Neat Records’ 1981 release Lead Weight was one of the best NWOBHM compilations, featuring a whole bunch of songs you couldn’t hear anywhere else. My favourite of the bunch is Fist’s Throwing In The Towel. It tells the tale of an ageing boxer lured into the ring for a comeback bout… only to realise his thunder-crapping days are behind him. It’s got a wonderfully downtrodden chorus and there’s real tension in the verses as the staccato vocals punch and jab. It’s brilliant, inventive stuff that holds its own amongst the compilation’s heavy-hitters like Raven and Venom. Unfortunately, Throwing In The Towel was the last song this lineup of Fist released which is a shame… they could have been contenders.
Despite being dubbed “athletic rock”, Newcastle’s Raven were slow off the starting blocks. Their 1980 single Don’t Need Your Money was well-received but there was a big wait for their debut album to finally appear in October 1981. Not sure what took so long because Rock Until You Drop sounds like the power trio just rocked up to the studio and banged out their live set in one go. This is just one corker after another, crackling with raw energy and infectious enthusiasm (just check out John Gallagher’s crazed yelp at the end of Hell Patrol). And it’s loaded with classics too: from gonzo hard rockers Hard Ride, Over The Top and Don’t Need Your Money to superb Priest slashers like For The Future. I could do without the pair of Sweet covers though. They’re fun and add to the live gig vibe but I’d rather have had another Raven original or two. But it’s a minor gripe as Raven then proceed to wreck the place with the proto-thrash Lambs To The Slaughter and the mighty epic Tyrant Of The Airways. Raven might not need your money but you should fling some their way because you need this over-the-top NWOBHM madness in your life.
Y&T had, in the less streamlined guise of Yesterday & Today, made ripples in the 70s with two studio albums and their exciting live performances. But they would make major tremors with their first album of the next decade: 1981’s Earthshaker. The Bay Area band hardened their cock rock with a bold, metallic edge that positioned them (along with bands like Riot) as the Stateside answer to the new wave of heavy bands appearing in Europe.
With their powerful rhythm section, blocky riffs and Dave Meniketti’s Hagar-esque vocals, Y&T stick so close to the Montrose blueprint that they don’t score many points for originality. But these road-hardened rockers know how to show you a good time. Hungry For Rock and Dirty Girl are all pocket and swagger. Meniketti cuts loose with wild Nuge-esque guitar on Shake It Loose and Squeeze and Rescue Me cunningly reworks Zep’s Babe I’m Gonna Leave You into a stomping dancefloor anthem.
Earthshaker‘s musical one-track mind starts to wear a little thin on side two. But the rousing Hurricane, blazing Knock You Out and moody closer I Believe In You more than make up for weaker tracks like Young And Tough. And ensure that Earthshaker is a hearty, hefty serving of meat and potatoes that will satisfy anyone hungry for rock.
Blitzkrieg only managed to release one official 7″ single before splitting up in late 1981. Otherwise, they had some demos in circulation and a song Inferno on the Lead Weight compilation. Luckily for Blitzkrieg, their solitary release was impressive enough that Metallica ended up covering its eponymous B-side. This bestowed infamy and cult credibility to the defunct band and ensured their return in 1985.
But luck didn’t really have much to do with it cause Blitzkrieg is superb. The unforgettable opening riff might have been purloined from the Focus classic Hocus Pocus but it doesn’t matter because Blitzkrieg conjure up their own metal magic here. The mega-chunk guitars, deadly hooks (“let us have peace, let us have life”) and a dynamic rifferama climax make this mandatory listening. And the less-famous A-side Buried Alive isn’t too shabby either. Stark, driving metal with a piercingly catchy chorus. Just ignore the Bolanesque nonsense lyrics “the Leather Prince, turned to mince”… I can see why Metallica steered clear of that one.
It’s immediately evident from the Chuck Berry double-stops that kick off Holocaust’s 1981 debut album that this isn’t going to be as totally dark and metallic as the spooky cover and jagged band logo suggests. Only four songs on The Nightcomers fully live up to the nefarious promise of the front sleeve. Second track Death Or Glory has a chunky, stomping riff of evil, gurning magnificence. The title-track and Mavrock are excellent sludgy, doomy affairs with creepy, reverb-laden vocals and guitar lines. And the fourth is the album’s standout track, the metal-worshipping anthem Heavy Metal Mania. If you like metal at all then this song is simply impossible to resist.
Excluding those songs and the lively Nuge/UFO-style heavy boogie of opener Smokin’ Valves, what you’re left with isn’t quite as good… but it doesn’t matter. The riffs and solos are excellent throughout and the Edinburgh band has a knack with a catchy chorus so potentially uneventful tracks like Cryin’ Shame and Push It Around just manage to avoid being total filler (even if they are strangely feel-good next to the album’s heavier tracks). Even the often wobbly vocals of Gary Lettice have a naive charm and intriguingly pre-Hetfield tone and phrasing.
If you’re new to these guys you’re in luck as Metal Nation have just reissued the album on CD with the songs from three 12″ singles as bonus tracks. It’s a great package and superb example of the promising talent, youthful energy and total lack of contrivance that keeps people going back to the NWOBHM bands. Even if it’s not quite a top-tier entry from the genre, it’s not far off. An enjoyable and memorable hard rocker with a batch of tracks that are nothing less than stone-cold metal classics.
Savage’s relatively late debut album (1983’s Loose N’ Lethal) might make them seem like one of the few New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands that couldn’t lay a claim to being an influence on the mighty Metallica. But, far from being Johnny-Come-Latelies, Savage had already been around for a while. By 1981 they had already released a demo, a single and made two appearances on a compilation album Scene of the Crime. One of those compilation tracks was the classic Let it Loose and it soon made its way into the hands of, you guessed it, Lars Ulrich. Only appearing in early Metallica live sets and on a demo tape, it’s not one of the more famous or celebrated Metallica NWOBHM covers but there’s a strong whiff of the thrash giants’ early style here. And although ‘tallica didn’t exactly pass it off as one of their own they weren’t in a hurry to draw attention to the fact that it was a cover either. And, if any listeners thought it was one of their own original songs, that was fine by them too. Have a listen to the 1981 Scene of the Crime version of the track here to hear why.