The Albums of Iron Maiden

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Iron Maiden, formed in 1976 by bassist Steve Harris, is a highly influential heavy metal band of rare talent. Innovative, inventive and unusually erudite, their songs are powerful, often moving, very often exquisitely constructed, and many are highly memorable. This guide entry presents a brief critique of each of their albums.

The more I read about other people's comments on Iron Maiden's songs and albums, the more I realise that opinions differ wildly about which are the best and which are the worst. I think a lot depends on the order in which you buy and become familiar with the various albums. The first album you listen to has a lot better chance of becoming your favourite than the last one, and so the inclination is to become biased in favour of the albums and songs you heard earliest. This is not a hard and fast rule, however; some albums are clearly superior to others. I shall try to be as objective as I can in rating each one, though please remember that opinions do vary and you may not agree with my appraisals. The ratings are out of 10.

Iron Maiden (1980)

[Paul Di'Anno (vocals), Steve Harris (bass), Dave Murray (guitar), Doug Sampson (guitar), Clive Burr (drums)]

Rating: 8.5

This is the first and one of the best of Maiden's albums, if not the best studio album, simply because it does not have any bad songs on it. Paul Di'Anno's vocals are a curious blend of raucous and refined, perfectly suiting the rough-edged, guttural tone of the album. The first track, Prowler***, is fast, loud and fairly typical early Maiden fare. Next up is Remember Tomorrow****, a track which demonstrates early in their career that Maiden are capable of light and shade. And the light is very light, while the shade is pretty heavy. It's a good song, one of the best on the album, and it gives Di'Anno a chance to show off his considerable vocal skills. Track No. 3 is Running Free***, a fast and furious crowd-pleaser that is a regular concert favourite. It's also a pretty good song, with a frenetic guitar duet in the middle of pleasingly perfect synchrony. The next track is the epic 7-minute Phantom of the Opera*****, which many (myself included) consider to be Maiden's finest song from a compositional viewpoint. From the time-signature-defying heavy guitar opening to the beautifully-harmonised guitar duets in the lengthy instrumental break, this masterpiece flits from theme to theme with an easy grace that grips the soul like a vice. The following track is Transylvania****, a frantic instrumental that nicely showcases the considerable talents of the two lead guitarists. It comes across like an emotional outburst, a tantrum thrown by a complex, larger-than-life character who won't let you get a word in edgeways. It's an electrifying experience. As it tails off, the next track, Strange World**, creeps in quietly. This is a slow, gentle, subtle song, totally out of character with the rest of the album. As such it does not fit very well, and though it is by no means a bad song I tend to find myself impatient for the next track to invigorate me again. And so it does: Charlotte the Harlot*** is another fast-paced number in the same mould as Prowler and Running Free, though it slows down for a thoughtful aside in the third quarter. Finally we come to Iron Maiden***, the band's defining song, which is loud, brash, aggressive, and to be honest not one of their best songs. But it, too, is a crowd-pleaser, and indeed it's hard not to like it for its sheer energy.

Killers (1981)

[Paul Di'Anno (vocals), Steve Harris (bass), Dave Murray (guitar), Adrian Smith (guitar), Clive Burr (drums)]

Rating: 7

This, the second and last of the albums to feature Paul Di'Anno on vocals, is somewhat weaker than the first album and although it boasts some good tracks it is perhaps one of the least memorable of all their efforts. It opens with The Ides of March***, an ultra-short instrumental that nicely sets the tone for the album: tough, aggressive and perhaps a little more polished than its predecessor. From here we are led straight into the next track, Wrathchild***, an undemanding but catchy and energetic offering that is fairly typical of the album as a whole. Murders in the Rue Morgue*** is more satisfying fare, an involving tale of an innocent man on the run. Musically, however, it is neither as creative nor as exciting as most of the songs on the first album. Following it is Another Life**, an unmemorable number that never fails to make absolutely no impression on me whatsoever. Next is another instrumental, Genghis Khan***, an interesting track that is lifted by an abrupt change of pace and key halfway through. Innocent Exile** is another unmemorable track, so much so that I can't even remember how it goes. Killers**** is far better – a highlight of the album, with a pace and spirit to awaken the senses and remind us what Iron Maiden is capable of when on top creative form. Prodigal Son****, which follows, is the album's ‘quiet' song, and also its ‘epic', at six minutes or so in length. It is neither as quiet as the first album's Strange World (which is a relief), nor as epic as Phantom of the Opera (which is a shame). But it is stirring and anthemic, and possibly the best song on the album. Here the album should perhaps have ended, but we have two further songs, Purgatory** (another rather mediocre offering) and Drifter***, which is actually rather better than most of the other tracks.

