Popoff, Martin – Wheels Of Steel: The Explosive Early Years of the NWOBHM (Book Review)

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Reviewed: May 2016
Released: 2015, Power Chord Press
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: JP


The subtitle says it all- an in-depth look at the NWOBHM from until 1981.

Martin loves his trilogies and we are lucky for it! WHEELS OF STEEL is the second book in his NWOBHM trilogy, which started with SMOKIN’ VALVES, (which was reviewed by Celtic Bob here in May of 2014) and the series is concluded with THIS MEANS WAR published at the same time as WHEELS OF STEEL. Just when you think that there was nothing more to wrote about the NWOBHM due to a couple of already authoritative books on the topic, Popoff comes along and fills in the gaps.

WHEELS OF STEEL is a standard paperback published on his own imprint, PowerChord Press so the layout and design are very nice. There are tons of black and white images, all drawn from his collection and with an eye for advertising, to give a feel for the times rather than just re-duplicating album covers we have all seen many times before. Do we really need to see the handsome beast of a fat guy in the pigsty again or the boobs of victims of the Witchfinder General again? Well, maybe yes to the second one, but you get my point. The images are largely ‘new’, and not seen very often unless you own those magazines from 30 years ago, which most of us don’t.

What Popoff brings to the table this time is a combination oral history culled from his vast archives of interviews and a chronological list of the key dates of key releases of the key bands of the NWOBHM. This is not the ultimate comprehensive encyclopedia, MacMillian already did that ten years ago. Where WH EELS OF STEEL shines is the interviews. Maybe Popoff had the incredible foresight to ask the right questions, or did an amazing amount of looking back through his archives (probably both) but there are tons of quotes from the key dudes (and babes in the case of Girlschool) of the NWOBHM. He has interviewed Maiden, Priest, Angelwitch, Saxon, Raven, Def Leppard, Venom and so many more…as well as journalists, engineers, managers, record company people, producers all contributing to what it was like to be a part of such an iconic movement. You will not find a more detailed account.

The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal is an interesting phenomena. Many movements in history, not just musical, are assigned a name and/or analyzed AFTER the fact when historians and journalists have time to catch their breath and assign a name and try to understand how that movement occurred. In the case of the NWOBHM it was coined very early on, and most everyone involved understood that all the bands were a part of something unique and great and worked to make it so. This book series really captures that magical moment (an isolated five year blip really) in the history of Heavy Metal. Even if you were too young to buy the first Venom single, WHEELS OF STEEL helps us look back and appreciate how important the NWOBHM was to the survival (and re-invention) of the musical genre that thrives now over 30 years later.

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Format Reviewed:
Publisher: PowerChord Press
Pages: 240