Narendra Kusnur Writes About The British Metal Legends

Narendra Kusnur Writes About The British Metal Legends

On March 8, British heavy metal band Judas Priest released its 19th studio album Invincible Shield, its first after Firepower in 2018

Narendra KusnurUpdated: Sunday, March 24, 2024, 01:21 AM IST
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Judas Priest |

On March 8, British heavy metal band Judas Priest released its 19th studio album Invincible Shield, its first after Firepower in 2018. What fans didn’t anticipate was that the new record would give the band its highest UK chart placing, beating classics like British Steel (1980) and Screaming For Vengeance (1982). Interestingly, Priest reached No 2 on the UK Official Charts Company (OCC) list almost 50 years after its debut album Rocka Rolla.

The landmark can not only be seen as an indicator of the band’s consistency and longevity, but also a testament to the fact that British metal continues to have a devoted audience after it became a fad in the late 1970s. To corroborate the statement, Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson’s solo album The Mandrake Project peaked at No 3 on the UK OCC a week after its March 1 release. Saxon, one of the pioneers in the genre, charted at No 19 in the UK after its 24th album Hell, Fire And Damnation was released on January 19.

Judas Priest, Saxon and Dickinson are among the legendary names in British metal, and are still going strong today. Back in the day, the genre was named the New Wave of British Heavy Metal or NWOBHM, a term which only old-timers relate to now. And while the world of metal has seen newer offsprings like glam metal, thrash metal, death metal, progressive metal, symphonic metal, grindcore, so on and so forth, the new release of any new classic British metal band always creates some excitement.

Yet, in all these years, some things have stayed the same. The main thing is the basic sound and formula. Listen to Priest’s Invincible Shield and Saxon’s new record, and one may believe that they were recorded in the 1980s. Lyrical themes still revolve around the occult, escapism, heavy and hell, good and evil, mythology, science fiction, horror and the rock n’ roll lifestyle. Line-up changes over the years haven’t changed the basic content and core audience. The guitars are sill filled with those dynamic solos and power chords, played against blazing drum assaults.

Saxon

Saxon |

The voices haven’t changed too. Priest frontman Rob Halfold, now 72 and a role model for countless metal vocalists, still retains the characteristic range and flexibility, despite hernia and prostrate cancer treatment. For evidence, check out the tracks Panic Attack, Giants In The Sky and Devil In Disguise, where Halford’s vocals are right up there, backed by the guitar magic of Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner, who replaced the great K.K. Downing in 2011.

The same can be said of 73-year-old Saxon vocalist and founding member Biff Byford on the new songs Fire And Steel, Planets Of The Airwaves and Kubla Khan And The Merchant Of Venice. Dickinson’s new album still has the stamp of the two stints he did with Iron Maiden (1981-1993 and 1999-current day). He’s 65, and despite surgery for a cancerous tumour behind his tongue in 2015, continues to sing like a champion. The last Iron Maiden release Senjutsu (2021) peaked at No 2 in the UK, and The Mandrake Project comes 19 years after his last solo outing.

These three releases clearly indicate that NWOBHM or British metal bands still have a sizeable audience. Though there has been some great metal coming out of the US, Germany and Scandinavia, the Brit monsters have played their own stellar role. The genre was the continuation of the precedent set by Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, bands clubbed under the hard rock category.

NWOBHM started as an underground movement when punk-rock was gaining popularity in the mid-1970s. It peaked in the early 1980s, and also included the bands UFO. Motorhead, Dickinson’s earlier band Samson, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan’s solo band and Def Leppard, which released its last album Diamond Star Halos in 2022.

Though one may complain that these groups no longer produce the super-hit songs they once did, the truth is that they still have a dedicated set of listeners, including younger fans. The charts show that.

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