Iron Maiden

Capitol Records, 1984


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Chances are, this review is going to irritate a few of the publicists I work with who either presently handle or who have handled Iron Maiden in the last three years. You see, they spent a lot of time pushing last year's re-issued, re-mastered CDs, and chances are they'll be pushing the upcoming reissue -- if you're keeping score at home, this will be the third re-issue -- of the albums on Portrait, Iron Maiden's new label.

But no, I had to go and dig out my vinyl copy of Powerslave, which I bought back in 1987 when I was a pimply-faced, undersexed high school student. (I don't know why I've recently gotten onto an Iron Maiden kick, but in the last week, I've listened to almost nothing else in the car but Powerslave and The Number Of The Beast dubs I found when I was cleaning my parents' garage.) But it doesn't matter whether I'm listening to this on record or CD, new copy or old; the fact remains that this is arguably Iron Maiden's best album.

Powerslave is first noteworthy because it marked the first time in the band's recorded history that they kept the exact same line-up two albums in a row. (Drummer Nicko McBrain replaced Clive Burr on 1983's Piece Of Mind.) It's noteworthy to the long-time fans as the album that marked Iron Maiden's greatest popularity, and the album that spawned Live After Death. It's best remembered for three songs: "Aces High", "2 Minutes To Midnight" and the title track.

But before we get into those, let's talk about two underrated tracks. The first, "The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner," is a track that I doubt any other metal band would have dared to touch. Steve Harris and crew had to have balls the size of watermelons to take a whacked-out poem written in the 19th Century by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and turn it into a 13-minute epic. The thing is, their spin on the poem works, and though the middle sags just a bit when they go into a spaced-out interlude, the track is a masterpiece. True story: we had to read this poem in our sophomore honors English class. I brought in the record, and we listened to it as part of the class. A lot of us finally understood what Coleridge was saying in the poem, and I suspect a lot of twenty-somethings had this record to thank for helping them understand that literary work.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The other track is one that doesn't feature lead singer Bruce Dickinson. "Losfer Words (Big 'Orra)" is a powerful instrumental that shows off the talents of McBrain, bassist Harris, and guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. Every time I hear this song, I just have to crank the volume to the breaking point and let myself be overwhelmed by the groove these guys lay down. Outstanding!

Of course, the better-known songs are just as powerful. "Aces High" is a track that just has everything going for it: stellar playing, a well-written song and a catchy feel. Seeing that I always liked to read about ancient Egypt and mummies when I was about 10, you can understand why I would love a song like "Powerslave," and though I can't claim to have any knowledge of Egyptian music, the groove this song has sure sounds like it fits the bill. "2 Minutes To Midnight" is a track that dares the listener to think about the lyrics, but it is just as good as its counterparts.

The remaining tracks on Powerslave have occasionally taken heat from the fans, and on first listen, one thinks that Iron Maiden took Dickinson's hobby of fencing a little too close to their hears with songs like "The Duelists" and "Flash Of The Blade". However, if you spend enough time with these songs, they prove themselves to be worth their mettle (though "The Duelists" sounds a little too close to "Losfer Words" in the opening). The other track, "Back In The Village," admittedly isn't the strongest song Maiden has ever done, but I've always kind of liked this track for some unknown reason.

The more I listen to Iron Maiden, the more I realize that they really weren't a two-guitar attack, but three. Harris uses his bass as less of an anchor for the rhythm section and more as a "lead rhythm" guitar to set the tone of the songs. (Maybe -- just maybe -- this was a warning sign of the slide that Iron Maiden would eventually take, but at the time, I know I didn't care if the bass sometimes drowned out the guitar work.) Also, Iron Maiden has never been a big bar-chord band; instead, Smith and Murray often opted to harmonize their playing to create their own unique sound -- and in retrospect, it was a mark of genius. If you watch either guitarist play, they opt for a solo of substance rather than flash; go dust off Live After Death and see what I mean.

If I had any criticism, it would have to be one I've made several times: I really wish that McBrain would rely less on the ride cymbal and more on the hi-hats. When he does this, as on "Powerslave," it works -- though I'll concede that using the ride cymbal on tracks like "Losfer Words" and "Aces High" fits the bill.

Powerslave marked a special time in Iron Maiden's career: it was the album that set them on the path to becoming superstars, and quite possibly the spokespeople for heavy metal at that time. Even now, 15 years after it was releaed, Powerslave is an album that hasn't aged a bit. You don't believe me? Head on out and pick this up on one of the CD reissues. Chances are I'll be behind you in line, updating my vinyl copy.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.