Friday, 18 November 2011

A to Z of UK RPG in the 80s - H is for Heavy Metal

H is for Heavy Metal

Iron Maiden - Powerslave
(Cover by Derek Riggs)
In the late 70's the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWoBHM) was unleashed across the airwaves and in dingy pubs and clubs all over the UK.  Spearheaded by bands like Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Saxon, Judas Priest, and Venom who, although they had been inspired by the largely educated and middle class Progressive and Heavy Rock bands of the late 60's and early 70's, were unashamedly working class and many originated in the industrial towns of the Midlands and North of England such as Birmingham and Sheffield.

Teenage rebellion usually goes in search for something that will annoy the heck out of your parents and NWoBM was just waiting to be discovered.  The music was a mix of piercing and wailing vocals, thumping bass and drums and a shredded guitar sound like an angle grinder on steel.

The album covers often featured Fantasy or Sci-Fi themes and the band logos (often using vaguely occult typography and symbology) were worn as patches on your sleeveless denim jacket like some sort of tribal brand.  You wore your greasy long hair like a viking marauder and bullet belts and studded bracers were all part of the genre uniform.

Fantasy in song

Uriah Heep - Abonimog
(Cover by Les Edwards)
The literary tones of Sci-Fi, Horror and Fantasy were evident in much of the lyrical content of earlier progressive bands such as Hawkwind and Black Sabbath and this influenced many of the later Metal bands to cover these genres.  On Iron Maiden's album "The Number of The Beast" the track "Murders in the Rue Morgue" was directly influenced by Edgar Allen Poe's novel of the same name, "Children of The Damned" influenced by John Wyndam's "The Midwich Cuckoos" and "The Prisoner" influenced by the cult TV Show of the same name starring Patrick Magoogan. 

Just to prove a point Maiden famously did a 13 minute rendition of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner" on the 1984 album "Powerslave".  This has to be both my favourite Maiden album and my favourite Derek Riggs cover.  I spent a lot of time staring at that album cover and if you look closely at the hieroglyphics you'll also see some graffiti from "Indiana Jones", "Mickey Mouse" and the British "Chad" a  version of "Kilroy was here". 

Other artists like Saxon had tracks such as "The Warrior" which portrayed a generic fantasy storyline.  

Of course Metal wasn't a peculiarly british phenomenon and US bands such as Metallica famously covered HP Lovecraft in the tracks "The Call of Ktulu" and "The Thing That Should not Be" and New York Thrash Metal band Anthrax covered 2000 AD's Judge Dredd in their song "I am The Law"

Art influences Art

Magnum - On a Storytellers Night
(Cover by Derek Riggs)
One of the other big attractions aside from the music where the amazing works of fantasy and sci-fi art which adorned almost every album.  In fact it seemed that in addition to the standard lineup of drums, bass, rythmn guitar, lead guitar and vocals it was almost as important to find a great artist to design your band logo and album covers.  A tradition begun in the 70s with prog bands like Yes employing Roger Dean and continued by Iron Maiden and their long (if not entirely harmonious association) with Derek Riggs.

Joe Petagno has had a 31 year association with Motörhead and devised their famous "Snaggletooth" emblem which has graced many of their albums.

Yngwie Malmsteen - Trilogy
Needless to say for every great piece of cover-art there were lots of awful ones which slipped through the net. 

A particularly comical one was that of Sweden's Yngwie "J" Malmsteen (pronounced Ing-vey) and his 1986 album "Trilogy".  The  impossibly posed neo-classical guitar-god Yngwie, is depicted seeing off a three headed dragon with what can only be described as "a fire spewing lick of his stratocaster".  I'm sure everyone in the meeting thought it was a good idea at the time.

In researching this article I also stumbled across an album cover which although it isn't metal is so monumentally bad that there just aren't words to describe it... Rick James - Throwin' Down

Métal Hurlant and Heavy Metal Magazine

Heavy Metal the Movie
(Cover by Chris Achilleos)
In France in 1974 two comic book artists Jean Giraud (aka Moebius) and Phillipe Druillet began publishing a quarterly sci-fi graphic novel under the title Métal Hurlant (Howling Metal).  These comic books were in a grphic novel format and featured distinctive and detailed artwork and strong storylines with adult themes it was picked up by National Lampoon, translated into English and relaunched in 1977 as Heavy Metal and in 1979 the format was changed slightly to include Rock Music reviews. 

With the release of an animated feature film Heavy Metal (1981), the combination of art, music and Sci-Fi/Fantasy stories was brought together in one vehicle.   A combination of original storylines and a soundtrack featured tracks by a plethora of rock bands of the era such as Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick, Grand Funk Railroad, Journey and Stevie Nicks it was every pubescent teenage boys fantasy brought to life. 

Other Metal Movie Moments

Maximum Overdrive
The 80s saw the use of Heavy Metal soundtracks in films particularly of the Sci-Fi Horror genre and led to AC/DC recording the soundtrack to the movie Maximum Overdrive (1986) written and directed by Steven King.  The movie featured Emilio Estevez and a bunch of "survivors" as they are terrorized by an army of machines, led by a "green goblin" faced truck, which have been brought to life by the passing of a strange comet.  The author also makes a cameo appearance in the movie as a bespectacled sunday driver.

1986 also saw Kiss bassist and tongue waggler extraordinaire Gene Simmons and rock legend Ozzy Osbourne appear in cameo roles in the horror movie Trick or Treat which featured a soundtrack by Fast Eddie Clarke (also famed for playing guitar on Motörhead's "The Ace of Spades").  The plot plays heavily on the urban legend of satanic messages being heard in records when they are played backwards (Hey kids! I bet you can't do that with your Lady Gaga CD) and the spirit of dead rock star Sammi Curr's attempt to be ressurected through a Halloween Dance sacrifice.  All good clean adolescent fun really.

Heavy Metal... Meet White Dwarf

The association of Heavy Metal music with gaming reached a climax in November 1987 when Games Workshop's John Blanche conspired to give away Nottingham Thrash Metal group Sabbat's "Blood for the Blood God" as a flexi-disc single in issue 95 of White Dwarf. 

Sabbat - History of a Time to Come
(Cover by John Blanche)
I was lucky enough to see Sabbat in '88 when they played London's Marquee Club (the Charing Cross Road incarnation) following the release of the album "History of a Time to Come"which also featured cover art by John Blanche.  A great gig which introduced me to the art of stage diving and I swear I had tinitus for three days afterwards.

Another Nottingham band to emerge in the late 80's in association with Games Workshop were Bolt Thrower whose name originated from the siege weapon featured in their Warhammer Fantasy Battle wargame.  The cover of their 1989 album "Realm of Chaos" is the same painting by John Sibbick which graced the front cover of the original Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader rulebook.

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