Greetings, glancers! As I warned you previously, it’s time to listen to some more of the Iron Maidenside-output. So where is the Iron Maiden connection you ask? Keep reading and you’ll learn. Samson were another NWOBHM band emerging in the late 70s and featured at various times both Clive Burr on drums and Bruce Dickinson on vocals. Dickinson joined as their first album (Survivors) was released, but played no part on it. We’ll skip that one. Head On was their second album, released in 1980, features Bruce on vocals and an early version of The Ides Of March which would appear in a different format on Maiden’s second album. It’s all very confusing, as is much of metal. How about I shut up and listen before the executioner on the album cover fulfills his wish and fists me?
‘Hard Times‘. I listened to the first track of Survivors first – As imagined the production isn’t stellar, but gives a very raw, garage feel. The bass was very prominent, has a very rusty feel (I mean that as a positive), and was overall a fine punk influence track. This has a similar production, possibly a little thinner, and Dickinson has a weird and unnecessary effect on his vocals. He sounds young here, but not unrecognizable. The song itself is fun, a clear enjoyable riff, but the whole thing is let down by very tinny drums which sound more like someone tapping a pen on a table in places. The drumming itself is fine, the guitar solo is serviceable following a descending rhythm, and it feels fairly commercial. I’m guessing it’s named after the Bronson/Hill movie based on the lyrical content.
‘Take It Like A Man‘ starts with some distant whistling, what sounds like someone chucking a milk bottle, then the crunching guitars come in nicely. The intro is at odds with the eventual verse – it has an early Di’anno era Maiden feel actually, a rough edge, a joyful intensity, and a sense of fun and ambition. Dickinson sounds pretty different here, the drums are excellent, if again a little under-produced, and the guitars are good. Bruce does let out a trademark screech at one point. Good song.
‘Vice Versa‘ opens with cascading drums before shifting into some bizarre slow tempo, otherwordly verse. It’s interesting, and I like it, and as it progresses the effects give way and a more traditional vocal and sound emerges. The drums here are hilarious, going off on their own Keith Moon or Mastodon style, using it as a lead instrument rather than providing a beat and fill. There’s a lot of phasing on the guitars, Bruce singing ‘vice versa’ actually sounds more like ‘bite faster’ or ‘fight bison’. We get a groovy instrumental section in the middle followed by a very abrupt stop and return to the verse. PS: I know what this reminded me of – One Track Lover from Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place.
‘Manwatcher‘ opens with another dirty riff, Bruce’s vocals following its melody. There isn’t a chorus so it feels a little repetitive, at least so far. Samson loves those sudden pauses. It’s moving off into a new section now which bears little resemblance to the first part aside from the obvious. Again the drums are maybe the best part, good guitar solo, but its still let down by the production – listening through Youtube certainly isn’t helping. Bruce doesn’t sound like himself here – less force, less volume.
‘Too Close To Rock‘ gets straight to the point, big riff and hanging backing chords, the riff feeling a little Zeppelin-esque and having little changes each time. Bruce really sounds like Bruce here, though the drum sound is again a let down. The song suddenly shifts around the minute mark for what I suppose is a chorus, but feels like a random charging increase of pace. There is another verse and chorus, followed by an electric, energetic instrumental/solo section. I like how without warning these shifts are – no pre chorus or change of beat, just straight in almost as if there was something edited out. It’s refreshingly short, and closes on a trademark Brucie ‘WAOOW!’
‘Thunderburst’ reminds me in its opening moments of Alice In Chains – acoustic, mysterious, ominous. Then the thunderburst comes in, crushing guitars, tumbling drums. As Maiden fans will surely note, this is an early version of The Ides Of March and in all honesty it isn’t much different.
‘Hammerhead‘ starts with a little drum snap before another cool riff. This does suffer from those silly group vocals shouts that I always hate but the melodies, especially in the chorus are reminiscent of some 80s Maiden tracks – just commercial enough to widen the listening net. The drums are good again, but you know by now the production lets things down. There seems to be some sort of breaking glass noises in the background too. There is a sort of middle 8th or change in the middle where a lot of the distortion is withdrawn – it changes things up just a little before the obligatory solo. It’s another good New Wave metal song that I had no idea about previously, not too sure about the fade out ending though.
‘Hunted‘ sees the band almost breaking out into a bit of funk. There’s a prominent bass line and some Di’Anno style verse vocals. Nice reverb on the guitar gives the song an air of mystery, the backing guitar lines have a nice crunch to them. The chorus is a bit of a let down, musically and lyrically, but we can forgive it as the song as a whole is short. Interesting ending too.
‘Take Me To Your Leader‘ has a weirdo intro, effects and flange, but it’s only for a few seconds before the speed pounces on you. This one sounds much more like the Bruce we know, lots of screams and yelps, and the pace is relentless. You know the score by now – drums, playing – great, production – not so great. Nifty bass again here, and the lyrics are amusing. This one seems like it had a bit more thought in the construction, it’s more dynamic, and it has another interesting ending. The band had ideas, weren’t merely playing hard and fast.
