Rocking out of Leyton in the mid-70s, Iron Maiden always boasted impressive chops, thanks to the Harris and Murray axis. You’ll first hear them on the 1980 compilation Metal For Muthas and the hard-to-find EP The Soundhouse Tapes, but their debut proper is the self-titled album Iron Maiden, produced, intriguingly, by Wil Malone. Containing early anthems ‘Sanctuary’ and ‘Running Free’, this disc took metal out on a punky limb, and those cuts are still performed to this day.
The group hit the ground running with follow-up Killers, produced by metal maestro Martin Birch, and giving up the delightful ‘Wratchchild’, while ‘Twilight Zone’ was added to the US release.
The Number Of The Beast, featuring the arrival of Bruce Dickinson, gave them an alter ego and a No.1 album. The title cut, ‘Run To The Hills’ and ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ helped to make the album an essential listen, and rubber-stamped the legend. The same goes for Piece Of Mind, Powerslave and the attendant on-stage blitzkrieg of Live After Death. New key songs now included ‘Aces High’ and the doomsday chiller ‘2 Minutes To Midnight’.
Somewhere In Time helped break the group in the US, with second guitarist Adrian Smith contributing the hits ‘Wasted Years’ and ‘Stranger In A Strange Land’. Check out the 1995 reissue for the iconic Urchin cover ‘Sheriff Of Huddersfield’, recorded by a Maiden/Urchin/FM supergroup going under the name The Entire Population Of Hackney.
Bringing in heavy guitar synths and thundering along on drummer Nicko McBrain’s super slick fills and patterns, Maiden’s 1988 outing, Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, is considered to be a masterpiece, welding progressive styles into the mix, with producer Birch making full use of the technical advances at Musicland Studios, Munich. The eerie ‘The Clairvoyant’ is the charm here, and in live form it appeared as a single as one of three performances from the band’s monumental 1988 Monsters Of Rock show at Donington Park, later released as part of the box set Eddie’s Archive, a collector’s item from 2002 that came in an embossed metal box.
No Prayer For The Dying contains ‘Bring Your Daughter…’ and the spooked ‘Holy Smoke’, whose video was produced by Harris. It also marks the arrival of Janick Gers on third guitar. Hartlepool-born Gers was formerly in White Spirit and Gillan, and his sumptuous playing had already graced Bruce Dickinson’s debut solo album, Tattooed Millionaire, making him an obvious fit.
1992’s Fear Of The Dark was the last album featuring Bruce until his return in 1999. It’s often overlooked, but shouldn’t be. ‘Be Quick Or Be Dead’ and the Grammy-nominated ‘Fear Of The Dark’ are fan favourites, though there was trepidation among the faithful when Blaze Bayley (ex-Wolfsbane) replaced Dickinson and Martin Birch stepped aside. Virtual XI subsequently divided opinion, but Bruce’s return, on 2000’s Brave New World, delighted the hard rock fraternity, who lapped up the album and hit single ‘The Wicker Man’, hailing both as solid returns to form.
In the 21st Century ,Iron Maiden have released a clutch of discs produced by Kevin Shirley (Journey, Hoodoo Gurus, Rush, Led Zeppelin), and seven further live items, though their most revered on-stage effort is still the Platinum-selling Live After Death.
Now a truly worldwide success, the band has rabid support in Finland, Scandinavia, Canada and Germany. Dance Of Death and A Matter Of Life And Death, featuring ‘Wildest Dreams’ and ‘The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg’, respectively, are on a par with any of the group’s 80s anthems.
Recognising their contribution to molten metal, The Final Frontier won Iron Maiden their first Grammy, for the song ‘El Dorado’, which they released as a free download in 2010. Just to prove they’re getting better with age, 2015’s The Book Of Souls made No.1 in the UK and No.4 in the US, matching their previous highest placement Stateside. The Book Of Souls received terrific reviews and prompted Classic Rock to note, “It’s hard to think of another band of this vintage that would be capable of sounding this vital and inspired.” That really sums them up. Both the magazine and its readership agreed this was the best album of the year, as did Loudwire and Metal Hammer.
Murray, Smith, Gers, Dickinson and McBrain just go from strength to strength. Like Wishbone Ash, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Uriah Heep, Genesis and Thin Lizzy (all groups they namecheck), Iron Maiden have become integral to the development of prog-metal. True golden gods, their US Book Of Souls tour was a blockbuster, and they now have their own Premium British Ale, Trooper, which you can sup while sporting one of their classic T-shirts. Ed is a very happy head, indeed.