Number of the Beast (1982)

[Bruce Dickinson (vocals), Steve Harris (bass), Dave Murray (guitar), Adrian Smith (guitar), Clive Burr (drums)]

Rating: 7

Having sacked Paul Di'Anno over ‘creative differences', the band recruited ex-Samson singer Bruce Dickinson as their new frontman. This was a great move: Dickinson, a classically-trained singer, brought a new depth to their sound and image and had buckets of stage charisma. This, his first album with the band, got to number 1 in the UK chart and features some of their most noteworthy songs. It also, unfortunately, contains some very poor songs, hence its rather poor rating (which some may think is unfair). The first track, Invaders*, is one of these. It's the first Maiden song that I actually dislike. Next up, however, is Children of the Damned****, a great song (based on the movie of the same name) that starts out quietly with pretty harmonies, builds to a powerful chorus, and finishes with an energetic climax fuelled by Dickinson's impassioned vocals. The Prisoner*, which follows, is quite a come-down, and ranks as another of my least-favourite Maiden songs. The next song, however, 22 Acacia Avenue****, is excellent, continuing the tale of ‘Charlotte the Harlot' in grand style, with a musical richness that makes it worth listening to over and over again. Following this is another good song, The Number of the Beast****, a tale of horror that is based, apparently, on a nightmare that Steve Harris once had. It is an energetic slice of Maiden fare, but it, like many of the songs on this album, has a level of polish that was absent from the first two albums. Whether this is a good thing or not is open to debate, but it certainly works for this track. Next is Run to the Hills**, a concert favourite whose appeal rather baffles me. It's all right, but it's unremarkable. Following it is Gangland*, which is really pretty bad. Fortunately, the last song totally redeems the album as a whole. Hallowed Be Thy Name*****, the album's epic (seven-minute) piece, is one of their all-time greatest songs. Lyrically it is pure poetry; musically it is dynamite. To hear it at its best, though, you must listen to the live album Live After Death.

Piece of Mind (1983)

[Bruce Dickinson (vocals), Steve Harris (bass), Dave Murray (guitar), Adrian Smith (guitar), Nicko McBrain (drums)]

Rating: 8

After the promising but shaky start that was Number of the Beast, the Bruce Dickinson-fronted line-up soared to new heights with this excellent album. With a new drummer, the legendarily wacky Nicko McBrain, the band produced a work whose sound quality is as close to perfect as you could hope, and a string of great songs that stick in the mind like glue. The album opens with Where Eagles Dare***, continuing a tradition of lifting material from history, literature and the movies that began with Phantom of the Opera and continued with Children of the Damned and The Prisoner. It’s a gutsy song, replete with splendid chords and the sounds of machine-gunfire in the background. It suffers from a slight bout of repetitiveness in the middle, but overall it's a great start to the album. Next is Revelations*****, the first song to be penned by Dickinson, and it's a classic. It opens with a verse from a hymn by GK Chesterton and, astonishingly, the tune Dickinson sings it to is the same one you might hear sung in church! The heavy-riff accompaniment, however, might not go down too well in your local congregation. The song contains some of the richest, most powerful chords to be found in any of Maiden's albums, and after the first verse the lyrics turn to more secular matters, though what it all means I still have not figured out. The next track, Flight of Icarus****, is a classic of the hit-single variety, and is of fairly broad appeal. This is followed by Die With Your Boots On**, a reasonably good track that appeals to some people and not others. I personally don't like it much. The history-based The Trooper****, on the other hand, is another hit-single classic, and a popular favourite. There now follows a succession of weaker tracks, unfortunately, which mar an otherwise exceptional album. Still Life** is a surreal song about nightmares, which begins with a couple of sentences recorded backwards to poke fun at the religious zealots who look for hidden satanic messages in heavy metal songs. It's not a bad song but I'm not keen on it. Quest For Fire** is also not too bad, but I just can't forgive it for talking about dinosaurs and cavemen in the same breath. Sun and Steel* is just not very inspired at all, and seems rather contrived to me. The album would definitely have been better off without it. Finally we come to the epic for this album: To Tame a Land*****. Based on the novel Dune, it is a soaring seven-minute saga that showcases Maiden near their creative best. While not as complex as Phantom of the Opera, nor quite as stirring as Hallowed Be Thy Name, it nevertheless underlines the enormous songwriting talent of Steve Harris, who wrote all three of these great songs.