‘Walking Out On You‘ opens with a plodding single bass note, like someone flicking an elastic band. Then a lot of weird stuff happens – noises, distorted choir vocals, creaks, alien guitars – I wasn’t expecting anything like this, so props to them. This goes on for about a minute before a more traditional song structure emerges. It’s heavy, slow, then the volume withdraws and we get a more subtle verse – still lots of effects on the vocals and guitar, and the drums are still doing their own thing. The whole quiet verse, loud chorus thing had mostly been perfected by Zep, but it’s nice to see an actual metal band giving it a go. Nice instrumental section in the middle with guitar parts I quite enjoyed, the beat remaining steady throughout. The final minute goes a bit crazy, with Christmas bells, spoken parts, kids, all sorts of weird effects and oddities.
‘Angel With A Machine Gun‘ gets this back to basics – simple riff, Brucey vocals, tight playing, fact pace, standard British metal lyrics. As seems to be the case with the band, they add the occasional little twist – a brief drum interlude or twist on the existing guitar riff. Otherwise, this is straightforward stuff, nothing startling, but plenty of energy and fun.
‘Kingsway Jam‘ is apparently a bonus track. It’s near 10 minutes long too – will it be instrumental? We get stuck in straight away – a fade in to chaos, drums blasting and distant guitars twiddling. Bruce unleashes one so we’re not in instrumental territory. This feels like a live track from the production, the vocals are noticeably less polished on this one, but I could attribute that to them simply arsing about in the studio with this one. Guitar and drums are good as always. This ostensibly follows a verse and chorus format, just that there are longer jams between each, at least until the 4.30 mark where the pace slows and Bruce starts talking hilariously. He’s laughing as he does it, adding to the banter. This settles into a more routine steady slow jam, along with some fairly funny lyrics, and more instrumental pieces. It’s your standard bonus track jam in other words.
Overall I would say this was a pleasant surprise. I enjoyed it a lot more than Bruce’s first solo effort, and I think I was relieved that it didn’t succumb to many of the tropes and ‘mistakes’ of early 80s metal. There’s a lot of ideas, if not full blown ambition on display, and there is that unmistakable quirky sense of fun which comes from the band being British – there are a lot of tongues in cheeks, but the band prove they can play with the best of them. It’s a shame the production isn’t the best – the overall sound has a lot of hissing and the drums lose the impact which they no doubt would have had with a fuller sound. Nevertheless, this is one I’ll listen to again and one I’d recommend to any fellow metal heads who enjoy this era or are looking into the past.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Head On and if you have any special memories of the band or the time!
Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Take It Like A Man. Take Me To Your Leader. Hammerhead.
Greetings, Glancers! As many of you may know, I’ve always been a bit of a metal fan and rank Iron Maiden as one of my favourite bands. One thing I’ve never actually bothered to do though is listen to the other work by the various band members – solo or with other bands. And why the hell not? It’s probably crap, as is usually the way with these things, but I’m going to do it anyway, and you can come along for the ride. Oh yeah, I’m not going to bother with the Blaze Bailey or Paul Di’Anno stuff. I can’t be arsed. Maybe one day. For now, here’s a handy list of the albums I’ll be covering:
Bruce Dickinson: Tattooed Millionaire. Balls To Picasso. Skunkworks. Accident Of Birth. The Chemical Wedding. Tyranny Of Souls.
Samson: Survivors. Head On. Shock Tactics.
Steve Harris: British Lion. Calm Before The Storm.
Urchin: Urchin. High Roller. Get Up And Get Out.
ASAP: Silver And Gold
Psycho Motel: State Of Mind. Welcome To The World.
A million years and albums later and they’re still touring as long and wide as ever. I’ve tried to cover as many albums and eras as possible and I’m sure any of the more old skool fans who read this may shriek in agony at the amount of recent material listed. Tough. Mullet Man (Brucie, sign me breast!) may have said that old is better than new, Larry, but Maiden seem to get better with age having already pumped out classic after classic in the 80s.
49. The Ides Of March (Killers): Just so you know, this will be the only instrumental on the list. Unlike the others, this one both serves a greater purpose and is perfectly listenable on its own. Acting as a stonking intro to the post punk blast that is Killers, this is basically a series of galloping drums and guitars with a brilliant solo over the top, yet it merges perfectly with Wrathchild.
48. 2.00 AM (The X Factor): The X Factor isn’t a high point for the band, but it does offer some darkly shining moments. The album as a whole feels much darker than anything else the band has done, thanks not only to the decreased pace and increased volume, but largely to the singular vocals of Blaze. He doesn’t have the range of many metal singers, but everything he does on the album suits the feeling perfectly. 2.00 am is a tale of loneliness and moves between quiet, contemplative moments and crushing, rage filled outbursts. At around the 3 minute point it also features an excellent, often over-looked guitar section.
47. Prowler (Iron Maiden): The first song from the first album is a statement of intent- we will play fast, we will play loud, we will play well and if you don’t like it, well, Iron Maiden’s still gonna get all of you. It retains the punk feel which most of the first 2 albums have- it is quick, vicious, is led by a strong riff, yet it features all the soon to be hallmarks of metal- ambitious breakdowns and instrumental sections, dualling guitars, drums going faster than the speed of light, and vocals from the pits of hell. It was meant to sound edgy and provocative and to this day it still does, never failing to get the blood pumping.
46. The Fugitive (Fear Of The Dark): Fear Of The Dark the album was not a highlight for the band but still contains a few gems. The Fugitive sees the band sounding more like the group we know and love yet also successfully reaching the new sounds they had been aiming for. There are softer moments which serve as a bridge to the heavier parts. Dickinson reigns in the gruff vocals and sounds more like his old self, the verses are plain but catchy, whilst the chorus is a typical singalong Maiden affair. Thankfully unlike much of the album the melodies here will stay with you.
