I/ THE DI’ANNO YEARS
Metal has two defining bands in its infamous 30 odd year history; BLACK SABBATH and IRON MAIDEN (many look at Metallica as runner up but I’d personally go with SLAYER or DEATH on that one).
IRON MAIDEN released their debut album at the height of the NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) movement in 1980. Many of these bands such as SAXON, DIAMOND HEAD, HOLOCAUST, TYGERS OF PAN TANG and ANGEL WITCH have all since made their ranks in the annals of metal history, but Maiden ‘s first self titled album from the get go, stood out amongst all.
Founding members; STEVE HARRIS (bass) and DAVE MURRAY (rhythm guitar) began writing songs with themes of the macabre, fantasy (and later, warfare). On their first release, they focused on, for the most part, horror themes with fast and aggressive melodic song structures ala JUDAS PRIEST, UFO and THIN LIZZY. This album became a word of mouth metal must have, in my group of friends. If it wasn’t for the releases of Heaven and Hell that year, IRON MAIDEN would have been given the metal album of 1980 nod in my teenage critic’s corner.
Their debut had everything you wanted from a metal album, Odes to Transylvania, the mythological Phantom of the Opera and a seven foot victim of a medieval torture device called an iron maiden. This shaggy (originally), undead and all too happy chap was named EDDY. In one form or another, Eddy has been Maiden’s mascot now for thirty three years and his image has been included on each and every one of Maiden’s album covers
Lead vocalist, PAUL DI’ANNO sang with a strong, rough voice and cool stage presence but there seemed to be something missing with Maiden’s whole persona, meaning their live show seemed somewhat lackluster; having said that, Di’anno sounded great on their next album; Killers (1981) which also saw the addition of ADRIAN SMITH on guitars, taking over for the exiting DENNIS STRATTON.
Killers sounded even heavier than its predecessor. The songs were shorter and full of hooks and tasty solos, thanks to Adrian. Murders in the Rue Morgue and Purgatory still stand up today as essential metal listening and Drifter suggested they had loads more music in store. Adrian Smith was clearly the better guitarist than his predecessor but also brought his songwriting talents to the table. In hindsight, Maiden first two albums, were more original than we knew at the time. Nobody sounded like them and years later, no one has ever has been able to duplicate their majestic thunder.
Paul Di’anno parted ways with Maiden at the end of their 1981 tour, due to fatigue and substance abuse. His replacement help propel Maiden high, into the metal stratosphere.
II/ THE BEAST
In the spring of 1982, Maiden released their third (full length) album; The Number of the Beast. As luck would have it, BRUCE DICKINSON was finished with his NWOBHM band; SAMSON. As a versatile vocalist, high energy front man and talented songwriter, Dickenson quickly became a welcomed asset to the Maiden camp. In only a few short months and with the assistance of the legendary and amazingly talented; MARTIN BIRCH, they carved out their first masterpiece. The Number of the Beast. This album, by years end, was to become one of the most well known…and admired albums in metal history.
Right from the first track, one could hear a major difference in vocal approaches. Dickenson had less of an edge vocally, than Di’anno and leaned more towards the operatic stylings of ROB HALFORD (Judas Priest) or KING DIAMOND (Mercyful Fate). Gruff when he needed to be, screaming like a banshee when it applied, Dickinson was, by far, the superior vocalist and so easily, during that summer of 1982, did he win the hearts of every teenage metalhead in North America.
And I can personally testify to that as I would briefly like to tell you about the first time I saw Maiden, in a small hockey rink in Calgary Alberta, that summer in ‘82. The arena was no larger than an airplane hanger accommodating around 3000 metal fans. The German band, SCORPIONS were the headliners and creating a buzz in Canada that summer with their breakout album; Blackout. Choosing Maiden to open for them on their tour may not have been the Scorp’s best idea. As I sat there mesmerized during Maiden’s opening set, I forgot…or no longer cared who the headlining act was.
With the addition of Dickenson, Maiden were now complete; musically, visually…and now, high energy. I quickly realized these guys were the future of metal and would be around for some time to come. Playing such songs on that legendary “new” album as; 22 Acacia Avenue, Run to the Hills and Hallowed Be Thy Name, they would later join the ranks as some of the greatest metal tracks of time. Watching Adrian Smith and Dave Murray play twins leads on the latter song gave me a chill back then as they soon said, “goodnight”.
