Welcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, a director’s filmography, or some other critical pop-culture collection. It’s exact science by way of a few beers. This time, we follow Iron Maiden’s legendary career, from their 1980 self-titled debut to their most recent effort, 2021’s Senjutsu.
For over 40 years, Iron Maiden have proven to be one of heavy metal’s most consistent and enduring institutions. They’ve come to define the genre, prolifically releasing albums and touring relentlessly. Their music is a world language, with the British band garnering dedicated audiences on practically every continent.
The Maiden fanbase can be obsessive to the point of zealotry, dissecting the nooks and crannies of every song and collecting the band’s T-shirts and records with fervor (the red Iron Maiden logo and their skeletal mascot, Eddie, remain timelessly metal). Better yet, the band feed the frenzy, continuing to serve the fans with new material and merchandise. If Maiden’s not making a record, they’re on tour. If they aren’t touring, they’re releasing a live album or filming epic music videos or documentaries. The Legacy of the Beast cannot be disputed, nor can the band’s intense work ethic.
Formed in 1975 by bassist Steve Harris, Iron Maiden’s first established lineup — featuring vocalist Paul Di’Anno and drummer Clive Burr — released their self-titled debut in 1980. The daring and aggressive album launched the band to the forefront of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) movement, alongside acts like Judas Priest, Diamond Head, and Angel Witch.
Maiden would follow that up with Killers in 1981 before Di’Anno was replaced by ex-Samson singer Bruce Dickinson, with Harris, Burr, and guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith rounding out the five piece. 1982’s The Number of the Beast introduced the epic songwriting and literary lyricism that would become the band’s trademark. It also provoked controversy with its hellish cover art, resulting in the cultural misconception that Iron Maiden and its fans were Satanists.
Drummer Nicko McBrain would replace Burr the same year The Number of the Beast was released, and more legendary albums would follow in the 1980s, as the band incorporated more progressive influences and dynamic production. Always savvy on the commercial end, Iron Maiden made to sure to cut a few widely heard singles (“The Trooper,” “Wasted Years”) for the casual headbanger while also delivering colossal full-length albums that play out with cinematic grandeur (Powerslave, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son).
Changes would affect the band beginning in 1990. Smith departed (to be replaced by Janick Gers) and Dickinson began a solo career, eventually exiting after 1992’s Fear of the Dark. British vocalist Blaze Bayley took over for two ill-fated LPs until Smith and Dickinson rejoined the group in 1999, unleashing the excellent comeback Brave New World in 2000. Gers remained alongside Murray and Smith, with the band now boasting a potent triple-guitar attack.
Since then, the band has released five more studio albums, the latest being 2021’s Senjutsu. It’s one of the most diverse Maiden records in years, often recalling the band’s ’80s material, and it got us thinking about the entire Iron Maiden discography. How do the albums measure up against one another? Take a trip through Maiden’s iconic discography below.
— Jon Hadusek
Senior Staff Writer
17. Virtual XI (1998)
The Essence of the Beast (Analysis): The ’90s found Iron Maiden flailing. The band’s popularity started to plateau, due in no small part to the departures of vocalist Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith, not to mention the rise of grunge and nü metal. Though the group soldiered on, it was with increased desperation, attempting to court fresh fans via a video game (1999’s Ed Hunter) and lashing out at critics in “Virus,” a song recorded for a best-of compilation.
Then there was Maiden’s creative nadir: 1998’s Virtual XI. Working once again with former Wolfsbane vocalist Blaze Bayley, the band cranked out a sluggish and uninspired batch of material weighed down by strained lyrical metaphors and arrangements that mistake repetition for complexity.
Those musical choices feel redolent of peak CD-era hubris — an irresponsible mindset that convinced many artists to pad out their albums with lesser tunes, and, in Maiden’s case, unnecessarily epic material. Here, the band let the underwhelming “The Angel and the Gambler” and “Don’t Look to the Eyes of a Stranger” drag on and on and on, with Bayley endlessly repeating lyrical phrases to no logical end. Not even the occasional spark of guitar fireworks (the dueling solos on “The Educated Fool” are particularly heated) can pull this album from the brink of oblivion.
