Nearly 40 years after its brief, blazing heyday, a common perception of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal is of a bunch of provincial no-hopers playing rough-arsed noise for air-guitaring kids in creaky leather jackets, as glamorous as an episode of Bullseye and as kitsch as a late-period Carry On film.
There’s a nugget of truth in that, but it misses the bigger picture. There was a hell-for-leather heroism to the NWOBHM that has never truly been replicated. For every world-beating band like Iron Maiden and Def Leppard, there were a thousand others who never came close to making it but still dared to dream; a legion of foot soldiers throwing themselves over the top of the trenches of glory, only to get mowed down by the machine-guns of failure.
NWOBHM Thunder is a celebration of those foot soldiers. Of the 45 bands who appear across its three discs, the most famous are Saxon, Venom, Girlschool and Diamond Head, and even they’re not represented by their most famous songs (we get Heavy Metal Thunder, Live Like An Angel, Die Like A Devil, It Could Be Better and In The Heat Of The Night respectively).
They’re flanked by a battalion of bands that ranges from the recognisable (Raven, Samson, Witchfynde) to the cultishly obscure (Siege, Aragorn, Liason), and tracks that stretch from the classy (Statetrooper’s elegant Vini, Vidi, Vici) to the enthusiastic but hopeless (sorry, War Machine’s Power).
Of course, there’s a reason why some names have endured, even if their music hasn’t. Praying Mantis transcend their 50p studio budget to serve up a stone-cold classic in Flirting With Suicide, Jaguar’s Another Lost Weekend proves they were the era’s greatest one-album wonder, and Tokyo Blade’s Dirty Faced Angel is what the NWOBHM would have sounded like if it had embarked on a three-day bender and woken up on the Sunset Strip.
Hats off to the compilers for not replicating tracks from 2005’s similarly themed Lightnin’ To The Nations or the Rosetta Stone of NWOBHM comps, Lars Ulrich and Geoff Barton’s ’79 Revisited, and even more kudos for capturing the movement’s no-guts-no-glory spirit. Maybe that’s what we’re missing these days.