The Scorpions came on soon after, complete with full stage regalia. Me…and half the audience wandered out the arena part way through their set. I directly ran to the t shirt vendor to buy a Maiden Number of the Beast tour shirt and then wandered home. Anybody could have followed Maiden’s one hour set, even Jimmy Page and Robert Plant themselves, and it would not have made a difference, for I had just seen the future of Metal and nothing else, at that point, really interested me.
Soon after their Scorpions double header tour, Maiden (and the eight foot tall, Eddy) spent the rest of that year opening for JUDAS PRIEST on their Screaming for Vengeance tour. By the end of 1982 with the success of Number of the Beast, Maiden would no longer need to open for anyone.
III/ PIECE OF MIND and POWERSLAVE
1983 to 85 kept the band busy in the studio and on the road. In late ’82, CLIVE BURR left his seat as resident drummer, citing exhaustion and health reasons. Enter power drummer, NICO McBAIN (formerly of French hard rock outfit; TRUST).
For the Next 5 albums, this would be the classic Maiden line up everybody has came to know (and love). Piece of Mind upon release, received positive reviews and large record sales. Some of the highlights include; Revelation, Where Eagles Dare, the gritty, fast; Die with your Boots On and the forever played, perennial favorite; The Trooper.
Piece of Mind validated popular opinion that these guys were, by no means a fluke. Two remarkable British metal albums were recorded by a revitalized and hungry Maiden, spearheaded by one, Bruce Dickenson. For the first time, as a headlining act, they spent most of 1983 on the road, playing virtually every corner of the globe.
The late fall of 1984 saw Maiden releasing Powerslave and embarking on the massive Powerslave World Tour. Powerslave, their fifth studio recording, enjoyed high chart success has since has been the choice pick as their best work, by many a Maiden fan. The anthems; Aces High and Two Minutes to Midnight get the record off to a soaring start. Adrian Smith’s guitar work is remarkable while Steve Harris and Nico McBain, play really tight and keep the rythym section in fine order. The last track on Powerslave is an epic sea adventure, entitled; The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. For years, this track, a crowd favorite, showed more diverse songwriting skills from the band.
After a very successful world tour, Maiden released a double live album in 1985, entitled; Live After Death. Another million selling Maiden release, it highlighted selected dates on their 1984 Powerslave Tour.
IV/ PROGRESSIVE TONES
Somewhere in Time (1986) and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988) saw Maiden venturing into the crafty genre of progressive metal. Somewhere in Time took them in a new direction. The songs here didn’t sound like anything from their first two albums; Sea of Madness, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Wasted Years and Stranger in a Strange Land only proved they were always on top of their game; always changing, moving forward with fresh musical ideas and intriguing lyrical content.
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son took Maiden’s progression even further. Many have called this album, their swansong. This is Maiden as their most adventurous, at any rate. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is a collection of well written, superb songs, a few of which lean on the words and musings of ALEISTER CROWLEY.
Songs such a Can I Play With Madness and The Evil That Men Do were radio (and video) friendly favorites, back in the late 80’s but epics such as; Moonchild, The Prophecy and the title track were dark, haunting and masterfully performed. On this album, Maiden threw out all the stops and added; synth programming, choirs and classical guitar solos (thanks to Adrian Smith).
Such an over the top album required an over the top world tour and for much of 1988, Maiden did just that, bringing Seventh Son of a Seventh Son out to the masses for most of the year. Many of their North American dates boasted, up and coming hard rock heroes; GUN AND ROSES as the opening act.
Maiden ended their tour at the CASTLE DONNINGTON FESTIVAL, where they recorded their set for cd and video. This concert, personally speaking, is monumental. Besides, the fine performances from the guys, it best captures Maiden at their best in the 80’s.
V/ STRIPPED DOWN and FALLING APART
The nineties got off to a rough start as Adrian Smith left the band citing creative differences. Apparently he wasn’t happy about the new, stripped down direction the band was taking. JANNICK GERS (formerly of GILLIAN), then took over lead guitar duties.
The next album; No Prayer for the Dying (1990) was indeed stripped down, musically, especially when comparing them with their last two adventurous recordings. Although No Prayer for the Dying isn’t epic or particularly heavy…and Adrian Smith is obviously missing, this album contained some true Maiden classics such as; Tailgunner, Holy Smoke and the ever so lovely, sing a long with Eddy, novelty track; Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter.
