Essential listening: NWOBHM
Check out these songs and albums to get a basic understanding of what happened during the New Wave of British Heavy Metal from about 1980 and a few years ahead. These were the bands that saved heavy metal!
New Wave of British Heavy Metal is not to be understood as a subgenre in itself because musically the NWOBHM bands played somewhat different kinds of heavy metal. Still, all of these bands share the same musical genes as they emerged before heavy metal clearly split into different subgenres. They are generally heavyer, faster and more consistently so than the bands from the early and mid 1970's. Most of them were also a reaction to the punk scene late in the decade..
At the risk of simplyfying, it might make sense to sort the bands from the movement into three broad categories:
1) Bands that achieved great success and/or legend status, like Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Motörhead and Saxon.
2) Bands that were not so successful but were a huge inspiration to later bands and subgenres, like Venom, Diamond Head, Raven and Angel Witch.
3) Bands that were already established acts in 1980 but jumped on the wave or were merely taken by it and surfed it like pros, like Judas Priest and Motörhead.
(As you can see, the complexity of the NWOBHM movement placed Lemmy's gang in two of the categories...)
It's important to understand that NWOBHM was an important driving force in cementing heavy metal as a distinct genre and subculture beyond the movement itself. For example, both Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne (now going solo) had succesful comeback albums in 1980.
Iron Maiden: "Running Free"
Judas Priest: "Breaking the Law"
Motörhead: "Ace of Spades
Diamond Head: "Am I Evil"
Iron Maiden: "The Number of the Beast"
Iron Maiden: Iron Maiden (1980)
Judas Priest: British Steel (1980)
Motörhead: Ace of Spades (1980)
Saxon: Wheels of Steel (1981)
Iron Maiden: The Number of the Beast (1982)
Note. The flagship of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was definitely Iron Maiden. Basically evey Maiden album from the 1980's are essentiel listening but since this article is about the beginning of the decade we picked out only two of them...