45. Lord Of The Flies (X): After the epic hit/miss of Sign Of The Cross the X-Factor needed a high paced hit to get things back on track- Lord Of The Flies provides this. This one is full of portent and power and shows that the band still knew how to play fast with this new singer. Blaze sounds good here but it is one of the many which seems like Dickinson could add another level. Excellent verses give way to an eventual chorus which will have everyone singing along- come on- ‘WE ARE LORD OF THE FLIES!’ Whatever that means.
44.Revelations (Piece Of Mind): Rather than choosing a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth, Maiden’s most successful moments on their 4th album came when singing about mythology and war. This is one of the first songs where they really began to show their ambitions- it is well over 6 minutes song and passing through various different moments. Although they hadn’t yet taken to using a wider variety of instruments, it is excellent to see a song of this length and complexity played just with the standard guitars and drums combo. Dickinson rarely sounds better, reaching notes that would make Rob Halford’s balls drop, while the rest of the band are so in tune with each other it puts any current chart band (if there are any) to shame.
43. Flash Of The Blade (Powerslave): As I firmly believe that hyperbole is the BEST thing ever, I’d like to suggest that Flash Of The Blade is the best Iron Maiden Intro of them all; I may be drunk and tempted to say that it is the best song intro period. Unfortunatelt certain parts of the song which follow do not live up to the perfection of that riff and that pace, particularly the sudden blandness of the verses and silly lyrics. Luckily the choruses make up for this shortcomings and we also get a damn good set of solos. If the rest of the song matched the intensity of the intro we would have been looking at a world beater, and possibly, eater.
42. The Man Who Would Be King (The Final Frontier): By the time we reach their most recent album the band have had a tendency to offer ominous, moody, soft intros. Theses usually pay off and here is no different. We get a minute or so of emotive soft passages with Dickinson telling another story before the inevitable crashing thunder comes in. As such, this track like a few others has apparently more than one introduction, and if you know me, I love strong introductions. We eventually reach a fast, crunching main section which lasts for most of the 8 and a half minutes here- complex rhythms against glorious chorus and melodies clash with interesting instrumental sections and beatdowns. For a band who must surely have a combined age of 10 billion there is some peerless playing and writing on display here. Weep 3 minute chart wonder, weep for your daddies.
41. Futureal (Virtual XI): Virtual XI is largely a disaster, losing the impact that Blaze’s powerful tones had on the previous album. The band rightly knew that they had to pick up the pace a bit after the sauntering and slow X-Factor and they get off to an excellent start with the opening track. It is lightning fast, there are breathless solos, the verses and choruses are all catchy, and we get another brilliant intro riff. There isn’t anything bad to say about this track- if only the rest of the album or at least a few more tracks were more like this it would have been great.
40. The Talisman (TFF): Oh look, it’s another 9 minuter and it has another slow, soft, deep feeling acoustic intro. Many fans think the band have over-used this technique on their last 2 albums, and while that may very well be true I don’t believe that it has out stayed its welcome. The band are very much a progressive metal band now, although without resorting to a lot of the wacky effects and instruments that often make the genre laughable. Maiden like to stick with the things that they know how to play- and why not when they can play them better than most, but add layer upon layer of complexity. After a couple of minutes of set up we break into the main theme, as it were, a vicious, storm fuelled rampage of galloping guitars and screamed vocals. Eventually the song reaches a peak with a chorus of sorts before breaking down into another slower instrumental section. It’s another song that has so much in it that it can be overwhelming at first, especially when attempting to listen to the album as a whole, but upon listening you will uncover much shrouded joy.
39. Judas Be My Guide (FOTD): Another one of the few great songs of FOTD this has a brilliant opening, ok verse and bridge, and great chorus. If the verses hadn’t been so plain this would be seen as another classic but many times it gets lost amongst the remaining guff of the album. Of course there is a standout solo, and at around 3 minutes it’s one of the shortest songs of the band’s long career.
38. Age Of Innocence (Dance Of Death): Dance Of Death saw the band experimenting more with string backing and it is used to stirring effect here. It opens with quite dark tones before a charging set of chords sets the pace for the rest of the song. The band is on a rant about politics, justice, criminals winning while the innocent lose, but it is the bizarre contrast of the jolly chorus which really makes the song stand out in my mind. Although the lyrics are still dark, the music and the melodies are such a change from those of the verses that it almost sounds happy. Like many of the longer songs this one feel like 4 minutes rather than 6.
37. Die With Your Boots On (POM): POM arguably began the Maiden trend of splitting the tracks between longer epics, and shorter, more commercial blasts. Die With Your Boots On is one of the finest examples of the latter, a song so quick and catchy that it deserves a spot on most daily rock and metal radio playlists. With lyrics from the point of view of a character drawn of war, victory, and glory discounting those naysayers and pessimists who only see the gloom and impending doom of battle, the thrusting guitars chant a war cry to those heading into chaos and the chorus vocal harmonies evoke images of warriors echoing the inspiring speeches of their Generals as they slam into a human wall.