Powerslave (1984)

[Bruce Dickinson (vocals), Steve Harris (bass), Dave Murray (guitar), Adrian Smith (guitar), Nicko McBrain (drums)]

Rating: 9

Why change a winning formula? The line-up remained the same for this album, which is almost as good as Piece of Mind in some ways, and better in other ways. The first track is Aces High***, a Battle of Britain tale that stretches Dickinson's vocal range to its utmost. The guitar accompaniment to the vocals lacks imagination in parts, but on the whole it's a good song. 2 Minutes to Midnight**** comes next, a hard-hitting anti-war number with intelligent lyrics that lift what would otherwise be just a pretty good three-star song. It is followed by the band's first instrumental since the Killers album: called Losfer Words (Big 'Orra)***, it is a good but unexceptional track. Flash of the Blade*** is the first of two ‘swordfighting' tracks, and while it is a fairly good song it suffers by comparison with The Duellists****, which follows immediately afterwards. This is a very good song and displays the complexity characteristic of Steve Harris's better works. Back in the Village** is my least favourite song on the album, but it has its moments and is still worth listening to. Powerslave*****, by Bruce Dickinson, is a masterpiece. Right up there with Phantom of the Opera, this is a work with an Egyptian feel, of majestic proportions and intricate complexity that rivals Steve Harris's finest offerings. The instrumental break in the middle is particularly stunning, with both lead guitars and Harris's bass all playing different tunes that fit together perfectly. On any other album this would be the epic, but the final song on this album, Rime of the Ancient Mariner*****, claims the title with ease, packing Coleridge's enormous poem into a thirteen minute sprawling monster of a song. It's an ambitious and audacious effort; the astonishing thing is that it actually works. This is one of Maiden's greatest songs, in every possible sense of the word. The lyrics do a great job of telling the story, including some verbatim quotes from the poem, and the music ranges from a haunting, ethereal synthesised melody accompanying the creaking of the ship to a full metal onslaught in the huge but always gripping instrumental break. Both Powerslave and Rime of the Ancient Mariner are, unfortunately, rather ragged and unpolished in execution on this album, and to hear them at their best one must listen to the Live After Death album.

Live After Death (1985)

[Bruce Dickinson (vocals), Steve Harris (bass), Dave Murray (guitar), Adrian Smith (guitar), Nicko McBrain (drums)]