There may be no better place to hear how both punk and prog rock informed the New Wave of British Heavy Metal than Iron Maiden's self-titled debut. Often overlooked and overshadowed by the glorious Bruce Dickinson years, it's easy to forget that Iron Maiden was itself a game-changer when it appeared on the scene in 1980. That year also saw important albums from Motörhead, Saxon, and Angel Witch, but Iron Maiden vaulted its creators to the head of the NWOBHM pack, reaching the U.K. Top Five and establishing them as an outfit with the talent to build on Judas Priest's late-'70s innovations. On the one hand, Maiden was clearly drawing from elements of punk rock -- the raw D.I.Y. production, the revved-up velocities, and the vocals of rough-and-ready growler Paul Di'Anno, who looked and sounded not like a metal god, but rather a short-haired street tough. On the other hand, Maiden had all the creative ambition of a prog rock band. Compositionally, even their shortest and most straightforward songs featured abrupt changes in tempo and feel. Their musicianship was already light years beyond punk, with complicated instrumental passages between guitarists Dave Murray and Dennis Stratton and bassist Steve Harris. When Murray and Stratton harmonize their leads, they outdo even Priest's legendary tandem in terms of pure speed. The lyrics have similarly high-flying aspirations, spinning first-person stories and character sketches with a flair for the seedy and the grotesque. Add it all up, and Iron Maiden performs the neat trick of reconciling two genres seemingly antithetical to one another, using post-Priest heavy metal as the meeting ground. The seven-minute "Phantom of the Opera" is a landmark, the band's earliest progressive epic and still among its best; with its ambitious fusion of musical styles, its multi-sectioned construction, and the literary retelling of the lyrics, it seemed to encapsulate all the promise of both the band and the NWOBHM. Two of the simpler, punkier rockers, "Running Free" and "Sanctuary" (the latter left off the U.K. version but added to subsequent reissues), made the lower reaches of the British singles charts. The flasher tale "Prowler," one of the band's more enduring numbers, is in the same vein, but ups the instrumental complexity, while the title track still remains a concert staple. Elsewhere, the band offers the first of many instrumentals with "Transylvania," introduces the recurring title character of "Charlotte the Harlot," and reimagines Judas Priest's "Beyond the Realms of Death" with the "ballad" "Remember Tomorrow," which starts out soft but closes with a speed-freak guitar section. Perhaps the only hint of a misstep comes on the more restrained ballad "Strange World," the only song from this album that was never re-recorded in a live or alternate version by the Dickinson lineup. Nonetheless, the whole project explodes with energy and ideas, and while the band would certainly go on to refine much of what's here (including the cover painting of mascot Eddie), Iron Maiden would still rank as a landmark even if the Dickinson years had never happened. Words: Steve Huey
Iron Maiden's sophomore effort, Killers, is mostly composed of pre-existing material that had been left off the debut, with just a few new additions. It's certainly a better-sounding release than the debut, with new producer Martin Birch beefing up the band's studio presence and lending their instrumental attack a newfound clarity that throws their considerable skills into sharp relief. In fact, this helps mask the fact that the songwriting isn't quite as strong overall as it was on the debut. But the teaming of new guitarist Adrian Smith with Dave Murray forms the most formidable twin-guitar attack in heavy metal, outside of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing. Plus, bassist Steve Harris' busy, driving lines are now consistently audible in the mix. The resulting instrumental fireworks are what truly make the album tick. That said, there's a much smaller percentage of catalog standards here than on the previous album. "Wrathchild" is the standout, re-recorded here with Smith on guitar from an earlier version for the Metal for Muthas compilation. There's a fair bit of unity in the lyrical themes, with a parade of murderers, fugitives, and characters otherwise torn from their roots. "Murders in the Rue Morgue" is a first-person retelling of the Poe short story, and the title track is another highlight, with Paul Di'Anno turning in an especially menacing performance. The single "Purgatory" has a catchy singalong chorus and a tempo worthy of Motörhead, while "Twilight Zone" (not included on the U.K. issue, but added to subsequent releases) scraped the bottom of the British charts. The biggest departure here is the almost Supertramp-like prog-pop of "Prodigal Son," a melodic, uptempo offering with an arrangement based around acoustic guitars. Despite some inconsistency in the material, Killers is clearly the work of a top-notch ensemble, and in order to take the next step forward, their musical ambitions were clearly going to require a vocalist as technically accomplished as the band. It's worth noting that some Maiden fans actually prefer the rawness of the Di'Anno years to the polish of the Bruce Dickinson era (though, it should also be noted, they're in the minority). Words: Steve Huey
