The History of Thrash Metal
Guitar World takes you back to when roving gangs of headbangers ruled the earth. Part 3
Musically, the bands that were lumped together under the NWOBHM banner varied greatly in sound; the majestic, epic arrangements and twin-guitar harmonies of Iron Maiden couldn't have been more distant from the bone-dry Neanderthal grunt of Motorhead, while the primitive lo-fi screech and comical satanic posturing of Venom had little to do with the hooky pop-rock luster and youthful good looks of Def Leppard.
Despite their different approaches, these and other NWOBHM bands like Raven, Saxon and Angel Witch were, together, overhauling heavy metal for the new decade. They did it by taking the power and heft of forebears like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and fusing it with the speed and ferocity of punk rock.
That formula would prove elemental to thrash metal as well: American bands adopted the Brit's aggressive-looking wardrobes -- dominated by denim and leather, and accented by black T-shirts and bullet belts -- and their do-it-yourself method of promoting the music through independent record labels and makeshift fanzines, effectively bypassing traditional mainstream media outlets.
While a few of the leading NWOBHM bands were enjoying success, American fans of the music were still few and far between. So when Brian Slagel -- a Southern California teenager who would eventually found a heavy metal fanzine and independent record label that were among America's first -- spotted Ulrich at a concert in the summer of 1980 wearing a Saxon European tour shirt, it was reason enough for the two to become fast friends.
"The day after that show, Lars came over to my house and we just talked about the scene in Britain," remembers Slagel. "At that time, nobody in America knew who any of those bands were because it was really difficult to get any information about anything that was going on over there. But since Lars had just moved from Denmark, he had been closer to it and had a lot of stuff that I didn't have."
Together, the two spent their days scouring local music sto res for obscure British metal records and exchanging demos and live bootlegs in the tapetrading underground, a network of people from all over the world who communicated through ads in the classified sections of magazines like Goldmine and Music Trader. Slagel also used his job at Oz Records, in Woodland Hills, to import albums from NWOBHM bands. The few locals who were into the music eventually wound up doing their shopping at Oz, and a small community of fans began to coalesce.
At the same time, the Los Angeles metal scene was going through a period of revitalization. Fueled by the breakout success of party-metallers Van Halen, a new crop of more aggressive acts like Motley Crne and Ratt (both of whom were darker and heavier in their infancy than when they achieved mainstream success) began sprouting up. Slagel started booking shows for many of these bands at local clubs and created a rudimentary newsletter called The New Heavy Metal Revue to document the emerging scene. In 1982, Slagel, inspired by a compilation album of NWOBHM bands called Metal for Muthas, decided to put together an American version, Metal Massacre, that featured local Sunset Strip metal acts like Ratt and Bitch. He gave the last slot on the record to his young Danish friend.
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