The strange world of cash-in heavy metal music magazines at the start of the 1980s.
Any popular musical trend will have the inevitable bandwagon climbers – and not just with bands who embody every cliche of a movement while clearly having very little interest in it before it became a potential moneymaker, from plastic punks to Madchester copycats and DJs who have realised that turning to spinning discs can expand a fleeting pop career for decades. There will also be the publishers, the authors and the merchandisers who see filthy lucre to be made from hitching their wagon to whatever musical scene is happening – especially if it is vaguely ‘underground’, because fans of the edgy and alternative are just as keen as pop fans to buy anything connected to the scene that has suddenly become their everything. Maybe even more keen, because there will be less of it and so every morsel has to be gobbled up. I remember a collection of 1970s ‘Punk and New Wave’ trading cards and a book that was a guide to New Wave, both of which randomly collected any old band – in the latter case, seemingly any band or artist that had emerged after 1976.
When it comes to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal – or NWOBHM for short – there was never any contrived sense of cool. I mean, look at that name for a start. The metal kids reveled in being outsiders and uncool (at least as far as the trend-obsessed music press and broadcasters were concerned) and so were even less concerned about whether or not the merch and cash-ins were tacky, cheesy and so on. I mean, this was the market for glitter patches and the lack of hipness extended to a love of older bands who were given a new lease of life in the way that punk and the New Romantics didn’t offer beyond select acts. As we’ve discussed before, the British metal scene at the start of the 1980s was not only the real teenage rebellion – going against trends, fashion and contrivance – but was also bigger than punk could ever be. For those with an eye for new trends to cash in on, it was waiting to be exploited.
If anyone had doubts about this, the publication of Kerrang! probably swept them aside. Initially just a 1981 one-off special from music weekly Sounds, it sold so well that it quickly became a regular monthly, then fortnightly and finally weekly title, quickly outstripping its parent publication in terms of sales. Early Kerrang! was an oddity looking for an identity – it mixed solid interviews and articles about what we would now call ‘classic rock’ with space-wasting full-page photos of band members that made it look like a rocker’s Smash Hits. But it found an audience of people who were tired of a music press that sneered at them even as it took their money. The success of this project did not go unnoticed and soon there were several copycats of varying quality, most of which came and went within a few issues (often only lasting for a single edition).
Perhaps picking up on the Kerrang! pin-up pages, a lot of these mags were variations on poster magazines – fold-out posters were a central selling point and in fairness, the teenagers who bought these magazines were probably all up for that. Content-wise, they were a mixed bag, though none were exactly what you’d call adventurous – the same bands pop up across the lot, which I suppose is understandable, as these were the hot ‘n’ happening acts of the time. Well, most of them were – you can understand why Motörhead, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Girlschool, The Michael Schenker Group and the like were frequently featured in early editions alongside flash-in-the-pan acts like Krokus and Cheetah (a girl group who received more press than they deserved thanks to the drooling attention of male writers), old farts like Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, and the likes of Blackfoot and Pat Benatar who showed just how wide the metal net was being cast back then.
For the most part, these felt like opportunist cash-ins. Poster magazine Metal Fury didn’t even credit an editor or writers and feels very much thrown together, while Metal Mania – which presents itself as a regular magazine size but then opens to a tabloid format closer to the weekly music press but considerably reduced at just 16 pages, 5 of which are full-page images (including a centrespread poster). It was, at least, edited by a proper metal writer, Malcolm Dome (I suspect that he wrote most of the anonymous articles as well). It cost rather more than Kerrang! and offered considerably less content but it says a lot that these magazines lasted a lot longer than you would expect – Metal Fury reached at least 22 issues, which is not to be sniffed at – but they always seemed rather throwaway compared with the main competition.
The oddest of the magazines that I found in the newsagents back in 1981 is Heavy Metal Marauders, which feels like a fanzine in layout and writing style but which is glossily produced, came with free stickers and a pull-out poster and at least had newsstand distribution. But the amateur credentials extend to it not having an issue number or cover price and the questions in the Motörhead interview being credited to an otherwise-unidentified ‘ZZ’. The editor is David Richards and the publisher is Metal Marauders Publications. Perhaps this was an attempt to launch a publishing empire, but as far as I know, the edition I have was the only one published. More information is always welcome.
By the middle of the 1980s, the metal scene was established enough for more substantial rivals to Kerrang! to emerge – the long-lived Metal Hammer among the best-known, though others like Terrorizer would come and go over the years. The titles that emerged in the initial wake of Kerrang!, however, now seem long forgotten – a pity as their existence and in some cases – surprising longevity shows just how vibrant this written-off music scene actually was.
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