Routinely ranked among the greatest heavy metal albums of all time, The Number of the Beast is the birth of Iron Maiden as we know it, a relentless metal machine lifted to soaring new heights by the arrival of erstwhile Samson frontman Bruce Dickinson. Dickinson's operatic performance here made him an instant metal icon, challenging even Rob Halford for bragging rights, and helped launch the band into the stratosphere. The Number of the Beast topped the charts in the U.K., but even more crucially -- with Judas Priest having moved into more commercial territory -- it also made Iron Maiden the band of choice for purists who wanted their metal uncompromised. Maiden took the basic blueprint Priest had created in the late '70s -- aggressive tempos, twin-guitar interplay, wide-ranging power vocals -- and cranked everything up faster and louder. The album's intensity never lets up, the musical technique is peerless for its time, and there isn't a truly unmemorable song in the bunch. Blessed with a singer who could drive home a melody in grandiose fashion, Steve Harris' writing gets more ambitious, largely abandoning the street violence of old in favor of fittingly epic themes drawn from history, science fiction, and horror. The exceptions are "22 Acacia Avenue," a sequel to "Charlotte the Harlot" that sounds written for Di'Anno's range, and the street-crime tale "Gangland," which Harris didn't write; though the punk influences largely left with Di'Anno, these two definitely recall the Maiden of old. As for the new, two of the band's (and, for that matter, heavy metal's) all-time signature songs are here. The anthemic "Run to the Hills" dramatized the conquest of the Native Americans and became the band's first Top Ten U.K. single. It features Maiden's trademark galloping rhythm, which in this case serves to underscore the images of warriors on horseback. Meanwhile, the title track's odd-meter time signature keeps the listener just slightly off balance and unsettled, leading into the most blood-curdling Dickinson scream on record; the lyrics, based on nothing more than Harris' nightmare after watching a horror movie, naturally provoked hysterical accusations of Satan worship (which, in turn, naturally provoked sales). "Hallowed Be Thy Name" is perhaps the most celebrated of the band's extended epics; it's the tale of a prisoner about to be hanged, featuring some of Harris' most philosophical lyrics. It opens with a superbly doomy atmosphere before giving way to a succession of memorable instrumental lines and an impassioned performance by Dickinson; despite all the tempo changes, the transitions never feel jarring. Elsewhere, "The Prisoner" is a catchy retelling of the hit British TV series, and "Children of the Damned" is a slower, heavier number patterned after the downtempo moments of Dio-era Black Sabbath. CD remasters integrate "Total Eclipse," first released as the B-side of "Run to the Hills," into the running order. Though some moments on The Number of the Beast are clearly stronger than others, the album as a whole represented a high-water mark for heavy metal, striking a balance between accessible melodicism and challenging technique and intensity. Everything fell into place for Iron Maiden here at exactly the right time, and the result certainly ranks among the top five most essential heavy metal albums ever recorded. A cornerstone of the genre. Words: Steve Huey
The second of three straight iconic Iron Maiden albums, Piece of Mind marks the debut of what many regard as the definitive Maiden lineup, with the arrival of new drummer Nicko McBrain. McBrain's ability to duplicate the complex patterns of the guitar and bass riffs gives the band a seamless ensemble unity. Even Steve Harris, whose busy basslines were never exactly groove-oriented, has never felt more integrated into the overall sound. Perhaps part of that feeling comes from the less frantic pace; the average tempo has slowed somewhat from the preceding album, and the hold-over punk influences still present there have been completely eradicated. Instead, we get a few moodier, heavier pieces (especially "Revelations") that make the album darker-sounding overall. We also get greater involvement in the songwriting from Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith, whose themes are perfectly in tune with Steve Harris' epic storytelling. Nearly every song here was inspired by movies or literature, whether it's history, mythology, sci-fi, or fantasy; this approach got them tagged as a thinking-man's metal band, and