36. Aces High (Powerslave): As both an album and set opener, Aces High is hard to beat. An atmospheric, stormy intro gives over to one of the band’s most recognizable dual guitar charges. The verse riff echos the vocal melodies while Bruce tears through lyrics based around airborne warfare. Multi melodies and a huge chorus ensure this one’s name in history.
35. Satellite 15 (TFF): For a band that’s been around since the time of Christ, you’d expect Maiden to have undergone significant changes in sound. Sure they have sounded more epic over the last few years, and each album usually follows a new target theme, whether it be Powerslave’s Egyptian air or Somewhere In Time’s cyberpunk future feel, but at the heart of the band it’s always been about fast galloping guitars. So, when we get something completely different on the first track of album 15 it is a definite shock to the system. Computerized rumblings, Bruce’s vocals soaring around like the restless soul of a usurped inter-planetary God, hammeringly repetitive drums and chords, and an overall displaced, soundless spacey feel make us feel like the boys have finally lost it. After a few minutes of this though we get shunted back to reality with a crunch thanks to the sounds of old. On repeated listens the intro works wonderfully and sets up the gargantuan feel of the record.
34. Reincarnation Of Benjamin Brigg (A Matter Of Life And Death): For a blood soaked album drenched in hatred for war and angry at the loss of millions, it is only fitting that we get one track dedicated to the loss (and return) of one soldier acting as metaphor for every fallen man and woman. Naturally this is done in Maiden story time style, starting with Brigg letting his audience know that he is going to tell them his story. This introduction is quiet, eerie, while the bulk of the story is a standard Maiden crunch-fest. Lyrically we learn of the man’s thoughts about war, salvation, life, and death, musically it shifts patterns frequently though never gets bogged down by over-complexity. Over the last few records the band have carved a new niche in this sort of dedication song and Brigg is seen by many as the best of the bunch.
33. Brave New World (Brave New World): The title track from the band’s successful comeback is a good one and at once calls back to the traditional ‘take a book, make a song’ rule that the band so loved to follow, but looks forwards to the more experimental leaps and bounds they would and were already making. An apprehensive opening leads to anvil chords and a simple, but effective chorus. Fast, melodic, emotive- everything you want from your Power Metal, but with none of the cheese.
32. Sea Of Madness (Somewhere In Time): A raging introduction which sounds like the future being thrown down a flight of stairs, Sea Of Madness is another song which seems to have long since slipped under the radar and become lost in a Sea Of Obscurity. It is perfectly tuned to the futuristic feel and themes of Somewhere In Time, the stumbling riffs reflect the madness of the title, and the off kilter rhythms and melodies hint at something being far from right.
31. Ghost Of The Navigator (BNW): A moody introduction with a spirited lead riff and clanging backing strums builds in pace and force as the rest of the band join, eventually culminating in a maelstrom of thrashing chords. Bruce sings us another tale of wandering men, haunted lands and mysterious journeys, yet keeps it grounded in reality. Bruce echos the lead riff for the chorus ensuring that it is another fan favourite for those of us who like to sing along and some nice interchanging solo work before the end means this is another outstanding track from their new millennium comeback.
30. Face In The Sand (DOD): With another near acoustic intro similar to that of the title track, Face In The Sand is a song which brings you in gradually, burning slowly, and building steadily. There are so many excellent moments here which the band would re-visit on later songs- the backing strings/synth, the stuttering bass coming in later to lead the charge, the eventual distorted fuzz, and the final crescendo of everything coming together as the vocals start. It’s another attack on the peril’s of the modern world, a story of paranoia, of society finding reason and prophecy in impossible and implausible places. It wouldn’t be Maiden without a chorus to airhorn along with, so we are given one, as well as an ‘oh, oh oh’ phase to howl to.
29. Como Estais Amigos (V XI): The Blaze Bailey era comes to an end with this glorious conclusion, with words of thanks, arguments against regret, and admissions of sadness but refusal of tears. It’s a largely quiet affair with Blaze singing almost as a loner on stage with some synthetic noise in the background before the rest of the boys join him 2 minutes in to give him a proper Maiden send off.
28. Where Eagles Dare (POM): The point where Maiden’s ambition really emerged, a complex, progressive, expansive track sprawling over different timings and tone shifts to set up the intent of both the album and their direction as a band. It’s still very loud, it’s fast, it’s metal, but now they are really pushing the boundaries of what people expected of a metal band. Thanks to the top-notch playing of each member, the song gallops, stops, starts, the pace sharpens and falls, and we jump along like monkeys in boxes.
27. Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter (No Prayer For The Dying): As the 80s drew to a close and the 90s marched onwards, many standards of the decade came to a screeching halt as the comedown hit with the force of DeLorean reaching 88 mph. Those standards, those bands, artists, writers, films, people who didn’t adapt were left behind as either cherished, ridiculed, or forgotten relics. Iron Maiden were teetering on the brink, having released a rather lacklustre album, while our friendly, neighbourhood rapist Fred Krueger had gone from horrifying to hilarious in a few short years. Dickinson followed the parade of metal and rock bands providing songs for raucous horror films by recording this song for the 5th Elm Street film but Harris decided that they could bulk up the sound a bit, give it the Maiden treatment, and make it a hit. The band recorded a much superior version and received their only UK number 1 single to date. The song itself is Maiden to the core- full of shadows and whispers, portents and growls, creeping verses and explosive choruses. Indeed, the chorus is so popular that even non Maiden, non-metal fans can be heard in town centres on an ill-fated Saturday night singing along, but only if you listen closely enough
26. The Thin Line Between Love And Hate (BNW): The best way to end a wholly successful comeback album is to continue in the same vein as the preceding tracks which made the album such a success. After a powerful stuttering intro, this mid-paced epic gets into gear- another satire on modern society which finds Bruce’s seering vocals blitzing the sky during those (pre?) choruses as he sings ‘so I will live forever’. Just so that we know we are closing on an epic we get a few extended solo (from the 3 to 6 minute marks)followed by a softer, slower section before building up once again for the final few minutes of head bashing glory.
