerous top spots across Europe, including platinum certification in Finland, and even breaking into the Billboard 200 top ten for the first time in their career.

NWOBHM’s modern age revival inspired a new wave of bands to try out the genre. Rather than following the thrash and metalcore trends, more and more bands were keen to try out a more traditional heavy metal style. This return began the evolution of NWOBHM into the newly-formed NWOTHM.

The Birth of NWOTHM

As the name suggests, the New Wave Of Traditional Heavy Metal (NWOTHM) became the evolution of NWOBHM. This time, the genre was not just rooted in the British Isles.

Bands in Europe, North America, and even Asia took up the mantle and were keen to see how they would fare trying out the characteristics of NWOBHM. Some slight variations allowed NWOTHM to stand out as its distinct subgenre.

Changes of NWOTHM

  • Vocals deliveries were much more emotional.
  • Lead singers emphasized sections with lower brooding vocals for darker passages before soaring crescendos reached almost an operatic echelon as the climax neared.
  • People found riffs not to be as clean and crisp as the NWOBHM bands in the 1980s.
  • The crunchier and fuller sounds remained from hardcore and thrash even if they segued into clean and technical solos later in the song.

Of course, these variations did not hide away from the many similarities shared with its roots in NWOBHM. The fast and galloping basslines were never far away, along with solos that relied heavily on tapping “wahs” and dueling sections. Throwing this in with the pounding and rapid pace of double bass drums showed that NWOTHM was the evolution NWOBHM needed to survive in the modern age.

The evolution didn’t quite reach the same heights as what NWOBHM did on its debut. While stalwarts like Iron Maiden and Def Leppard enjoy success with records and touring, newer bands have had to rely on carving a cult following.

Some record labels such as Germany’s Nuclear Blast Records and Britain’s Earache Records have devoted themselves to promoting NWOTHM bands to critical acclaim. The likes of Norway’s Enforcer and Canada’s Cauldron earned many plaudits for their records even if sales didn’t break into the mainstream as bands in the 1980s would.

Instead, NWOTHM has found itself in a place where it reminds fans of the influences of NWOBHM to the world and how bands can adapt it into a thriving modern-day sound.

Final Thoughts on How NWOBHM Influenced the World

Looking back on everything, it’s not hard to see how NWOBHM influenced the music world. It built on techniques and tricks utilized by musical legends to create a new genre that pushed boundaries even further.

Led by charismatic figures and talented musicians, acts such as Iron Maiden and Motorhead have gone on to be some of the most successful bands of all time and still inspire musicians today.

Even with the transition into the NWOTHM movement, the characteristics of what made NWOBHM so game-changing remain relevant in the industry today, seen by its continued cult following worldwide. By influencing artists worldwide decades after it was at the height of fame, it shows how NWOBHM influenced the music industry and created a lasting legacy to this day.

NWOBHM: A Legacy That Changed The World (2024)
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