In 1992, tensions were mounting in the land of Maiden. Bruce Dickinson had at that time, enjoyed some success with his solo project. The sales for their last album and box office receipts for the No Prayer for the Dying tour were less than spectacular. Before things got any worse, however, they managed to record; Fear of the Dark, which when listened to now, one can actually hear the sound of a band breaking up (okay, I know that is so unoriginal but I like it)
Mind you, there are still some fine tracks on here including the title track, which has become another staple in the Maiden set list. Fear of the Dark featured some kick ass rockers including; Be Quick or Be Dead, From Here to Eternity and The Apparition. Also, Steve Harris penned an interesting song of psychedelic influence, entitled; Afraid to Shoot Strangers which implied Maiden were still trying out different things but not much could really save this lackluster outing. Maiden subconsciously knew, at that point, it was time to take a break and regroup.
VI/ STRANGE DAYS
The nineties, in retrospect, were not kind to Iron Maiden. The decade, however, was prosperous for Bruce Dickinson. The early nineties saw him release the albums; Tattooed Millionaire (1990), Balls to Picasso (1994) and the remarkably well written and produced; Skunkworks (1996). All three recordings revealed a different sound (different, meaning there was nothing on these three albums that sounded anyway similar to Iron Maiden). The music from his first albums was that of the metal and hard rock genres. Skunkworks sounded different from his first two solo outings. This album sounded like fresh 90’s heavy alt/rock (In my opinion, I could hear, modern RUSH and SOUNDGARDEN in the tracks. It was quite refreshing). But Bruce had not yet broken away from the heavy British rock that influenced him.
Meanwhile, in 1995, Iron Maiden, recruited U.K. singer/songwriter BLAZE BAYLEY to help them with songwriting dilemma for their upcoming album. With Adrian Smith and Bruce Dickenson gone, Iron Maiden essentially had only songwriter left in the band. Although, bassist Steve Harris penned classic Maiden tracks in the past, he would need a little help in completing the album.
X-Factor was released in 1995 to little fanfare or acclaim. The follow up; Virtual X-I, received similar limited attention. Although vocally and creatively talented, Blaze Bayley struggled with filling in Dickerson’s shoes. Both albums had acceptable moments as one could tell that Virtual X-I and X-Factor were fine, passable metal projects…but were they Maiden albums? The answer became obvious just a few short years later.
Iron Maiden, with the stumbling Blaze Bailey and the over burdened, Jannick Gerrs, toured in support for the two albums in the mid to late nineties. Most of the gigs were scaled down to small venues such as clubs and theatres, a far cry from the filled to capacity arenas and stadiums that they were accustomed to. By decades end, the band’s future was uncertain.
VII/ DICKENSON’S MASTERPIECES
Bruce Dickinson, meanwhile, released two essential metal albums during Maiden’s years of struggle. Accident of Birth (1996) and The Chemical Wedding (1998), put Bruce, once again, on the map as a metal artist that sounded, fresh, relevant…and heavy!
Former Iron Maiden axe man, Adrian Smith, joined forces with Bruce on these albums, reminding the listener that they came from Maiden yet this time around, the music and lyrics were grittier, raunchier, darker and at times, simply gorgeous.
Accident at Birth contains many kickin tracks; The Magician, Welcome Home and Road to Hell are infectious songs that compliment Adrian Smith approach to guitar playing and The Road Home, Arc of Space and Ghost of Cain show Dickenson’s songwriting capabilities.
However well received (and reviewed) this venture was, things only got better. The Chemical Wedding was critically praised. Those who were not paying attention when Accident of Birth came out, clearly did not see this one coming. The Chemical Wedding was Dickenson’s personal tribute to poet/mystic, WILLIAM BLAKE. It was darker than hell with unsettling, wondrous imagery. Songs such as; King in Crimson, the Tower and Book of Thel sounded even musically (and lyrically) heavier than Accident of Birth. The music at times, was somewhat reminiscent of Maiden, with Smith’s trademark melodic lead solos flying everywhere…but dare I say, there seemed to be an extreme raunchiness (think SLAYER) in the riffs of Killing Floor and Book of Thel (with thanx as well, to Johnny Z on rhythm and lead guitars). Bruce had never sounded so metal! Jerusalem, Gates of Urizen and The Alchemist however showed us, once more that his songwriting skills were as sharp as ever. These three songs were wrapped up in a deep level of emotion depicting various mystical themes. Breathtaking is the only word to describe these three tracks. Apart from its conscience effort to be a dark and gloomy, kick ass metal album, The Chemical Wedding is also a very spiritual experience; a tribute to those who are practiced in the arts of magick, divination and alchemy.
