How did Iron Maidens' mascot Eddie come about

Forty years ago, young English bands invented a new, groundbreaking wave of heavy metal. Bands like Iron Maiden and Motörhead shortened hard rock to punk - their influence can still be felt today.

  • In the late 1970s, when heavy metal bands had become boring from the start, young British musicians reinvented the genre.
  • Bands and fans came mostly from the working class, who suffered from unemployment and a lack of prospects - tough circumstances that you can hear the music.
  • The influences of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal can still be felt today.

Lemmy Kilmister didn't give a damn under his cowboy boots whether he was part of a youth movement. “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” - what should that be? It was the late seventies and Lemmy's new band Motörhead had the hardest, fastest sound around. Deep Purple? Dissolved. Black Sabbath? A shadow of themselves. Led Zeppelin? Got boring. He didn't want to be lumped together with a few nostalgic greenhorns by the press. “We play Rock’n’Roll!” Postulated the old hand, who had already worked as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix. Lemmy knew: Heavy Metal is dead.

Today heavy metal is a reliably successful market segment

How to be wrong. Today heavy metal is a huge - and reliable - segment of the music market. "In 2020 so far 170 metal albums have been placed in the official German charts," says Hans Schmucker of the market analyst GfK Entertainment, "almost three times as many as ten years ago". What is remarkable is that the music and the sign language of today's bands can easily be traced back to 1980. The year in which said greenhorns - Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Saxon and hundreds of others - finally arrived in the mainstream with their new wave.

Like so many creative spurts in pop music, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal came about because young people - mostly white men in this case - had too much free time and no prospects. England's economy was in decline in the second half of the 1970s, heavy industry withered away, and young working-class people couldn't find jobs even as unskilled laborers. Punk with its aggressive amateurism was a way to let off steam, disco a hedonistic place of longing.

The most important heavy metal albums of 1980

Iron Maiden: "Iron Maiden"

Motörhead: "Ace of Spades"

Saxon: "Wheels of Steel"

Diamond Head: "Lightning to the Nations"

Judas Priest: "British Steel"

Angel Witch: "Angel Witch"

Black Sabbath: "Heaven and Hell"

Ozzy Osbourne: "Blizzard of Ozz"

AC / DC: “Back in Black

But especially in the impotent proletarian milieu one found the darkly distorted guitar walls of heavy metal, its demonstrative powerhouse, the imaginative preoccupation with the unpleasant aspects of existence (and the afterlife!) Still attractive. And because the old heroes faltered, a nationwide scattered underground scene formed, which short-circuited the old metal virtues with the euphoria and aggressiveness of punk. Biff Byford, singer of the band Saxon, recalls that they were amateurish but ambitious. "It's a bit like Facebook today, where everyone posts something and hopes it will go viral."

Def Leppard wanted to get into the charts, Venom grunted about death and the devil

As is so often the case, the media brought everything down to a common denominator - journalists coined the term New Wave of British Heavy Metal and the bulky abbreviation NWOBHM - which alone made it clear what a Babylonian mess this new hardship actually was: There was Def Leppard from Sheffield who made it clear that at some point they wanted to play in arenas (which they succeeded in the mid-eighties when they sold as many records with their melodious sound as Michael Jackson). At the other end of the spectrum stood Venom from Newcastle, who did not master their instruments and could not play a straight beat, but launched an infernally fast pounding while "singer" Cronos grunted of Death and the Devil. Satan was never worshiped, he said later. All the sharp rivets, the occult were just entertainment. “We wanted to be the Kiss from Newcastle.” Today Venom are the godparents for all extreme metal varieties.

What all bands had in common was their theatricality, the adolescent hooded swank that has always been found ridiculous in heavy metal: long hair, tight pants, the lyrics - mostly sexually prepotent odes to wine, women and screaming or Tolkien's battle paintings - the male band pathos . All of this welded the scene together back then and still does it today. If you wanted to blaspheme others - you were a sworn tribe. Times might be tough - but you were tougher.

Without this “new wave” Metallica would never have existed

All the diversity of the new wave is exemplified by its most famous representative: the band Iron Maiden. Their singer Paul Di’Anno was a young punk who never really hit the high marks, rather had the organ of a football hooligan - and thus fit in very well with the comic monster "Eddie" that graced the band's record sleeves. Songwriter and bassist Steve Harris, on the other hand, composed tricky mini-operas. It was almost logical that the band Di’Anno soon scored for voice miracle Bruce Dickinson, with whom they advanced to become a heavy metal prototype. Nevertheless: Not least thanks to Di’Annos unpolishedness, the debut album “Iron Maiden” is considered the crown jewel of the NWOBHM.

The record was released on April 14, 1980 by the music giant EMI. After years in which the scene had at best released singles on obscure small labels, 1980 was the year in which it gained worldwide attention, big record labels bit big record labels - and the influence on other bands became clear. Even a band like Diamond Head, which did not make their famous debut with any company, achieved fame because Metallica later named them as their main influence and covered their songs.

Even the old metal dinosaurs came back to life in 1980

Suddenly even dinosaurs like Black Sabbath came to life, who recorded “Heaven and Hell” with new singer Ronnie James Dio, one of their best LPs. And also Dios's predecessor Ozzy Osbourne, who was exposed for excessive drug abuse, showed astonishing quality with his solo debut "Blizzard of Ozz". Judas Priest, who were already a few years under their belt, presented themselves with "British Steel" on the amount of time. And even AC / DC showed in 1980 with their magnum opus "Back in Black" that not only the death of their singer Bon Scott but also the NWOBHM had left their mark.

Very few of the young and savages were commercially successful. Still, you defined heavy metal as we know it. Ultimately, they also ensured that Motörhead is as popular today as it never was in the early days. “Ace of Spades”, the band's most famous album - from 1980 of course - is now coming out in a classy deluxe box. It will sell well. But that might have cared less for Grantler Lemmy, who died in 2015, than the youth movement, of which he was somehow part.

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