25. The Longest Day (AMOLAD): The centrepiece of AMOLAD, like pretty much the rest of the album, is a huge song which takes multiple listens to fully appreciate the nuances within and the songcrafting skills of the group. It’s another diatribe against war but rarely have the band sounded so potent and angry- the opening 90 seconds is rage bubbling under the current before exploding in grief and pleading. Harris leads the way with a violent bass riff, the other guys march glumly along behind, a sense of predator stalking prey, of skeletons slipping from their watery graves to claim the souls of their killers. That bridge and chorus are awesome of course- more screamfests which will test your lungs and throat’s ability to not implode as you try to raise your voice above the other fans. A fantastic breakdown halfway through keeps things moving, keeps things interesting, but throughout it is that emotion, that full-blooded roar, and the skill in writing to convey such feelings and images which make this such a revelation.
24. Dream Of Mirrors (BNW): An unusal intro featuring Bruce’s vocals gives way to a pulsating series of verses which progress for a few minutes with a nice descending guitar riff and with increasing volume and potency. At around the 3 minute mark to chorus makes a first appearance but it isn’t until the second chorus, around the 6 minute mark that the song doubles its speed and we get into a classic Maiden gallop for a chase finish. There are a tonne of singalong moments here which make this a live favourite, from ‘The Dream is true’ to ‘I only dream in black and white’. Another nice set of lyrics dealing with the paranoia and fear we feel in 21st Century planet earth works effectively alongside the noise.
23. Caught Somewhere In Time (SIT): Maiden make a deal with the devil of the 80s and give in to the synth sounds which were largely making up the charts at the time, but remarkably they manage to avoid creating a dated, cheesy sound unlike 90% of the other bands who used the instrument at the time. Moreover, this opening track to their future themed album cast back through the age does indeed sound like something ripped from the future- the guitars wavering through wormholes, the structure complex but grounded, and Bruce’s vocals sounding like a final warning cast back through the ages. The pace is tireless here and any number of frantic solos are woven amongst the apocalyptic riffs and thunderclap drums. The icing on the cake is a huge chorus with massive screamalong potential.
22. Where The Wild Wind Blows (TFF): Maiden’s last song to date doesn’t exactly tread any new waters lyrically or thematically it’s another song dealing with possible future disasters, fear mongering, defeatism, and hope. There is a world-weary maturity to the whole affair though, and at over 11 minutes there are plenty of opinions and arguments blasted through our ears as well as a daunting level of complexity and musical ideas and twists which will require many listens to catch. With the breezy opening giving way to one of the best riffs they, or anyone else, has ever written the song is already set up to be monumental in its first few moments. You may argue that a few minutes could have been shaved off this but that would be missing half the point- the scale is supposed to be colossal, a monolith so huge that the passing generations will continue to gaze upon it in wonder. The song may not move through as many distinct phases as some of other epics, but rarely do those epics maintain the same purpose and feeling throughout. You may be exhausted by the end of it, but you’ll be reaching for the play button again.
21. Dance Of Death (DOD): If Maiden’s lyrics are known for anything (besides being filled with literary and movie references) it’s that they often tell a story, often to the point of being a direct narrative. This title track is one of the prime example as Bruce whispers his way through this dark fairytale of a man who stumbles upon the Dance of the title and is fights to not be dragged to hell along with assorted monstrosities. It’s mostly nonsense of course, but it’s so perfectly written as it is so tempting and easy to sing along with, and thanks to Bruce’s theatrical delivery we want to out-camp him. It is a means to an end though, a bunch of words strung together so that the band can show off their folk metal styled playing. There are complex arrangements, the song shifts without a moment’s notice, but throughout we have lots of strings and dueling acoustic/electric guitars. For such a long song there isn’t a chorus or a natural hook to speak of- it’s all about the story, the journey, and how the words and music interact; the interaction is frenetic, bacchanalian, and inspired- just like the music played offhand and unrehearsed at an orgy would be.
20. Paschendale (DOD): This is one of the songs to play to critics of the band who see them as a pointless relic of the 80s, or a band that can play fast and loud but with no thought. Then again, those critic don’t deserve to hear such great songs as they apparently lack ears. The band return to themes of war and death with this epic, but never before has one of their historical based songs been so directly linked to a particular moment, or so accurately and respectfully portrayed. With its SOS opening telling of a dying soldier’s last wish that his final moments and those of the fallen men around him never be forgotten. Unusually for the band we get a quiet/loud/quiet style in the first moments before tumbling into absolute chaos. The band have never sounded so angry, the strings have never been so powerful, and the message is delivered with fury like a broken war veteran spitting in the face of the politician who sat behind a desk commanding thousands to be thrust into the jaws of death. The song twists and turns like barbed wire, going off like a land mine at some points, pulling back like a mustard gas cloud receding at others. This is one to stick on repeat to discover bits you missed first time round, one to blast out of your stereo as you walk by Downing Street.