Again, on a personal note, I remember falling in love with this album as I was going through a spiritual rebirth. A former Wiccan priest (and friend) turned me on to The Chemical Wedding as my life was going through a transition. How neatly it applied to the chaos going on around me. As I was learning the secrets of the tarot and of the wonder of the old Pagan ways, I must have listened to this cd at least, a thousand times on my headphones. I was a devoted Maiden fan…but they never sounded quite like this.
Dickenson received critical acclaim for The Chemical Wedding and it topped most critics’ list for metal recording of 1998. I used to often wonder how the guys in Maiden felt about Dickinson’s previous masterpieces while their notoriety (and credibility) was sinking fast.
As fate would have it, a resolution was reached with all band members the following year. Perhaps Maiden wasn’t over just yet…and with the 21st century looming around the corner, anything was possible.
MAIDEN IN THE 21st CENTURY
The year 2000 can be looked upon as the year of the comeback. Iron Maiden not only reunited with their charismatic singer, that year but also brought Adrian Smith back into the group, giving them a triple guitar attack. Smith joined fellow Maideners Dave Murray and Jannick Gerrs on their new album; Brave New World bringing with them some much needed life in the songwriting and guitar soloing department.
Brave New World surprised fans and critics alike with its fresh sound. It still had Maiden’s sound but with a contemporary metal component. Their updated sound served them well with the arrival of the new millennium. Songs like; The Wicker Man, Out of the Silent Planet, Blood Brothers and the title track, illustrated the magic that could happen if all six members put their heads together for a common goal. A Thin Line between Love and Hate, also demonstrated their dedication to always trying something new. Although it was a new departure from the typical Maiden, it was a wonderful way to end an album that left the listener wondering; why did they not do this years ago?
The album sold quite well for the first time in twelve or so years and their concert venues were upgraded to large arenas and stadiums, due to increasing popularity. In fact, over a quarter of a million fans flocked to see the “new and improved” Maiden at the annual Rock in Rio festival.
The following year, Bruce Dickenson released another solo record, entitled, Tyranny of Souls (2002). Devil on a hog and Soul Intruders were the hard rockin highlights of the project while Seas of the Sun showed that Dickenson was once again, an instinctually gifted songsmith. This was to be his last solo effort to date.
Maiden’s second album of the decade was entitled; Dance of Death. Some may argue this album was a slight step back from Brave New World, but I believe Maiden were on a roll. With each new album, more surprises with twists and turns came our way. They were clearly maturing as songwriters and perfecting their playing capabilities, if that was at all possible.
Dance of Death offered many sides of Maiden; from the emotionally uplifting No More Lies, Paschendale and Journeyman, to the straight out metal; Wildest Dreams and Montsegur. The title track; The Dance of Death has become, over the years, a cult classic and my personal all time favorite Maiden song. With its tongue in cheek account of a ghostly encounter gone horribly wrong, the epic track runs the gammit of tempo changes and chord progressions. Eight and a half minutes of metal bliss.
A year after a successful world tour, Maiden documented many of their concerts in a live cd/dvd package, entitled; Death on the Road.
In 2006, Maiden creatively surpassed themselves. Upon the release of A Matter of Life and Death, critics (including those who once shunned them) praised the recording as their best album to come out in years, if not ever. The songs featured on A Matter of Life and Death primarily focused on the topics of religion and warfare. At times angry, sometimes hopeful, there was a great lesson to be learned in these tracks about the arrogance, conceit and greed of humanity. Songs such as; For the Greater Love of God and The Legacy investigate such blunders while The Longest Day, undoubtedly has become the most impassioned anthem depicting those who fell on the beaches of Normandy, some sixty years ago. Adrian, Jannick and Dave go all out with some amazing guitar passages as Nico smashes the shit out of his drum kit, playing crazy time signatures. The results are exciting, moving and most satisfying.
