Maiden Through the Decades: Birth of the Beast Pt 1
Posted by jgbarry
The release of Iron Maiden’s 16th album “The Book of Souls” has inspired me to look back over the past decades of the bands 40 year career. Formed in 1975 by Steve Harris the only ongoing member throughout Maiden’s history it took five years before their first studio album in 1980.
Iron Maiden – 1980
Paul Di’Anno on lead vocals, Dave Murray, Denis Stratton on guitar and Clive Burr on the drums Maiden broke onto the music scene with their fast and ferocious sound. Produced in only 13 days the album has a raw, punk like sound which often splits fans of their later releases. The opening blast of “Prowler” sets the pace and introduces listeners to the typical Maiden intensity, which doesn’t let up throughout the album. “Sanctuary” added in the 1998 remastered release of the album builds on the same ferocity with its unique opening rift and helps create a great contrast to the slower more atmospheric “Remember Tomorrow” which really kicks into gear with Di’Anno’s drawn out wail 2-minutes in before building to the solo. Freeing itself from the guitar dominance of the opening tracts “Running Free” has a strong drum beat that carries you in a rush through the track. Undeniably the highlight is the 7 – minute epic “Phantom of the Opera” which incorporates elements of prog rock and several time changes that still make it one of my all time favourites. While the end of the album lacks the same intensity with the title track probably the weakest on the album the instrumental “Transylvania” remains up there with the best.
Killers – 1981
Unfortunately Maiden’s second album is possibly a little disappointing due in part to the short turn around time and the fact that most of the tracks were written before they recorded Iron Maiden as a result Killers lacks the development of a follow-up Album. However, this does not mean that it isn’t worth your time as the fast past “Wrathchild” is like a shoot of adrenaline and is still regularly played live while “Murders in the Rue Morgue” based on the short story by Edgar Allen Poe has a distinctive rift and some catchy speed changes. The surprise of the album for me, “Prodigal Son” incorporates acoustic guitar effectively to create an engaging and different sound that shows the bands depth of musical talent and diversity. The most notable change with Killers is the departure of Denis Stratton and the inclusion of long-term member Adrian Smith who would make an important contribution to song writing on future Albums.
The Number of the Beast – 1982
Maiden’s third studio album for many is when Maiden become Maiden as Bruce Dickson joins the band taking over lead vocals with his distinctive style and range. The album immediately shot to prominence for the controversy over the name and cover art which inspiring claims of Satanism however the free publicity wasn’t necessary as the album speaks for it self. The first drum roll of “Invaders” acts to introduce something special and immediately sets a quick pace. One that is suddenly forgotten with the more melodic “Children of the damned” that allows fans to fully appreciate Dickinson’s more operatic vocals for the first time. The third track “Prisoners” seems to find the balance as the heavy drums keeps a steady rhythm while the guitars race into a familiar gallop until the chorus where Dickinson’s voice takes control and Harris’ underlying base line becomes more obvious. Even with this strong opening three songs really lift the album , starting with the title track. “The number of the beast” opens with the now familiar introduction that quickly establishes the atmosphere before the steady rhythmic guitar kicks in and Dickinson’s lyrics begin to weave their story telling magic climaxing in the solo. The song sets out the format for many future hits but as the drum beat and opening riff of “Run to the Hills” proves Maiden is far from a one trick pony. Moving away from atmospheric style this fast paced gem is all aggression and is one of the perfect examples of the band at full gallop with Harris’ bass driving the track. Just when you may think that the album has reached its height and starts to fade the final bell tolls. “Hallowed be thy name” returns to the story telling of the title track but brings in more curiosity through mirroring the lyrics with distinct changes in pace to represent the mood of Dickson’s protagonist who is quickly running out of time. While any Maiden fan keeps these songs up their with their best, a couple of the songs go missing and lack any of the same power.
4.5 / 5 Eddies
Piece of Mind – 1983
Considered by many fans to be Maiden’s best album Piece of Mind capitalizes on the bands popularity after Number of the Beast. The opening track “Where Eagles Dare” grabs your attention with the opening drum roll before the guitar riff races away. New drummer Nicko McBrian makes a strong first impression as his cymbal work carries the song throughout while the guitars give it a real aggressive feel fitting of the classic WW2 film. One of Dickerson greatest song writing contributions “Revelations” slows the pace down and focuses on building atmosphere with its more meta-physical content and literary quotations. The first single from the album “Flight of Icarus” is one of Maiden’s simpler and easier tracks to listen to as it has a distinctive rhythm where the guitars and drums combine to give a sense of the mythical Icarus rising to sun and doesn’t require any deeper thought. The second single however has always captured my attention with its historical links, literary references and film clip. My all time favourite track “The Trooper” just delivers everything I expect in spades combining this rich content with Maiden’s galloping style to give a real sense of the horses charging with the steady rhythm of Harris’ bass underneath the repeating guitar riff and Nicko’s military drums. Finished with Dickinson’s rushed lyrics that creates the desperation of the soldiers racing to their deaths, it’s simply perfect. Unfortunately the second part of the Album drops away a little, but Nicko’s backwards message at the start of “Still life” is a quick stab at the satanic critics while “Sun and Steel” continues the military theme carrying through the album with a catchy chorus. Ultimately the grand finale is no “Hallowed be thy Name” but “To Tame a Land” still uses some good changes in pace where the music can build with Dickinson’s lyrics towards the galloping instrumental bridge and the climax. The now stable line up delivers a very cohesive album and while not every song is an absolute hit there are no real weaknesses unlike the previous releases.
Stay tuned for part 2 of my retrospective look at Iron Maiden’s back catalogue when I finish off the glorious 80s, till then up the Irons.
About jgbarryA teacher, poet, novelist and causal tech guru I am always keen to share my thoughts. A firm believer in critical thinking I rarely rush a decision without any research and once made my mind is primed for a good debate.
Posted on September 16, 2015, in Music, Review and tagged 1980's, Adrian Smith, bruce Dickinson, Clive Burr, Dave Murray, Denis Stratton, Heavy Metal, Iron Maiden, Killers, Nicko McBrain, Paul Di'Anno, Piece of Mind, Steven Harris, The Number of The Beast. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.