19. Starblind (TFF): This seems like one of the shorter, more immediate tracks from their latest album, which is quite impressive considering the song is almost 8 minutes long. The multi-layered lyrics largely tackle issues of faith, while musically the band attempts to abandon the quiet intro motif by only offering a few moments of lower volume melancholy. The melodies here are amongst the most memorable on the album as they are drowned by the overall sound or swallowed by an over-abundance of ideas. It’s a straight-forward rocker with superb choruses and high emotion.
18. Rainmaker (DOD): The second song and single from Dance Of Death does a better job than Wildest Dreams at proving that their comeback was set in stone and destroying fears that Brave New World was a fluke. This is the band at their most forceful and persuasive- a fast pace, a commercial sound, but with a vicious streak and plenty of metal melodies. The opening riff is powerful and the solo is strong, but once again it is the melodies which rise above everything else, being catchy but breathless, not leaving the listener much time to appreciate them on first listen as the song races to its conclusion.
17. Run To The Hills (The Number Of The Beast): Arguably the band’s most famous song, this is one of the few metal songs which has a mass crossover appeal for better or worse; play this anywhere and you’ll see a mix of people appreciating it- old school metallers, young fans, people who don’t listen to anything which isn’t in the current top 40, and people who would usually bawk at a band with a name like Iron Maiden. The intro is one of the most recognizable in metal with both a drum loop and guitar riff which if heard on their own would be familiar to most music fans. The riff and chorus rank with the best the band have written, straddling the line between commercial appeal and metal appreciation flawlessly, and the lyrics deal with the brutality of the ruling white conquerers of the past. You’ll find this on any best of metal lists and greatest hits compilation.
16. Journeyman (DOD): Closing Dance Of Death comes the band’s first fully acoustic track and is one which they pull of remarkably well, making you wonder why they didn’t have a few more like this in their canon. The song does feel like a closer, but in many ways suggests that there is more to come. The strings are absolutely gorgeous and suit the lyrics and their delivery like an oar in the hand of Charon. Bruce gets to show off his subtlety and power without having to strain against deafening guitars, while Steve and the boys are happy to strum along almost as a backing band. There is a beautiful instrumental section in the middle which could be used as the ending to an epic movie and the ending fades out to black like the final moments of a tired life.
15. These Colours Don’t Run (AMOLAD): A glorious mini-epic clocking in at under 7 minutes but packing in plenty of metallic fury and juggernaut riffs. As mentioned elsewhere, the central theme of the album is concerned with anti-war sentiment- within these 7 minutes the intent is outlined. The band play and sound more angry than ever before and while the lyrics cover that old cliché of young men going off to war to fight for their flag but either return (if they survive) embittered, scarred, desolate, broken, or all of these, these are not the sorts of things you usually hear in a song. The title and much of the lyrics are a satirical play on how soldiers are taught to not be cowards and the very line layer of manufactured pride seeded into us to justify another man’s war. Then again, the song has such a feeling of glory to it that matters are complicated- it is looking at the viewpoint of the soldier going off to die full of the aforementioned pride, but also from a higher level viewpoint where we witness the aftermath and the fact that men on both sides, enemy against enemy feel the same. Then again, it could be about West Ham.
14. 2 Minutes To Midnight (Powerslave): A thrash classic from many fans’ favourite album, this one opens at top speed and doesn’t let up until the furious end. It’s another dark song, this time concerning that famous military/political symbol of the Doomsday Clock where the fate of mankind is sealed in a nuclear Holocaust. The lyrics have that trademark Maiden humour, yet the imagery evoked is powerful and terrifying. Written at the height of the Cold War, this was all the more potent. Interestingly the solos here aren’t too memorable, leaving the lead riff and the bridge/chorus to bore into our mind.
13. Number Of The Beast (TNOTB): Probably still the most famous Maiden song- one which non-fans are aware of, one which non-fans generally appreciate, one which has stood the test of time, is always played on tours, always finds itself on greatest hits, and has all the hallmarks of the band old, and new. Featuring one of the greatest introductions in music, and probably the best spoken introduction ever (ensuring the rapturous joining of thousands of fans when it is performed on stage), every moment is perfectly realised. It is the band at their most commercial, but the writing bridges the gap between being simultaneously metal and accessible like few songs do. The spoken intro is genuinely creepy, especially for the uninitiated; the opening riff is simple but powerful and as it starts to waver and phase it is joined by Bruce and the rest of the gang, building until that classic metal shriek then we really get going, whiplash verses leading to the infamous chorus, lyrics covering archaic rituals in a Hammer Horror way and the main character is eventually seduced. It wouldn’t be an outright classic without an outstanding solo- luckily here we have one of the best.
12. Heaven Can Wait (SIT): One of the big hitters from Somewhere In Time is a super fast, riff heavy tale of death, and hanging on to life. It’s largely memorable because of that massive chorus which is one of the most life-affirming and catchy in their catalogue. There are some insane solos, the vocals are belted out at a hundred miles an hour meaning much of it is lost, and the drum and bass blast along like machine gun fire to match the lead riff. We do get a slightly futuristic feel to the song, particularly in the intro but this mostly falls away when the main riff starts. I’m always amazed that this song is almost 8 minutes because there doesn’t seem to be a lot to it- it doesn’t shift and change tempo like most of the other epics do- there is only the central ‘take my hand’ section which brings things to a pause, but this soon shifts back to the main section. I think the song is so fresh, fast, and enjoyable that the 7 minutes fly past so quickly.
