Tape Wyrm LI: NWOBHM Singles Tape Wyrm LI: NWOBHM Singles

TWlogo3I have always enjoyed New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) singles for a variety of reasons. One, they are amazing. But that is just a personal judgment. A more substantial attachment is rooted in the style’s bridge between the mainstream and the development of underground heavy metal. While NWOBHM was a very grassroots movement, combining the ferocity of punk and the attitude of heavy metal, the style was still a part of mainstream accessibility — or at least, a variation of it. When investigating NWOBHM, one will encounter a plethora of 7 inch singles. For whatever reason, NWOBHM was driven by singles. Whether or not people thought this style had the potential to sell single songs as massive hits is unknown. Perhaps the decade prior of heavy metal appeal led others to believe the singles market would dominate a new decade of heavy metal. It did not, and most legendary NWOBHM material survives in full length form. The singles market, however, is far from dead — at least with the commercial 80’s.Because of its niche appeal, there are some who are dedicated to collecting NWOBHM singles. These are people who are super into buying records and have found excitement in the limited availability and attention for this music. Additionally, the single as an entity is interesting within the confines of heavy metal. As a format, these two or three songs usually act as the band’s resume to make themselves well-known among all of the other bands putting out the same type of sound. Much like garage in the 70’s, there existed for a couple of year a wave of similar sounding material that was all pretty amazing. Again, personal judgment. Below are twenty amazing NWOBHM singles chosen by myself and Tape Wyrm’s veteran guest, Deathofthesun. I expect you to have us both over so we can look through your crates of records.

After Dark – Evil Woman(1981)
Where are we starting? With some organ and a slight 70’s hard rock hangover? After Dark may not sound like the proto typical NWOBHM but once that twin guitar hits, there will be no question of its reason for being here. The band members from After Dark did absolutely nothing following two singles and a debut release. None of them even went on to join any other bands except for Michael Hare who played guitars in the lesser known Iron Heart in the late 80’s. Wait, the band sort of got back together in the mid 90’s. Wait, nevermind. Just this single.

Demon – Liar(1980)
Fuck yes, Demon. If you are not aware of this band’s first two albums, Night of the Demon and The Unexpected Guest leave now to go purchase any remaining vinyl copies. Aside from Demon shaking the earth with solid hard rock, the band’s early work is entirely centered around the occult. Well, except for their bluesy first single, which is more of a beer fueled bitch fest about unfaithful women. Whether fascination or devotion, Demon’s darkness drapes quite nicely over electric riffs and gang vocals. Personally, I think their work matured in The Unexpected Guest but their debut single is more than enough to earn them a gold NWOBHM star. Just don’t do Demon wrong.

Bashful Alley – My My My (1982)
Out of all of the NWOBHM singles, Bashful Alley may be one of the more popular selections. Along with Traitors Gate, the singles from this Lichfield trio is revisited with great intensity. “My My My” was the b-side to “Running Blind” and, for all intents and purposes, is a better song. Though “Running Blind” has a great guitar lead, the intensity in “My My My” is far better, and without the simple verse chorus hook of its A-Side. It has an unhinged 70’s heavy metal fever that courses through its veins. The cover is great as well. I want their faces on a baseball tee in 1983. Someone needs to invent a time machine right fucking now.

Hell – Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us (1983)
Hell is strange. Hell is strange because they just released their first record two years ago. They were just working up to it. Calm down. If you listened to Human Remains, Hell’s original demos, then you pretty much know what to expect since they followed the same format. By that I mean it sort of sounded the same in every way, minus the lead vocals. Original vocalist Dave G. Halliday committed suicide in 1986 following the collapse of Hell’s first debut and dissolution of the band. This is the backdrop to Hell, which seems to be doing quite nice at the moment. Preserved in a handful of demos, the wailing wild vocals of Halliday are like a punk rouge musical, which take way more time to get used to than most. After about 20 listens, however, they start to become amazing. Until then however, you should see your face.

Traitors Gate – Devil Takes the High Road(1985)
(Windscape) Traitors Gate’s single came out in 1985, which is really pushing it in terms of the traditional / NWOBHM border. I assume that Traitors Gate would be axed from this NWOBHM discussion if this single was any less than damn awesome. Wait. It is so it stays. No. Fuck you. Devil Takes the High Road follows two demos of lesser quality. The 84 demo is still decent with songs like “ Take a Chance on the Night” but nothing comes close to Devil Takes the High Road. Traitor’s Gate is a band that could have made an amazing debut if this was their warm up. Now let us check what the band did after this. Oh, look at that. Absolutely nothing. Don’t be a wimp and take the low road, listen to more Traitor’s Gate.

