Greetings, Glancers! No, you haven’t seen this post before, so shut up. I’ve reviewed every single album (though they may be posted on Amazon rather than here), I’ve ranked my favourite Maiden songs, but given the recent announcement of their upcoming new album (writing this on 21st July 2021) and the unveiling of their new single, and the fact that I’ve been reading quite a few similar lists recently, I thought I’d slap something together too. I’ll make this as condensed as possible; a nice, quick, and obviously divisive thing. No Live albums, because what’s the point?
A little bit before we begin – when I think of Maiden, I think of Brucey, so I’m not a huge fan of the non Bruce albums. However, its clear the band and Bruce needed a break from each other before getting back on track. I don’t enjoy Blaze or Paul’s vocals, but moreover the songs written in these two disparate periods aren’t overly interesting to me, for differing reasons. Roughly I have a list of Maiden albums I listen to regularly, and a list I only take regularly enjoy a few songs from. Those in the bottom half could be in any order, and those in the top half could be in any order. Got it? Lets do this!
Old school Maiden fans and punk boys will hate me for this, but I’m not a fan of Killers. I’m surprised the band managed to succeed after this weak sophomore effort. Obviously that had plenty to do with Bruce joining and the band changing their style – Killers feels nothing like progress, and more like cutting room floor outtakes from the debut. If you like that sort of thing, then you probably like this album. Pat yourself on the back. Few of the songs have the immediacy or punch or lasting appeal of those from their debut, and there’s another needless instrumental stinking up the short running time. Only Wratchchild feels special. To be positive, it’s still Maiden – it might not be the Maiden I prefer, but they still play hard and fast.
15: No Prayer For The Dying
Following up an incredible run of albums in the mid 80s is this tired, turgid affair. Bruce was distracted, the band feel unsure of their sound or direction, and again there’s only a single song which makes any sort of impact. Bring Your Daughter is the big one – it’s not even very good – and a small handful of other songs at least have energy and ideas, while still feeling dull as a whole. Mother Russia tries to be inventive, but ends up a bit of a mess.
14: Virtual XI
More than any other, this album felt like the end. Thankfully it wasn’t, but if it had been most fans would have agreed that the band had run its course. Neither Blaze album is good, the meagre 8 tracks on offer here somehow feel longer than they are, and once again only one song stands out for me – Como Estas Amigos is genuinely touching. While the band would continue to lean in to excess and repetition, here it feels boring and more noticeable. The much lauded The Clansman is dull, The Angel And The Gambler loses steam after a couple of minutes. Futureal doesn’t live up to its opening. The band wouldn’t be this poor again.
13: The X Factor
Their 10th album is only marginally better than their 11th. It’s longer; too long. Essentially every song could have 30-40% shaved off their running times and we’d have a better album – still not a good album, but more palatable. Unlike the previous albums on my list, this one doesn’t have a single standout song, but a handful of the songs are more enjoyable than much of my 16-14 picks.
12: Iron Maiden
It’s the debut. They set out their stall and let us know we’re in for a wild ride. Being punk inspired, it’s fairly one tone, fairly simple, and lacks the musical and lyrical nuance of what the band would become. At least it has the songs, which 16-13 are missing. Any number of songs here, while not personal favourites, are still live and general fan favourites but along with the nuance, the production isn’t great and the overall conceptual approach to making albums wasn’t quite in place.
11: Fear Of The Dark
Fear Of The Dark is all about the title track; it’s one of the finest the band has ever written. Somewhere in here is an okay album – Judas My Guide is great, the band experiments semi-successfully with slower songs, and Be Quick Or Be Dead is a good opener. The problem is that there’s an air of disinterest, Bruce is arsing about with his vocals, and there are too many average or forgettable songs which are difficult to differentiate between.
10: The Book Of Souls
Now we switch gears. Everything after this album (on my list) is gold – every one a classic. The Book Of Souls – the band’s latest album at this point – is a good album, but shows too much of the bloating of the new Dickinson era. There are 11 songs, only 1 is under 5 minutes (by 1 second), and we have three songs over the ten minute mark. That’s not a problem in itself, but playing the thing as an album is exhausting. Speed Of Light isn’t the most exciting single and the epics don’t feel as powerful as on other albums. But the positives far outweigh the negatives. The songs are songs of moments rather than fully functioning and standing on their own, but it’s probably the album I’ve listened to least – partly because it’s so exhausting.
It’s a classic. I simply don’t like it as much as the albums below. I do have issues with it – I don’t think Rime Of The Ancient Mariner is all that interesting and Losfer Words can fuck off. Aces and 2 Minutes are perfect, Flash Of The Blade is underrated, and the others are strong.