Rating: 9.5

This has got to be one of the greatest live albums of all time. It is certainly the strongest of Maiden's albums, incorporating many of their best songs and improving on some of them in the process. It opens with the recorded voice of Winston Churchill giving his ‘We shall fight on the beaches' speech, which leads nicely into a barnstorming rendition of Aces High. Dickinson's ability to hit the high notes in a live setting is severely tested here, and found wanting, but this is one of very few flaws in an otherwise near-perfect concert album. 2 Minutes to Midnight follows straight on its heels, and then we are treated to stirring renditions of three of the best tracks from the Piece of Mind album: The Trooper, Revelations and Flight of Icarus. Next comes Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which is performed with a great deal more enthusiasm and vigour than the studio version. Both it and Powerslave, which follows, are vastly better here than their respective counterparts on the Powerslave album. The Number of the Beast comes next, followed by a brilliant performance of Hallowed Be Thy Name: you won't want to listen to the studio version again! The concert climaxes thereafter with Iron Maiden, a polished effort of their theme song. As encores we then have Run to the Hills and Running Free in which, in the tape version, Bruce Dickinson involves the crowd in a jolly sing-a-long. This is cut from the CD version unfortunately. The tape set and the latest CD release also feature five tracks from a concert in London's Hammersmith Odeon. These are Wrathchild, 22 Acacia Avenue, Children of the Damned, Die With Your Boots On and Phantom of the Opera. Of these, in my opinion both 22 Acacia Avenue and Phantom of the Opera are even better than their studio counterparts, though fans of Paul Di'Anno may disagree with me about the latter.

Somewhere in Time (1986)

[Bruce Dickinson (vocals), Steve Harris (bass), Dave Murray (guitar), Adrian Smith (guitar), Nicko McBrain (drums)]

Rating: 6.5

This, the first album in the post-Live After Death phase of Iron Maiden's existence, is unquestionably weaker than any of the previous Maiden albums, which is partly due to Steve Harris being far too self-indulgent with regard to his obvious love of lengthy tracks. Many of the songs should have been at least a couple of minutes shorter, and tend to drag once they pass the 5-minute mark. Another problem is that the same guitar sounds are used throughout the album, and quickly become tiresome. The album opens with Caught Somewhere in Time***, which at seven minutes or so is far too long given its lack of variety. However it is a reasonable song, and (sadly) is one of the best on the album. Wasted Years** is next, and is a frustrating example of a good idea that should have turned out a lot better than it did. Sea of Madness**, the third track, is one of the most unusual and atypical Iron Maiden songs, and as such is worthy of note, though it is not particularly appealing. Then comes Heaven Can Wait**, which has its good points but is mostly pretty mediocre. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner*** is one whose good moments just manage to outweigh its tendency to blandly conform to the album's annoying sound. Then, finally! we have a good track: Stranger in a Strange Land****. This captivating number actually suits the sound of the album and compositionally is more in the league of the likes of Children of the Damned or The Trooper. It is followed, however, by the worst song on the album: Déjà Vu*, which I am sure looked good on paper, but turned out lousy. Finally we come to the epic for this album, Alexander the Great****, which is pretty good but falls short of the quality of Maiden's previous epics. And, at eight-and-a-half minutes, it begins to drag before its end is reached.

Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)

[Bruce Dickinson (vocals), Steve Harris (bass), Dave Murray (guitar), Adrian Smith (guitar), Nicko McBrain (drums)]

Rating: 6.5

This ‘concept' album reached number 1 in the UK chart, but it certainly did not deserve to. It is as bad as Somewhere in Time, but for different reasons. The sound, this time, is fine. The quality of the songs is not. With a supernatural theme running through the whole album, the focus was too narrow to permit the kind of creative freedom that might have made this a great album. Having said that, it boasts two of Maiden's greatest tracks, and so cannot be said to be a complete loss. The opening track, Moonchild**, is interesting but in the long run merely adequate. What follows, however, is Infinite Dreams*****, an anthemic track with poetic lyrics and masterful construction that is reminiscent of Revelations. It is certainly one of Maiden's best. Next is Can I Play with Madness**, whose popularity baffles me. I find it rather annoying. The Evil That Men Do** is slightly better, but not much. The fifth track, however, is a masterpiece, and the epic on this album: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son*****. Worthy to be ranked alongside the likes of Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Powerslave, this is once again Maiden at their best. At nearly ten minutes in length, this is strongest during the last half of the song, after the lyrics have run out, and the final minute is pure instrumental dynamite. The Prophecy* is next, by a hair the worst song on the album, followed by The Clairvoyant**, which is actually not too bad and almost deserves three stars, and finally Only the Good Die Young**, which is mediocre at best.