certainly provided a lyrical blueprint for Anthrax. No less than four songs are about battles and warriors, and a couple are about flying, underscoring the heights of the drama that the band is aiming for. The centerpiece of the album is, of course, "The Trooper," an all-time genre classic that boasts Murray and Smith's most memorable harmonized lead riff, plus that trademark galloping rhythm. A retelling of the Greek myth "Flight of Icarus" was the other British hit single, boasting an appropriately soaring chorus. Album opener "Where Eagles Dare" is the other flight song, recounting a WWII spy thriller and featuring one of McBrain's signature performances with the band. If much of Piece of Mind ranks as state-of-the-art heavy metal, it is true that the second half dips a bit from the first. "Quest for Fire" is many a die-hard fan's least favorite track from the glory years; the melody is rather stiff and simple, and the lyrics are about cavemen, rendering Dickinson's operatics ("In a tiiiiiime when dinosaurs walked the eaaaaaarth") a bit ridiculous. Among the serious-minded Maiden faithful, there's no less forgivable sin than silliness (no matter how entertaining it might be). Fans also bemoan the relative simplicity of the samurai tale "Sun and Steel." However, the album closes on a big, progressive note with "To Tame a Land," an epic retelling of Frank Herbert's Dune that evokes the desert planet via Middle Eastern guitar melodies. In the end, even if Piece of Mind is the most obviously inconsistent of the classic Maiden trilogy, its many high points are no less awe-inspiring, and it's no less essential for anyone with even the most basic interest in heavy metal. Words: Steve Huey
The third in a trilogy of legendary Iron Maiden albums, Powerslave is frequently ranked as the fan favorite of the bunch, capping off a stellar run that sealed the band's genre-defining status. If The Number of the Beast was the all-time metal landmark, Powerslave is perhaps the quintessential Maiden album, capturing all the signature elements of the band's definitive era in one place. The album opens with Maiden at their catchiest, turning in a pair of metal classics right off the bat with the British hit singles "Aces High" (a high-speed ode to a WWII air battle) and the apocalyptic "2 Minutes to Midnight." Next we get an instrumental, "Losfer Words (Big 'Orra)," of the sort that Maiden periodically deployed to keep fans in awe of their technical chops. A pair of their best and most overlooked album tracks follows; "Flash of the Blade" and "The Duellists" exemplify the glory-minded battle hymns that made up such an important part of their lyrical obsessions, even if both are about sword fighting rather than modern military history. By the end of the album, we're seeing Maiden at their most progressive and ambitious. The seven-minute title track builds on the previous album's "To Tame a Land" with its use of Middle Eastern melodies, delving into Egyptian mythology for a rumination on power and mortality. This leads into the biggest, most grandiose epic in the Maiden catalog -- "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," a multi-sectioned, thirteen-and-a-minute prog-fest adapted from the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem. Though it isn't exactly what you'd call hooky, its shifting moods and lofty intellectual aspirations made it a live favorite. This latter material helped ensure that Powerslave was the Maiden album with the biggest impact on the emerging progressive metal genre (which, in its earliest form, essentially fused Rush with this sort of Maiden material). In this context, "Back in the Village" gets somewhat lost in the shuffle; it's a thematic sequel to "The Prisoner," though not quite as memorable. So even though we don't hear the punk influences of old, Powerslave catalogs every major facet of the band's personality during the Dickinson years, and does so while firing on all cylinders. Perhaps that's in part because Powerslave is the first Maiden album to feature the same lineup as its predecessor, creating a definite continuity and comfort level. Or perhaps it's simply that we're witnessing a great band in its creative prime. Whatever the case, it's entirely arguable that Powerslave summarizes why Iron Maiden was so important and influential even more effectively than The Number of the Beast, at least on a purely musical level. It may not be quite as accessible, but it's every bit as classic and essential. Words: Steve Huey