High Treason – Saturday Night Special(1980)
I really like High Treason for very selfish reasons. Oh shit. Listen to those guitars. If anything, High Treason remains one of my favorite NWOBHM singles for their simple and effective use of harmonized guitars, which can now be heard in video game cover bands everywhere. I cannot speak of anything they did after that, which was nothing until their 2006 hard rock / blues album Radio Will Find Me, which is hilariously more obscure than their NWOBHM output, which is exactly this single. Do not hope for much with High Treason, or any other band on this list, after these singles. They did not go on to have long healthy lives. For now, however, enjoy the razor sharp double dragon-esque sounds of Saturday Night Special.

Salem – Cold as Steel (1981)
From the band’s aptly named 1981 Demo, to be followed by 1982 Single, and then finally concluded in 1983 Demo and 1983 Demo #2. I only make fun because this whole process seemed very mechanical and seemed to be working up to an album that never happened. All that remains from Salem is a neatly organized compilation, artless demos, and a small legacy of heavy metal that makes great accompaniment to drinking with friends. Seriously. I will buy Salem a drink next time I see them.

Mendes Prey – On to the Borderline (1982)
Oh shit, is this same guy who sang in the earlier NWOBHM band Trespass? Yes? Awesome. No? Nothing? I wonder when I will get to the bands that started with singles and then had a healthy career after. Mendes Prey has exactly two singles with a total of 4 songs to their name. This is one of them and it is awesome. Despite it sounding very similar to, well everything else, Mendes Prey has the charm that makes their two metal songs memorable enough to at least to put in a NWOBHM article. Oh yeah, they totally jumped ship after this single to make more synth heavy pop. Also their “Wonderland” single has a cover that will get your ass kicked if you bring it out in public. Just saying.

Quartz – Satan’s Serenade
Quartz is another interesting case as their short 3 song single, Satan’s Serenade, comes in the middle of their catalog. If you have not heard me rave about this band’s 1977 self titled debut then we need to hang out more. Quartz has always done the same thing and they were just standing around when NWOBHM hit. Because they already fit the right sound and they lived down the street, Satan’s Serenade got caught up in the street sweeper. This should not be an excuse to not listen to Quartz. I mean look at that album cover. Listen to the guitar cut like razors. Fuck, go out and get their debut. I love Quartz more than Demon and Mendes Prey’s “Wonderland” single.

Radium – Making Changes(1982)
Fuck it, I admit it. I just pulled this band because of their name. Who names their band Radium? And on a record label named Isotope?!? That is awesome! Oh dear lord this sounds terrible. Fuck it, I want a shirt. This rocks. You know what, aside from the terrible production this could be awesome. I already bought a shirt so I am justifying it.

Satan – Kiss of Death (recorded 1981/released 1982)
The first four song demo Satan set to tape wound up going to two sources – “Oppression” and “The Executioner” landed on the Roxcalibur compilation, while “Kiss of Death” and “Heads Will Roll” were released as this 7″ single. A lot rougher around the edges than what was to come on the ’83 classic Court in the Act full-length, at this point Satan had yet to one out from underneath its influences, namely early Maiden and Motörhead, with a little Sabbath thrown in for measure. Original singer Trevor Robinson’s delivery was vicious and feral compared to future frontman Brian Ross’ smooth midrange and falsetto flights, and guitar duo Russ Tippins and Steve Ramsey were still working their way up to the sunning performances they’d soon unleash.
Which isn’t to say this material is somehow lacking – it still puts to shame a lot of their contemporaries, and it’s only a testament to the strength of their songwriting that none of the first four songs (great as they were) would wind up making the cut for Court. Even at this early stage the band’s grasp on dynamics was impressive, especially on “Heads Will Roll,” and the single is a nice portent of things to come.

Trespass – One of These Days(1979)
One of the most puzzling “How the hell did this band not rocket to stardom?!” cases in the entire NWOBHM, Trespass had songs that should’ve conquered the world. A-side “One of These Days” opens with a slow, haunting lead that soon gives way to a driving, powerful feel. Heartfelt, morose vocals matched by a lot of top-notch guitar playing – it’s basically “747 (Strangers in the Night),” only a few years earlier. They’d re-record it the following year for the Metal For Muthas II comp, but this is the better version. (Their other song on the comp, “Stormchild,” is just as incredible.) B-side “Bloody Moon” ratchets up the guitar harmonies and comes off like Schenker-era UFO with a really depressed Phil Mogg at the helm. And make no mistake, their songs were so well written they wouldn’t have seemed out of place on Lights Out or No Heavy Petting. There are two copies of this single on Discogs right now for $15 each, and I’m not exaggerating in the slightest to say the content would be worth paying a hundred times that price.

Aragorn – Black Ice (1981)
Mostly remembered for being the originator of the vicious guitar tone faithfully cloned by one Tom G. Warrior, the music on Aragorn’s lone single is pretty damn worthy of remembrance as well. They weren’t quite Venom-level filthy in concept and execution, but this is still some pretty scuzzed-out stuff. The intro of A-side “Black Ice” goes through some baffling changes (alternately presaging Black Metal’s title track and sounding like an AOR band trying out Warrior’s guitar rig) before the song finally takes shape, while B-side “Noonday” kicks off with a hilariously misleading mellow intro before diming the raunch knob. Solid, raucous, rockin’ stuff.