No Prayer for the Dying (1990)

[Bruce Dickinson (vocals), Steve Harris (bass), Dave Murray (guitar), Adrian Smith (guitar), Nicko McBrain (drums)]

Rating: 6

What has happened to Bruce's voice?? For most of the tracks on this album, he adopts a somewhat gravelly style to his singing which detracted from my enjoyment of what is otherwise a reasonably good album. Not that you would think so from the first track, Tailgunner*, which is one of several poor tracks. The next song, Holy Smoke***, is a neat parody of television evangelism and actually works quite well with Dickinson's harsh new vocal style. No Prayer for the Dying*** is a good track that should have been a very good track but doesn't quite pull it off, partly because of an obnoxious instrumental break that doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the song. Public Enema Number One* deserves a poor rating if only for that title, but in fact the song's pretty bad as well. As, indeed, are Fates Warning* and The Assassin*, both of which fall well short of mediocrity. Fortunately they are followed by Run Silent, Run Deep****, a great track which on its own would go a long way towards redeeming the album. Hooks in You*, which comes next, is another bad one, but Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter**** is a great, high-energy hit single (literally – it was the only Iron Maiden song to reach number 1 in the UK chart). The final track is Mother Russia*****, an excellent epic in the grand Maiden tradition – except that at five minutes it barely qualifies as such. Perhaps Steve Harris was pressed for time when writing songs for this album.

Fear of the Dark (1992)

[Bruce Dickinson (vocals), Steve Harris (bass), Dave Murray (guitar), Janick Gers (guitar), Nicko McBrain (drums)]

Rating: 5

Oh dear. With a new guitarist (Adrian Smith having left after 10 years with the band) and a new cover artist (Derek Riggs' classic designs not being deemed ‘scary' enough), Iron Maiden return with their worst album yet. With twelve songs on the theme of ‘fear', this is a concept album in all but name, and it has very little to recommend it. Be Quick Or Be Dead** is a smash-and-grab single with nothing new to offer, while From Here to Eternity* is quite awful. Afraid to Shoot Strangers**** is the high point on the album and has many good points, but it comes across as an epic-by-numbers and its instrumental break is as out of place as that on No Prayer…, which it in some ways resembles. Fear is the Key** is okay and, in its tackling of the subject of AIDS, commendable, but ultimately it is uninspired. Childhood's End** is mediocre, Wasting Love** is better but still somehow unsatisfying, and The Fugitive** is Maiden-by-numbers again. Chains of Misery** is also mediocre, while The Apparition* and Judas Be My Guide* are just plain bad. Weekend Warrior** is pretty dull fare, which leaves only the album's epic, Fear of the Dark***, to save the album from disaster. Unfortunately it doesn't. It's a reasonably good song, but it's well below the standard of past epics, even the lesser ones like Prodigal Son.

After this album, Bruce Dickinson left the band, and for a while I gave up on them. This was a great mistake, since subsequent studio albums were far better than Fear of the Dark. Two live albums (A Real Live One and A Real Dead One) were released, but I did not buy these and still have not. A compilation, Best of the Beast, was also released, but I have not bought this either and almost certainly will not (I have all the tracks – why buy them again?). When I buy the live albums, I shall review them, but they are almost certain not to measure up to the awesome Live After Death.

The X Factor (1995)

[Blaze Bayley (vocals), Steve Harris (bass), Dave Murray (guitar), Janick Gers (guitar), Nicko McBrain (drums)]

