NWOBHM has always been an overshadowed genre as far as metal goes. But before we continue, just a little history lesson for those who are unfamiliar. For those who are, skip on.
In the late 70’s and early 80’s there was an explosion of British bands on the metal scene; you had bands like Motörhead, Budgie, Iron Maiden, Samson, Def Leppard, Witchfinder General, Diamond Head, Venom, Tokyo Blade amongst others. Critics adequately titled this emergence as the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal”; the original wave being of course the one that preceded years earlier with bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zepplin and so on. Influenced by the British punk movement of the 70’s bands like Motörhead and Iron Maiden would adopt a faster and more aggressive playing style than their predecessors. But other than the initial wave NWOBHM has seen little to no new material from it. Some bands would go onto super-stardom while others like Angel Witch would fade into obscurity.
That is, until now.
It seems that metal is really enjoying a renaissance. We’ve seen the successful return of the Teutonic thrash group Exumer, new albums from Accept, Overkill, Kreator and yet more to come from Sodom, and Testament. Some of these bands are just coming back, while others have grown and drastically altered their sound to fit in with the times. Let’s face it, metal is a genre which is a bit of an arms race; bands are constantly one-upping each other in terms of heaviness, the ones who fail to change and adapt are usually shunned and forgotten. With this in mind, does a considerably dated NWOBHM sound stack up to the likes of the aforementioned bands? In some ways yes, in some ways no.
As Above, So Below is an album set in the ways of the past; if you are expecting a new sound here you’re looking in the wrong place. Go look for crunk-core elsewhere. The wide-open reverb of the past is back and fully embellished; so is the Black Sabbath inspired use of dark imagery, tritones, minor scales and that over charged thumping bass line is more than plentiful. This is not an imitation, but a representation of NWOBHM at it’s finest. Tracks like “Witching Hour” and “Guillotine” really showcase that heaviness can come from a playing style older than the majority of the people reading this article. However, the age of the genre really does show on tracks like “Into the Dark” which are more of a driving-in-your-Camaro-hard-rock sound more akin to Blue Oyster Cult. It’s by no means a weak point, but it does showcase the different influences of the genre and the off shoots may turn off people looking for the heaviest record in existence. Little are the moments in the album that make the attention wane; there are tonnes of great solos, catchy choruses and plenty of galloping guitars a la Heart and Iron Maiden. The band also manages to jam out some pretty sweet dual harmonies evil enough to raise up Lucifer himself. In the 50 minutes from beginning to end there are few things to complain about except the sole opinion that it does take a while for the album to hit its groove. This however, is probably due to the fact that the latter half of the album overshadows the first few songs by a long shot.
All in all, in a time over drenched with new genres it’s great to hear pioneers like Angel Witch holding firm to their guns and laying waste to any naysayers. It truly proves that genres never die; the media just shifts it’s attention elsewhere. Maybe more of the NWOBHM bands of yesteryear will reappear? Persian Risk could always reform and so could Witchfinder General. Hollow Ground could always come out of the woodwork or the still surviving bands like Sweet Savage and Blitzkrieg could inspire a new generation of musicians and we could have an NNWOBHM? Anything is possible, so long as bands keep putting out such solid work like As Above, So Below.