Def Leppard – The Early Years 79-81 (UMC/Virgin)

Once upon a time Def Leppard were at the forefront of the fabled NWOBHM movement.

Yes, really.

And this revealing box set proves the point.

Forget, for a moment, the snazzy MTV videos, the arena tours soundtracked by slick pop rock and the late 80s mass Hysteria.

In 1977 Leppard was a band forged in molten NWOBHM.

Back in the day the Steel City’s finest were full-on metal. 

They could give Saxon, Diamond Head and Maiden a run for their money.

And they did.

This vivid reimagining of Leppard’s early work digs deeper than ever before into the birth of a national treasure.

The Early Years 79-81 charts the evolution of five working class heroes dreaming of the big time.

It’s often raw but always real.

And at times it’s the very antithesis of Leppard’s remarkable reincarnation as a chart-topping behemoth.

But that’s no bad thing.

The deluxe five CD set kicks off with remastered versions of On Through The Night and High N Dry.

And if the former is the sound of wide-eyed youths feeling their way then the latter evidences the band’s rich potential.

Uber-producer Mutt Lange was already working with the band by the time their second album started to make some waves.

Nobody could predict just how fruitful that partnership would go on to be.

And yet both Bringin’ On The Heartbreak and High N Dry’s furious title track would become the blueprint for a raft of top 40 hits.

On Through The Night might lack its successor’s consistency but the head banging anthems come thick and fast.

Listen to the liveliest of debuts and it’s easy to imagine Joe Elliott whipping up the masses inside the sweaty Crooks Social Club on a Saturday night before delivering a fresh batch of seven inchers to his mate at Record Collector, just down the road.

Hello America, Wasted and Rocks Off still stand the test of time.

And all three tracks are at the heart of this testosterone-fuelled trip down memory lane.

They’re prominent on disc three – a previously unreleased and newly mixed show from Oxford in April 1980.

A sweet 16 tracks capture a band boasting unstoppable momentum and brazen self-belief.

Brilliant doesn’t come close.

For the true Leppard aficionado, the real treat is to be found in disc four.

The Nick Tauber produced versions of Rock Brigade and Glad I’m Alive have become the stuff of legend in Leppard circles.

And 40 years after it was slated for a single release, the former can finally be enjoyed it all of its NWOBHM glory.

Overseen by Elliott and mastered by long-time wingman Ronan McHugh, this perfectly pitched project is essential listening for Leppard fans old and new.

And despite overhauling the band’s early catalogue, using the very latest technological wizardry, the dependable duo never lose sight of a unique sound that captured a moment in time and a scene exploding.

As if to underline the point, disc five is labelled Raw – Early BBC Recordings.

It does what it says on the tin.

And it’s well worth digging out your battered VHS copy of 1988’s Live: In The Round In Your Face to recall just how far Leppard came within a decade.

In June 1979 the band played a rarely heard session for Andy Peebles and four months later they took their Friday Rock Show bow.

Wasted features in both sets but Leppard never wasted anything: time, opportunities, experience or advice. 

And The Early Years 79-81 is as much a lesson in work ethic and focus as it is a celebration of balls-to-the-wall NWOBHM excess.