Iron Maiden and the New Wave of British Metal

Iron Maiden and the NWBHMSynopsis: This film investigates the New Wave of British Heavy Metal spearheaded by Iron Maiden – the bands, the records and the media coverage. This documentary focuses on Iron Maiden and the other pivotal bands of the time. This documentary features rare footage, live and studio recordings of pivotal tracks, news items and film of the movement from the time as it unfolded around the UK, and seldom seen photographs.  

Exclusive interviews with many of the major players including Iron Maiden’s Paul DiAnno and Dennis Stratton, Diamond Head’s Brian Tatler, Tygers of Pan Tang’s Rob Weir, Damson’s legendary drummer Thundersticks, Tino and Chris Troy from Praying Mantis, the current line-up of Girlschool and many other high profile names from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Commentary, review and expertise is provided by Malcolm Dome (Kerrang, Classic Rock), Jerry Ewing (Metal Hammer, Classic Rock), Geoff Barton, Garry Bushell, Neil Kay (legendary metal DJ from the Soundhouse club) and British metal author and journalist, Joel McIver.
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eyelights: its overview of the NWOBM. its sheer amount archival material.
eyesores: its lack of depth on each band.“I don’t think any of us even in our wildest dreams thought it would ever become the way it was, you know what I mean. We were all happy to play.” – Paul DiAnno

I’m no great fan of Iron Maiden; it’s a band that I want to adore because I respect the songcraft and musicianship involved, but I can’t entirely get into them – there are only select albums that I really enjoy thoroughly. Sad but true.

But I am interested in the New Wave of British Metal, of which they were at the forefront, being one of its greatest success stories. So when one of my best friends wanted to watch this documentary (which I gave him), I was totally in.

I was a little wary, however, given that the title suggests a focus on Iron Maiden and not on the NWOBM. I’d seen a Nine Inch Nails documentary titled in a similar fashion and it had little to do with the genre, being more about the band.

Thankfully, this one was a more balanced effort.

‘Iron Maiden and the New Wave of British Metal’ is an unauthorised two-hour documentary that appears to have been released straight-to-video in the UK. It has also been repackaged in various sets under different guises since then.

It features the participation of a good number of critics, industry players, crew and band members of various notable groups, including Paul DiAnno and Dennis Stratton (ex-Iron Maiden), Brian Tattler (Diamond Head) and Chris Troy (Praying Mantis).

It stars off by going to what it considers are the roots of metal, with The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” and the Rolling Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash”, followed by Jimi Hendrix, and the triumvirate of metal pioneers: Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath.

It’s brief, and not nearly as a convincing as ‘Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey‘, but what is?

Then the filmmakers do a quick overview of some of the key bands that hit the scene up until Iron Maiden’s arrival, also discussing the origins and coinage of the term “heavy metal” – although the results were inconclusive to say the least.

One thing I found interesting was the participants’ theory that punk music opened the door for the NWOBM because these young bands would never have dared to get on stage if the punks hadn’t shown the world that almost anyone could do it.

The film charts the rise of the NWOBM, which was spawned in great part by the combination of Neal Kaye, a super influential DJ at The Bandwagon, spotlighting the genre, attracting crowds from far and wide, and a write-up by Geoff Barton in Sounds magazine.

It loosely follows  Def Leppard and Iron Maiden, who spearheaded the movement, along with a few others (notably Saxon, who rode the wave, Samson, Praying Mantis and Tygers of Pan Tang), providing us with chart successes, and various highs and lows.

What’s amazing is that the movement didn’t last very long and, by 1981, had already pretty much lost all steam: sales were low, labels were no longer interested, and even The Bandwagon closed. And the lowest point? The Tygers were forced to play other people’s songs!

Ouch. Talk about humiliating!

Unfortunately, the filmmakers only got around to talking about Diamond Head, who were massively influential on the subsequent metal scene (finding diehard fans in Metallica and Megadeth!), towards the end; they were a mere afterthought.

And yet they are one of the most interesting bands because they never made it, but helped shape their successors. The film addresses some of the issues that limited them, but it never quite explained why they shot themselves in the foot the way they did.

That’s too bad, as their success would have changed everything. So, what happened?

‘Iron Maiden and the New Wave of British Metal’ appropriately ends with the subsequent rise of thrash, which was largely influenced by the NWOBM. But it left us with a vague understanding of the way in which it helped shape its successors.

And that’s the largest problem with the documentary: While it does a decent job of providing an entry-level glimpse at the genre, it doesn’t explore it fully (perhaps in part because its key players are missing in action during the interview segments).

Nor does it fully delve into Iron Maiden either, despite its title (and that’s okay, as Maiden have already produced a number of documentaries about themselves). So it’s interesting for the mildly curious, but it’s hardly illuminating or revelatory.

‘Iron Maiden and the New Wave of British Metal’ is good, not great.

Post scriptum: although it barely touched on Diamond Head, the documentary made me want to revisit some of their output, so I wound up not only listening to a compilation of mine, but ordering their first three studio albums. For that alone, I’m indebted to this DVD.

Date of viewing: September 11, 2015

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