Iron Maiden's World Slavery Tour was one of the longest and most extensive tours ever undertaken by a rock band. Lasting from August 9, 1984, to July 5, 1985, and visiting such countries as Poland, Austria, Hungry, Yugoslavia, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Scotland, England, Germany, Sweden, Canada, Japan, and the U.S., the show included a mammoth setup that replicated the intricate ancient Egyptian scenery of the Powerslave album cover. As a "thank you" to the hundreds of thousands of fans who packed arenas the world over, the double-disc live set Live After Death was issued in 1985. Disc one is comprised of selections from a four-night stand at L.A.'s Long Beach Arena, with disc two comprised of performances from London's Hammersmith Odeon. The album is essentially a best-of of sorts, since most of their singles released up to this point are featured in all of their high-decibel glory: "Aces High," "2 Minutes to Midnight," "The Trooper," "Flight of Icarus," "The Number of the Beast," "Run to the Hills," and "Running Free." Also included are such strong album tracks as "Wrathchild," "22 Acacia Avenue," "Children of the Damned," "Phantom of the Opera," "Hallowed Be Thy Name," "Iron Maiden," plus their two epics, "Powerslave" and "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," making it a near-complete overview. Live After Death is easily one of heavy metal's best live albums. Words: Greg Prato
Though Live After Death remains the strongest documentation of Iron Maiden on-stage, A Real Live One isn't a bad listen at all. Maiden was a band that always believed in giving its audience a monster of a show, and on the whole, the CD (recorded everywhere from France and Italy to Denmark and Finland) does a good job capturing the type of excitement these imaginative gothic headbangers generated on-stage. The idea behind the album is to pick up where Live After Death left off and emphasize material recorded after 1985, and the Brits do exactly that with inspired versions of such favorites as "From Here to Eternity," "The Evil That Men Do," "Bring Your Daughter...to the Slaughter," and "The Clairvoyant." One could nitpick about various omissions, but the bottom line is that A Real Live One isn't an album Maiden devotees will want to pass up. Words: Alex Henderson
To say that Iron Maiden's The Book of Souls was ardently anticipated would be a vast understatement. Though it was (mostly) finished in 2014, vocalist Bruce Dickinson's cancer diagnosis and treatment delayed its release until he was medically cleared. While 2006's A Matter of Life and Death and 2010's The Final Frontier showcased longer songs, Book of Souls is epic by comparison. Their first double album, it's 92 minutes long, and three of its 11 tracks are over ten minutes. Steve Harris contributed one solo composition, and co-wrote six tracks with various bandmates. Dickinson -- for the first time since Powerslave -- wrote two solo tunes, the album's bookends, and collaborated on two more. The music is cleanly divided between the two discs. The first is tight; it offers a bit of everything that makes Iron Maiden...well, Iron Maiden. It is seemingly self-contained. Dickinson's "If Eternity Should Fail" is an impressive showcase for his voice. Its dark intro and atmospherics are eventually transformed into one of the heaviest tunes Maiden's recorded in a dig's age, but he climbs above the sonic mass. "Speed of Light" is a burner. Dickinson's fury is accompanied by a rockarolla riff, soaring metal guitar fills, and Nicko McBrain's grooving drums. Harris' 13-minute "The Red and the Black" has a martial tempo and chant that recalls "Rime Of The Ancient Mariner." It's followed by "When the River Runs Deep," a chugging hard rocker with all three guitarists challenging one another. The title cut is theatrical, as acoustic guitar and a sparse synth are filled out with a knotty riff and solo breaks, emerging as a slower, heavier headbanger. By contrast, disc two is structured almost narratively; it slowly enlarges and expands to serve an unexpected conclusion. Opener "Death or Glory" is another crowd-catcher as Dickinson soars above thudding drums and guitar choruses redolent of Thin Lizzy. "Shadows of the Valley" is the only clunker. It's dull and predictable, a minor distraction that doesn't measure up to the set's ambition. "Tears of a Clown," written by Harris and Dave Murray, is for Robin Williams. It's a clamorous rocker, yet the lyrics and melody are simultaneously empathic and disconsolate. "The Man of Sorrows" follows expertly, progressing from meandering ballad to theatrical hard rock. Dickinson's 18-minute "Empire of the Clouds" is about the R101 airship disaster of 1930. It's Maiden's longest song, but a grand conclusion. He plays majestic classical piano throughout, as tasteful, biting guitars create a complementary melodic labyrinth amid swelling orchestral strings. They add texture while McBrain's swinging drums add drama. It's a heavy metal suite, unlike anything in their catalog. Producer Kevin Shirley does a stellar job capturing an "in studio" sound that allows for spacious dynamics and warmth without artifical mass. Who would have thought that after decades Iron Maiden would have an album as fine (let alone as long) as The Book of Souls in them? With repeated listening it earns shelf space with their finest records. Words: Thom Jurek