Virtue – We Stand to Fight (1985)
Arriving near the tail end of the movement was one of its brightest moments. A-side “We Stand to Fight” tends to get the glory, but B-side “High Treason” is moodier and, well, just plain better. “We Stand to Fight” sets its sights squarely on Maiden with a soaring twin-guitar intro followed by verse and chorus riffs straight out of the Harris handbook. The more dynamic B-side sits closer to Satan and Priest, sealing the deal with a dark ending that far outshines the overlong guitar exercise that closes out “We Stand to Fight.”
Apart from this single, before splitting for good Virtue also managed the Fool’s Gold demo in ’87 – almost as good and just as highly recommended.

Black Axe – Highway Rider (1980)
Gorgeously crafted and soaringly melodic, Black Axe (and later as Wolf) were one of the movement’s standout bands on the lighter side of things. A-side “Highway Rider” and uptempo B-side “Red Lights” both showcase a knack for disgustingly good vocal melodies along with musicianship seldom rivaled by their contemporaries. Thankfully this was still when technicality was a means rather than the end, so it all ends up wonderfully serving the songs. Imagine if Dark Star had more than one song on the level of “Lady of Mars” – that’d be Black Axe.
After a name-change to Wolf, the band would manage another single in ’82 and the End of the World full-length (featuring re- recordings of both songs from this single) in ’84- both top notch and highly, highly recommended.

Hollow Ground – Warlord (1980)
The A-side of this EP alone could earn it a spot on any best-of list for NWOBHM. Putting their best foot forward, Hollow Ground commence to smashing your skull in with the power and epic melodicism of “Flying High,” which wouldn’t be out of place on an album like Battle Cry or Crystal Logic. Follow-up “Warlord” keeps the pace but swaps the feel for pure Diamond Head magic, right down to the killer note runs Brian Tatler was so fond of. The B-side cools thing off a bit with the midtempo hard rocker “Rock On” (not bad, but definitely the weakest song here) before closing things off with “Don’t Chase the Dragon,” a heavier take on the Tatler-y riffing heard earlier backed with great drumming. A high-price rarity in its original form, if I’m not mistaken an official version of the bootleg discography LP from five or six years ago should be out shortly.

Crucifixion – Take it Or Leave It (1982)
For once, forget the A-side. It’s okay. The hellish scream at the beginning rules, but apart from that it gets massively overshadowed by B-side “On the Run.” Determined to ride one chord progression into the ground from start to finish, “On the Run” offers up a killer guitar harmony and irrepressible gang-shouted chorus, neither of which is likely to ever leave your head after the first listen. All credit due to revivalists Züül for extending the song by about a minute and a half on their cover version – it could be four times as long and no one would complain.

Scarab – Poltergeist (1982)
Like a garage-y version of Maiden’s earliest epics, Scarab’s “Poltergeist” combines a flair for the dramatic with some appropriately creepy atmosphere … and I could swear Entombed swiped one of the riff endings for the “Defiled is the cross hanging around your neck” part in “Living Dead.” It’s rough around the edges, but definitely in a good way. B-side “Hell on Wheels” follows similar suit, somewhat reminiscent of Hell’s off- kilter tendencies in places. While most of it didn’t surface at the time, these guys had a lot of top-shelf material – the Rolling Like Thunder 2CD or 2LP+7″ collection of their ’80s recordings can’t be recommended enough, and their crushingly heavy comeback EP A Soul For a Soul remains one of the absolute highlights released in the last 15 years.

Arc – War of the Ring (1981)
You’re just going to have to get past the off-key wail that kneecaps the end of the A-side ‘s opening lyric. The tale of Lord of the Rings set to fittingly triumphant music, apart from that one moment, “War of the Ring” is epic doom through and through … pretty much the birth of the style, since it wouldn’t be heard again until Candlemass showed up and gave the style a proper name.
B-side “Ice Cream Theme” isn’t as goofy as the name would imply, though it also pales pretty mightily next to the A-side. On the plus side, instead you can always listen to “War of the Ring” again. And again. And again, and again, and ..

Persian Risk – Calling For You (1981)
One more from the lighter side. With the hooks and potential to match early Tokyo Blade, Persian Risk managed two great singles before falling off mightily on subsequent efforts. A pre-Motörhead Phil Campbell douses the A-side in great leads, taking flight at every opportunity and showing off a airy grace that thankfully hasn’t come within a mile of appearing on any Motörhead recording to date. B-side “Chase the Dragon” stands defiantly in the face of Hollow Ground’s warning, but is really only noteworthy for Campbell putting a thinly-disguised version of riff to much better use in Motörhead’s “Make My Day.” With originals impossibly expensive, the good news is the same recording of the A-side can be found on the essential Heavy Metal Heroes vol. 2 comp, which goes for about one-tenth of the price and also features a lot of other great stuff.

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