11. Can I Play With Madness (Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son): Narrowly missing out on the top 10 is on of Maiden’s best singles and most loved tracks. I always forget how gruff Dickinson sounds in parts of this song, not that it adds or takes anything away, it’s just interesting. Suffice to say we have stonking rhythm, eternal riffage, melodic verses, and a stadium burning chorus destined to sung across time. We get a nice solo which moves between super fast, smooth, and simply single scorched notes, and of course the video is memorable with Graham Chapman as a grumpy art teacher who encounters Eddie in a monastery’s secret lab. In the fridge. Of course. The lyrics deal with a young man disturbed by visions of the future, and the advice given by a prophet to stop him from losing his mind. Typical silly Maiden stuff which can be completely ignored whilst headbanging and leaping about like a man possessed.
10. For The Greater Good Of God (AMOLAD): The longest track on the album features a creepy, downbeat bass/guitar introduction which will raise the hairs on your neck. Dickinson opens his vocals in contrast to this in uncharacteristically soothing fashion. This soon gives way to the vocal stylings we are more familiar with as the power chords come in to play. The hairs stand on end again for the ‘Please tell me now what life is’ section, a pseudo chorus with mirroring melodies between the vocals and guitars. It isn’t until around half way through that the real chorus appears, a typical Maiden moment with the song title being repeated over a mighty riff. This gives way to a long, winding instrumental section which features a set of solos, pounding strings, and weaving ideas which are not repeated. The manic solo which begins around the 6.30 mark, while short, is a highlight, and serves to both stand out as an oddity but bridge the instrumental section back to the pseudo chorus, chorus, and conclusion.
9. Wasted Years (SIT): This monster from Somewhere In Time features one of the band’s best riff intros- a cascading, potent, ghastly 30 seconds which set the tone for a multi-layered atmospheric hit. The lyrics are both dark and hopeful, a warning and a beacon. The verses see Bruce merge softer vocals with growled moments, while the chorus is one of the most life-affirming in metal- a seemingly oxymoronic statement which perhaps only metal fans would understand. After a repeat of the intro riff, Adrian Smith lets rip with one of his best solos, capping a song penned by Smith which remains one the band’s best.
8. The Evil That Men Do (SSOASS): Another hit 80s single, this one takes it’s title from a speech in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Like most of their best singles, this track is relatively short and to the point, yet it is packed with creativity. The lyrics at first seem nonsensical, talking in riddles about loss of innocence and the ever lasting impact of evil, but when considered as a part of the concept album as a whole, the lyrics have more impact; the main character’s battles with fate, the decisions he makes, and their consequences. For such a turning point in the tale, the music is emotionally charged- the opener is downbeat but the verses are driving, angry, and charged with the will to never give up; it is one of many Maiden songs which sounds like the soundtrack to an F-zero race. The segue between verse and chorus is arguably the band’s most successful, Smith’s solo is short, simple, but impactful, and Bruce’s vocals teeter on breaking point.
7. The Wicker Man (BNW): After years in the wilderness, Dickinson needed a big hit to prove he was back to take charge of the team. Similarly, after basically a decade of mediocre material the band needed to prove they still had the skills to compete with metals new upstarts and show their relevance. The Wicker Man may be the greatest comeback song of all time; within about 30 seconds the previous 4 albums have been forgiven and forgotten. The band was wise enough to choose this as the first single from the new album, and as the first track on the album. The intro is a smash in the face, the song as a whole is roughly double the speed of light, the verse and chorus melodies which were lacking over previous albums are back in force, Brucie is singing like a human again instead of a gargoyle, and there is a sense of rejuvenation. Taking its inspiration from the horror classic, the song hits all the right marks and proves that the band not only still had it, but were still the band to chase.
6. The Trooper (POM): Maiden’s second song from Piece Of Mind was a hit in the UK and US, and is another vicious, war-themed, riff driven attack. Opening with a Harris special, a scorching, harmonized riff duet soon kicks the song off in earnest. The verses range from stuttering to machine gun paced, opening with the eternal line ‘you take my life but I’ll take your’s too’ echoing both the anti-war and glory of battle sentiments of the song. The song proved that Number Of The Beast wasn’t a fluke and that this new album was just as good, if not better. The song remains a live favourite, although the dubious decision to wave the Union flag during a great performance in Dublin garnered a lot of silly boos. It’s another rate commercial metal track which doesn’t really feature a chorus, a feat which only adds to the overall quality.
5. Coming Home (TFF): Settle down, settle down. I realise many readers (if many readers I get) will shrug off much of the most recent input, but this song from the band’s latest release sees them in contemplative, melodic form and stands out from the rest of the album because it isn’t as epic or intense as the other tracks. I’m a sucker for inventive bands who suddenly decide to do things simply- it’s a reason why so many of the biggest rock bands in the world have written some of the best love songs ever. The song is a homage to the band, the fans, but mostly to coming home from a long tour. It fits well with the concept arc of the album- most of the tracks involve travel, adventure- this feels like a heroic conclusion, the triumphant end of an odyssey. The sound may anger sound as it verses are fairly soft, but this shouldn’t be seen as an indication of cheese; rather, those minor chords, whispery vocals are seering, the creeping guitar underlying many bubbling emotions, and serving as a nice shade to the bombastic light of the bridge and chorus. It is structured simply, there is a great, understated guitar solo in the middle, the chorus is another stadium filler, and it is a perfect breathing point in an otherwise mammoth album.