Rating: 8

Dickinson's replacement was Blaze Bayley, ex-Wolfsbane, an accomplished singer/songwriter who brought a new dimension to Maiden's sound. This, his first album with the band, is a classic which contains some of Maiden's most original work for many years. Unusually, the album opens with an epic, Sign of the Cross*****, a fascinating work that plays to Bayley's strengths as a singer. His vocals are compelling, and the song itself is stirring and complex. The second track is Lord of the Flies**, a song of moderate quality that is about as low as this album stoops. Next is Man on the Edge***, an entertaining, fast-paced ‘hit single' based on the movie ‘Falling Down'. Following this is Fortunes of War***, a sombre-toned, almost Doom-Metalish track that seems quite un-Maidenlike at times. Next is Look for the Truth***, a fine song that recalls the good quality short(ish) album stalwarts of the past like Children of the Damned or 2 Minutes to Midnight. The next track, The Aftermath****, is a great WW1-inspired number, full of catchy riffs and vocals that you'll find yourself humming after having heard it only once or twice. Judgment of Heaven** is weaker, probably the least interesting track on the album, but it is by no means a bad song and has some nice moments. Blood on the World's Hands*** is very good and quite atypical for Maiden, which makes it all the more interesting to listen to. The Edge of Darkness**** is a great song, replete with impassioned vocals, which tells a powerful tale of the movie ‘Apocalypse Now'. 2 A.M.*** is a somewhat morose but nevertheless catchy track which grows on you with repeated listenings. The final track, The Unbeliever***, is perhaps the most unusual and atypical Maiden song yet, with moments of excellence that balance out its weaker moments. Altogether, this is a great album and marks a real return to form for the band.

Virtual XI (1998)

[Blaze Bayley (vocals), Steve Harris (bass), Dave Murray (guitar), Janick Gers (guitar), Nicko McBrain (drums)]

Rating: unknown

I have bought this album only recently and have not listened to it enough yet to properly assess it. Initial impressions are that it is not as good as The X Factor. A review will appear here shortly.

Brave New World (2000)

[Bruce Dickinson (vocals), Steve Harris (bass), Dave Murray (guitar), Adrian Smith (guitar), Janick Gers (guitar), Nicko McBrain (drums)]

Rating: 7.5

Blaze Bayley left the band after Virtual XI, and now Bruce is back, along with guitarist Adrian Smith, making Iron Maiden a six-man band for the first time. Bruce’s voice has not sounded this good since Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, and the sound quality of the album in general is top-notch. A few of the songs suffer from Repetitive Chorus Syndrome (RCS), but despite this fact the album is one of Maiden's strongest. The Wicker Man***, occupying the same opening spot as previous turkeys Tailgunner and Be Quick Or Be Dead, is unremarkable but thankfully much better than those two. Ghost of the Navigator*** is similarly enjoyable, and in the style of some of Maiden’s older works. Brave New World** is weaker, and has a bad case of RCS, but it is not altogether bad. The next track, Blood Brothers*****, is excellent – original and innovative, with a complex, full sound that results from the extra instrument being employed. Following this is The Mercenary*, the worst song on the album. Fortunately it is the only song that I actively dislike. Dream of Mirrors** is next, a five-minute song that for some reason has been dragged out to more than nine minutes. Despite a terrible opening, it is not a bad song – it is just far too long, at times repetitive, and does not live up to its potential. The seventh track, The Fallen Angel***, is a high-energy number whose blistering pace never lets up even for a moment. In this way it is reminiscent of Where Eagles Dare or Running Free, and it benefits from the full sound that characterises much of this album. Next is The Nomad***, another nine-minute song which rather outstays its welcome. However this one has some good things going for it, and in places recalls the spirit of Alexander the Great. The penultimate track, Out of the Silent Planet***, is an enjoyable song that is marred by a bad case of RCS. However it has some interesting themes and is one of the better songs on the album. Finally, The Thin Line Between Love and Hate**** is a great song, exploring multiple themes and making excellent use of the many instruments involved. On balance, then, this is a great album, and Bruce's best since Powerslave.


Having listened to a few of these albums again recently, I feel I was a little hard on the album Killers. I will be upping its rating and amending its review in the near future. I will also be amending the review and rating on Seventh Son of a Seventh Son - this album is not quite as bad as I remembered and The Prophecy in particular does not deserve the low rating I gave it. I have also now listened to Virtual XI enough to review it, though the outlook is grim - it's almost as bad as Fear of the Dark.

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