In 2007, Maiden went back out on the road to promote the re-release of their 1985 live album; Live After Death. Their set list, more or less, focused on selections from the mid 80’s and again, every arena and stadium worldwide was standing room only.
Maiden documented the tour for film and released it theatrically in 2008. The movie and soundtrack was entitled; Flight 666. The endeavor was well received as Maiden were now drawing a second generation of fans…and after two year’s worth of touring, it was time to take a much deserved break.
In the summer of 2010, Maiden released their 15th studio album; The Final Frontier. Here was a band that did not rest on their laurels. If the showbiz adage, “You are only as good as your last album”, has any validity, than Maiden certainly had nothing to worry about in the world of today’s metal. The Final Frontier was highly ambitious and for the fourth album in a row, there appeared to be no filler. Every track was outstanding, be it, the mesmerizing Isle of Avalon, the outright grittiness of El Dorado and the infectious and lyrically brilliant tracks; Coming Home and When the Wild Blows.
The Final Frontier was so well received, it sat on top of the Billboard charts for weeks and earned the band a Grammy Award for best metal performance for the song; El Dorado. That year, they toured extensively, sometimes having American progressive metal heroes; DREAM THEATRE play an opening set.
2012 saw Maiden cross North America with Alice Cooper, as their special guest, for their 25th Anniversary of the release of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. There was not an empty seat from coast to coast according to all accounts as they, once again, concentrated on their material from the mid to late 80’s.
Near the end of 2012, Steve Harris managed to release his first solo album, entitled; British Lion. Not for every Maiden or metal fan per se, British Lion was a labour of love for Steve and his studio session mates. The songs have a British hard rock influence (The WHO, UFO ect.) and the record was impeccably produced.
For 2013, Maiden have yet to slow down. The “Made in England” tour commences shortly with headlining dates at many metal festivals through out Europe and South America. They will also headline Donnington, later in the summer. Many of Maiden’s upcoming gigs will include American thrash legends; MEGADETH as the opening act. Quite the show, I must say.
THE GALVANATOR’S FINAL IMPRESSIONS
So I have given you pretty much all you need to know of reigning kings of metal. I needed not to look up Wiki or any metal site for any additional information. I have been following these guys for well over 30 years. I saw first hand, Maiden’s fast rise to the metal elite. I saw their bleak lows as they slugged it out without Dickinson (and Smith) in the 90’s…while he, himself grew as a writer and performer. And then at the turn of the century I saw Maiden reunite as a septet, no less and enjoy the best years of their long musical careers.
Since their reinvention in 1999, Maiden have release 4 out of 4 well received albums (critically and album sales). They play to sold out audiences, worldwide and you can easily tell the guys are enjoying every minute of it.
Three guitar players, a power drummer with a bass player and vocalist who are both imaginative wordsmiths; all with decades of metal experience, who’s to say what Maiden’s next album will sound like.
Progressive, adventurous, melodic, kick ass, just as their previous four albums they masterfully created thus far in the 21st century, it will be all this and more. It will no doubt be a masterpiece. You gotta love musical vets (of any genre), huh? They know their craft because they, for many years, lived their craft.
So no Maiden album for another year; the guys will be on the road in Europe and South America where they are not plugging anything in particular but just having fun.
And with that, the GALVANATOR salutes IRON MAIDEN. Look forward to see you guys make loads of new killer tracks and playing thousands of rockin nights! Thanx! .\,,/
10 KILLER MAIDEN TRACKS
10/ Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner (1985)
9/ The Prisoner (1982)
8/ Sea of Madness (1986)
7/ Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)
6/ The Legacy (2006)
5/ When the Wild Wind Blows (2010)
4/ Isle of Avalon (2010)
3/ Coming Home (2010)
2/ The Longest Day (20o6)
1/ The Dance oF Death (2003)
10 KILLER MAIDEN ALBUMS
10/ Powerslave (1985)
9/ Brave New World (2000)
8/ No Prayer for the Dying (1990)
7/ The Number of the Beast (1982)
6/ Somewhere in Time (1986)
5/ Dance of Death (2003)
4/ Piece of Mind (1883)
3/ The Final Frontier (2010)
2/ A Matter of Life and Death (2006)
1/ Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)