4. Hallowed Be Thy Name (TNOTB): The band’s original epic where they really showed their chops as powerful song writers. Atmospheric, theatrical, all of the song’s elements string together to make one of the most complete metal songs ever written. This was one of the first signs that they were experimenting with their burgeoning talent. Fitting in with the religious themes of the album, the story tells of a man awaiting his execution at the Gallow’s Pole, but it would be nothing without Harris’ expressive and often philosophical lyrics or the potent music. Opening with a Death Knell and funeral march riff we are immediately drawn into the story and can imagine the prisoner waiting in the dark while cloaked, hooded onlookers wait with hidden, bloodthirsty grins. Dickinson’s held ‘low’ note is breathtaking every time, leading the song into its next phase via a fret rumbling riff. Dickinson shrieks throughout the rest of the verses while the riff repeats and builds echoing an inevitability and finality. Within these instrumental phases it is all to easy to imagine the prisoner being led to his doom or looking back over his life. At roughly four minutes in the song takes a momentary pause before speeding up where once again it is easy to imagine the prisoner trying, and possibly succeeding at escaping and evading his captors, and once the solos take over things take a turn for the frantic. We are led into the final minute with the sped up riff from earlier and Bruce screaming the title at the top of his lungs before the song finally slows and we are left to draw our own conclusions on what has happened to the main character.
3. Brighter Than A Thousand Suns (AMOLAD): The most recent song on this list is possibly the band’s most vicious sounding song. Talking about the tyranny of war (as most of the album does) the lyrics are more potent than most Maiden tracks. The song opens with ‘we are not the sons of God, we are not his chosen people now’, a damning indictment of wars and deaths caused by or in the name of religion. Sung in skin-crawling tones by Bruce and accompanied by a spidery, ghostly riff which ascends and descends the fretboard with insidious intent. The verses largely follow this format, though with Bruce in full voice and guitars, drums, and bass at full volume. Various chorus moments clash together with thunderous drumming to echo the rage of the heavens before a chaotic battle scene central instrumental section kicks off. There are some superb solos in the middle of this, but it is the silly-fast section which starts around the 4 minute mark which will please even the most staunch non-maiden fans within metal; the band have rarely sounded heavier or faster while Bruce shrieks like a man taking fifty bullets to the chest on a suicidal charge. The song returns to the opening riff after a couple of minutes and speeds towards an open-ended conclusion.
2. Fear Of The Dark (FOTD): Possibly the most revered song Maiden have written, this is the best song from a poor album, a breathtaking live track, and a song which contains every Maiden cliché you could think of- story telling lyrics? Check. Horror elements? Check. Galloping dual riffs and solos? You know it. You’d be mistaken then for thinking that this is just another Maiden track, but that would be doing the thrilling pacing, gifted writing, claw-sinking melodies, and sheer power a massive disservice. Anyone who knows Maiden, or knows metal, knows that the 2001 Rock In Rio live performance of this is one of the greatest live moments in music, regardless of genre or performer. The sound of 250,000 fans chanting along to the intro and then trying to keep up with the rest of the song is as close to a spiritual experience as many of us will ever have. I can’t say much more about it that you won’t already know- the song has various shifts in pace and volume, the lyrics simply cover various moments of being scared in the dark, and the choruses are monumental. You shouldn’t be surprised to find this track in any fan’s top 10 tracks.
1. No More Lies (DOD): Continuing with my theme of unusual favourite tracks, I would be surprised if this was many Maiden fan’s favourite song. That’s not to say I think many fans don’t like it, I think it has a habit of being overlooked. If asked to give two songs which described Iron Maiden to someone who didn’t know them I would say Number Of The Beast and this. Beast is the obvious commercial fan favourite side of the band, while No More Lies is the more progressive, articulate, modern side. This is a perfect song, I honestly can’t find anything wrong with it other than picky things like not liking metal, Bruce’s vocals, long songs etc. The song is so wonderfully balanced in that it opens and closes the same way, features three opening riffs, has 3 solos (each played by a different guitarist), and slides between the smooth and hard sections seamlessly. I love the strings, I love the haunting tone of the guitars in the intro, I love the way the lyrics seem like an organic extension of the music, and I love that opening blast when the metal starts. The fact that it doesn’t start until 2 and a half minutes into the song is a testament to the band’s ability to charm you into the palm of their hands and keep you spellbound. In classic Maiden style the chorus is just an excuse for Bruce to belt out the song title and challenge the audience to follow suit. The middle section which sees the repeat of those intro riffs in a new style followed by the solos is arguably the band’s best such section- no moments are lost to drifting or needless trickery, each note is vital. Before you know it the song is fading away, well over 7 minutes after starting. This is a worthy number one choice, a true landmark of metal, and a song that all music fans shoould hear at least once.
As always, feel free to comment on my list and tell me I’m wrong, tell me I’m a genius, and of course share your favourite Maiden songs!