8: The Final Frontier
Another beast, the longer tracks here don’t feel as artificially stretched as those on Book Of Souls, and the shorter songs pack a greater emotional punch. It’s a fantastic album which is perhaps too daunting for those fans stuck in the 80s – but it showcases supreme songwriting chops and shouldn’t be missed.
7: The Number Of The Beast
It’s one of the greatest Metal albums of all time, by any measure. It’s not higher on the list partly because the hits are so overplayed and partly because outside of the hits the songs aren’t as strong for me. Gangland, Invaders, The Prisoner – they’re fine, but not a patch on 22 or Children, which themselves aren’t as strong as the biggies.
6: Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son
Bearing in mind that every single one of these albums is essentially a masterpiece which I hold dear, it isn’t easy to number them by preference. These will change from day to day. Today, the classic Seventh Son is lower because I’m rushing to get this list finished. It does what Number Of The Beast doesn’t by making the non-singles just as strong as the singles. The epic of the piece isn’t overly interesting, but I prefer it to Rime and Alexander.
5: Somewhere In Time
The second half is weaker than the first, with only Stranger In A Strange Land in regular rotation for me, but the first half is as close to perfect as the band gets.
4: Dance Of Death
The band’s follow-up to their wildly successful ‘comeback’, Dance Of Death is essentially more of what made Brave New World so strong. It follows a similar format with a couple of short and punchy singles surrounded by much larger or experimental songs. Journeyman is basically an acoustic song and introduces strings, while Paschendale is a serious contender for their best song. In an era of pop punk and Nu Metal fame, Dance Of Death put most other rock and metal artists to shame with its scope and value – the WTF title track a jaunty descent into folksy storytelling cheese yet managing to not be shit, and No More Lies my all time favourite Maiden song.
3: Brave New World
While any of these top five albums could be my favourite Maiden album on any given day, it’s these final three which I listen to most – both as whole albums and when considering many of the individual songs. Brave New World holds a special place because it’s the album which, out of nowhere, pulled the band back from a 4 album downturn and near irrelevance, into the unstoppable machines they remain today. Opening track The Wicker Man is one of their best singles, a modern twist on their 80s classics and the whole album eschews the trends and sounds of the contemporary metal of the time to firmly place Maiden in a genre all of their own. Some songs do go a little overboard on repetition and I’m not a lover of fan favourite Blood Brothers but every other song has an instant melodic and tonal quality that it should pull in and hold fans who had abandoned the band, newcomers, remainers, and even those unfamiliar with the dark art of Metal.
2: Piece Of Mind
My favourite of the band’s 80s albums, it may also be the most clear example of the flawless first half, and much weaker second half. Luckily that second half opens with The Trooper. The album saw the band step away from both their punk and NWOBHM roots and foray into Prog – more songs with broader ideas and greater length and scope, songs with more interesting and less conventional structures and rhythms, and instrumentation beyond the standard guitar, bass, and drums you may expect. The guitars, bass, and drums obviously make up the bulk of the sound – this is still a Heavy Metal album – and they are still played with face-melting pace and vigour, but there’s more to it than just speed; there is intent, there is invention, there is a desire to be more than what they were and more than what others were doing. From the opening drum and gallop attack of Where Eagles Dare to the subtle, mirage like intro to To Tame A Land, and even with the ridiculous Quest For Fire sandwiched in the middle, it’s one of my favourite, and one of the best Metal albums ever.
1: A Matter Of Life And Death
I don’t think many fans will have this album as their number 1, but really it has everything an Iron Maiden fan should want in their music – Bruce is on top screaming form, the punchy singles are as shred-heavy and melodic as their most famous songs, and every member outdoes themselves in terms of writing and playing. There are allusions to Literate and Cinema and mythology, there are lofty concepts, and the epics are truly stunning without ever feeling like they meander or go off into unsatisfying stretches of ambience or directionless twiddling. Every diversion has a reason, every note has an intent, and more often than not there is a satiric and unnerving poignancy and rage at the state of the world – warmongers, religious tyrants, the shielded figureheads are all taken to task before painting a picture of skeletal ruin, but underneath it all is the defiance of punk ethos screaming ‘we’re not gonna take it’. There’s not a weak song on the album, and barely a weak moment. The vicious spite of These Colours Don’t Run. The pseudo-sequel to Paschendale in The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg, the ominous skin-crawling opening to Brighter Than A Thousand Suns, and the fiery dual closers Lord Of Light and The Legacy lift an already peerless band to heights few other artists ever even aspire to.
There we go, what do you think of my ranking? Feel free to share your ranking and reasoning in the comments!