What Is NWOTHM? 12 Must-Hear Bands from the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal
Updated: May 31
What is NWOTHM?
NWOTHM stands for the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal. It is a throwback music genre started in the late 2000s that embraces the sounds of heavy metal, speed metal, and early forms of power metal from the '80s and early '90s. The name, like much of the music itself, is a reference to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) begun in the late '70s.
If you know your music history, you'll remember that the creation and performance of traditional heavy metal was effectively banned in the US and most of the rest of the world beginning in the early '90s. Transgression of these cultural dictates, even for previously respected bands like Iron Maiden, Queensrÿche, and Judas Priest, resulted in public ridicule and vacant show venues for most of the '90s and deep into the new millennium.
Like most trends however, disdain for heavy metal eventually eroded and was replaced instead with a powerful nostalgia. As the sights and sounds of the 1980s crept back into the world in the late 2000s, a handful of brave souls from a new generation decided to risk their lives (or at least their personal reputations) by growing their hair long, donning studded leather clothing, and invoking the ghosts of metal past. Their efforts formed the foundation of the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal.
Those intrepid reverse-trailblazers forged a path for hundreds of NWOTHM bands to follow, and true heavy metal music has not only returned with every bit as much creative integrity as it held in its early days, it has enjoyed a period of sustained interest that has now, incredibly, outlasted the original era.
NWOTHM isn't some cheap knock-off, either. Many of its contributors have produced albums that rank among the very best traditional heavy metal albums ever conceived. So if you like high-energy, old school heavy metal that makes you want to raise your fist and bang your head, if you're excited by men and women in bullet belts and shiny leather pants wielding flying V guitars, and if you love it when people sing like air raid sirens, then NWOTHM is for you.
Related: Top 10 NWOTHM Albums of 2022
If you're new to the genre or just looking to dive deeper, I've put together a list of 12 groups I think are awesome and worth a look from every old school metal fan. I won't pretend this list was inspired by some miraculous, divine insight. This is simply a list of bands that one dude on the internet put together because I love their music and want to share it with like-minded people. That said, these bands have created multiple full-length albums, have been active (relatively) recently, and represent a healthy range of creative approaches.
So If you're just coming across NWOTHM for the first time, here are 12 awesome bands to prime the pump of your old school metal heart.
Like what you hear on this list? Discover dozens of other great New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal bands in my NWOTHM playlist on Spotify, updated regularly since 2014!
For my money, Ambush is the most accessible and well-rounded traditional metal band of the modern era, and their catalog includes straight-up heavy metal tracks alongside ones that push into old school speed and power. The band's first full-length album, Firestorm (2014), easily rates among the best NWOTHM albums, while the follow-ups, Desecrator (2015) and Infidel (2020), are also deeply enjoyable efforts with many top-notch tracks. Ambush's clean, accessible sound and their skill for crafting engaging songs with memorable vocal hooks makes them the first band I point to for examples for great NWOTHM music.
Enforcer was one of the earliest and most popular bands from the traditional metal revival, releasing their first full-length album back in 2008, and they are one of the few from that era to remain active and exciting today. I'd mark three of Enforcer's albums – Diamonds (2010), Death by Fire (2013), and From Beyond (2015) – as some of the best heavy/speed albums ever conceived, and after a bit of a creative misstep in 2019, they returned to form with 2023's Nostalgia. (Check out my full write-up of Nostalgia here.) For their role as a pioneering NWOTHM act and their ability to keep the heavy metal fire alive for more than 15 years now, Enforcer is an easy recommendation for fans looking to find great music in the style.
Hitten's style has evolved over the years, from a slightly gritty speed metal sound to an unapologetically polished approach infused with '80s commercial influences, culminating in a masterwork of melodic heavy metal on 2021's Triumph and Tragedy. The band has one of the most radio-friendly sounds of any NWOTHM act going – certainly the most of anyone on this list – and the injection of vintage popular rock influences into their tracks won't be for everyone, but Hitten's tremendous songwriting skill and ability to craft infectious, pop-flavored heavy metal tunes is second to none. Just be warned: their songs can be very difficult to get out of your head.
Starting life as a hard rock act with clear influences from AC/DC, Bullet has evolved on their two latest albums, Storm of Blades (2014) and Dust to Gold (2018) into a more aggressive heavy/speed metal band led by a coarse vocal style that will hit the sweet spot for fans of Accept and Running Wild. The group's Storm of Blades album is front-to-back one of the finest true heavy metal albums produced in the 21st century.
Another of the earliest acts to pay homage to heavy metal of the 1980s, Skull Fist's high-speed style brought in a commercial touch that often felt reminiscent of Mötley Crüe and tapped into a subtle but notably modern edge for a sound that captured a large audience in the group's early days. Skull Fist's debut EP, Heavier than Metal (2010), as well as their first two albums, Head öf the Pack (2011) and Chasing the Dream (2014), are all essential releases in the modern era of old school heavy metal.
Though not as well known as others on this list, Metal Inquisitor was easily one of the first bands to pick up the mantle of old school heavy metal, releasing their debut full-length The Apparition far ahead of the curve in 2002. For perspective, that was a full six years before the first releases from Enforcer and White Wizzard, and eight years before the debut releases from Skull Fist and Steelwing, bands that are often credited with kickstarting NWOTHM.
Not only was Metal Inquisitor early, but the group has also been remarkably consistent, turning out five full-length albums with almost equally high quality and craftsmanship. Any of their latest four recordings, Doomsday for the Heretic (2005), Unconditional Absolution (2010), Ultima Ratio Regis (2014) and Panopticon (2019) are easy candidates for the best from their discography, and by extension, from NWOTHM in its entirety.
Heavy. Metal. Tyranny.
Where many NWOTHM bands take a lighter, feel-good approach to the style, RAM brings a brooding, dark edge to their sound that is ready to destroy speakers and crush eardrums wherever it goes. Every album in RAM's discography is worth hearing, though Svbersvm (2015) and The Throne Within (2019) in particular are deeply enjoyable albums that grow better on each spin. For an added nod to the past, check out the group's excellent cover version of Kiss' "Creatures of the Night."
Many Air Raid fans will tell you that the group's first two efforts, Danger Ahead (2012) and Night of the Axe (2012) – featuring vocalist Michael Rinakakis – are their strongest, and while there's no denying the greatness of those recordings, their latest two full-length offerings, Point of Impact (2014) and Across the Line (2017) are also packed with high-energy heavy metal tunes with terrific guitar work. "Entering Zone Zero" features one of the finest instrumental performances on any traditional heavy metal track of the 21st century.
Another band that was pivotal to the re-emergence of heavy metal in the new millennium, and the one that arguably brought the most modern influences with them in the process, was White Wizzard. The group's early releases like the full-length Over the Top (2010) were among the most prominent and notable recordings to emerge in the early days of NWOTHM. While fans sometimes disagree on the authenticity of the band's sound and the quality of their recordings, White Wizzard nonetheless helped lay the foundation for hundreds of new heavy metal bands to follow.
Night Demon is one of the best-known bands from the '80s heavy metal revival, and the high-speed rock 'n' roll flavor of their music has caught the ears of many fans who aren't aware of or even necessarily interested in a broader revival. Both of the group's albums to date, Curse of the Damned (2015) and Darkness Remains (2017) offer their share of exciting and memorable tracks. Shifting from entries with a bluesy, roadhouse rock flavor to more aggressive tracks with touches of thrash, Night Demon has a little something for every old school metalhead.
Another highly visible act, Visigoth began life with strong influences of epic doom on The Revenant King (2015), but have progressively shifted into a more agile, energetic style across the full-length Conqueror's Oath (2018) and their Dark Souls-inspired EP, Bells of Awakening (2018). For epic, fantasy-minded heavy metal, it doesn't get any better in the modern era than Visigoth.
Carrying on the great tradition of German speed metal, Stallion delivers raucous, high-energy tracks loaded with electrifying guitar solos and a vocal style that swings effortlessly from a sinister snarl to an air raid siren. Each of the group's three full-length albums – Rise and Ride (2014), From the Dead (2017), and Slaves of Time (2020) – are well worth seeking out and blasting at high volume.
Take a deep dive into the best heavy metal tracks of the modern era with the Subterranean Steel NWOTHM playlist on Spotify.