Hallowed Be Thy Tune (Best Song): Inspired by Mel Gibson’s 1995 opus Braveheart, “The Clansman” is founding member Steve Harris’ ode to Scotland’s fight for independence in the late 13th century. It’s the kind of fist-pumping triumphal epic that Maiden can do so well, and actually benefits from Bayley’s rigid vocal bark. This tune has the dual honor of being one of the only Bayley-era songs to remain in the band’s setlists after Dickinson’s return and being sampled by megaproducer Timbaland for R&B artist Brandy’s 2004 album Afrodisiac.
Wasted Minutes (Worst Song): For the better part of nearly 10 minutes, “The Angel and the Gambler” sticks in a dull groove of power chords and strained lyrics about addiction and risk-taking. Leaden enough for the first few minutes, the song is completely submerged as Bayley spends an interminable amount of time repeating the chorus at various volume levels. It’s a drag on the senses and, as it is the second track on Virtual, a bad omen for the rest of the album. — Robert Ham
Pick up Virtual XI here.
16. The X Factor (1995)
The Essence of the Beast: Iron Maiden’s 10th studio album, appropriately titled The X Factor, introduced Bayley as the new frontman in place of Dickinson, who had left to pursue his solo career.
Bayley was a bit of an unknown, hailing from an underground UK street metal act called Wolfsbane. For all intents and purposes, he fit the Maiden mold, despite a courser bark to his voice.
But the ’90s were a strange time for classic metal bands, and Iron Maiden weren’t spared. The tides were shifting toward more industrial and groove metal styles, away from traditional metal production and songwriting. Meanwhile, the band were in a creative bind of trying to sound recognizably like Iron Maiden without too much rehash or prog meanderings. Lacking the charismatic familiarity of Bruce Dickinson’s voice, Bayley-era Maiden fell into an identity crisis of sorts. Suddenly, one of the most influential metal band’s in the world sounded… kinda generic.
Hallowed Be Thy Tune: The 11-minute opener “Sign of the Cross” might sound sluggish and drawn out on an immediate cursory listen, but repeat plays unveil the moody masterpiece that lies within. Bayley’s vocals are rough yet passionate, and the guitar playing has an almost doom-metal voicing at times. The track opens to more prog turnarounds and fast shredding on the back half, as the arrangement careens through various tempos and segments. A reimagined version with Dickinson on vocals highlighted the band’s Rock in Rio live album — a testament to the song’s longevity and compositional integrity.
Wasted Minutes: If you heard “2 A.M.” without knowing it, you might just think that’s Bruce singing. Here, the band attempt to replicate the classic Maiden sound, but in doing so, expose the faults specific to the X albums. The energy and performances don’t stand up to those of a decade prior, made more obvious by the redundancy of the song. — Jon Hadusek
Pick up The X Factor here.
15. The Final Frontier (2010)
The Essence of the Beast: The rumor mills started churning soon after Iron Maiden announced the name of their 15th studio album: It was going to be the band’s last stand. Every detail pointed in that direction. It was called The Final Frontier and was packed solid with over 76 minutes of music. If Maiden was going to go out, they seemed to have every intention of doing so in a blaze of glory.
The reality was a little less dramatic. The finished album is a fascinating mess made up of some strong material surrounded by a ton of meandering arrangements, padded-out interludes, and some of the most pinched production in the group’s catalog.
The highs on Frontier are still fairly dizzying for a band that had been together for 35 years by that point. “Coming Home” and “The Alchemist” tear out of the gate with force and dynamism, and the epic closer “When the Wild Wind Blows” manages to not waste a single one of its 11 minutes. Elsewhere, though, Maiden settles into their modern formula of long quiet intros leading into heavy rockers and somewhat stodgy lyrics reflecting on Celtic myths, the plight of kings, and other leather-bound folderol. This is the product of a band at cruising altitude and taking no chances.
Hallowed Be Thy Tune: “The Alchemist” remains one of the more perfectly balanced songs in Maiden’s latter-day catalog. The music sets off on a steady gallop, set with swinging intention by McBrain and Harris, that gives the three guitarists plenty of room to harmonize and explode. It’s the perfect backdrop for Dickinson’s florid ode to John Dee, a 13th century mathematician and astronomer who also dabbled in sorcery and apparently tried to communicate with angels.
Wasted Minutes: The candlelight opening moments — an acoustic guitar melody and Dickinson’s folksy croon — should be enough to ward you off of “The Talisman.” But from that extended intro, the band cranks out a by-the-numbers prog-metal endurance test all about the plight of Old World refugees seeking a better life on other shores. The intentions of songwriters Harris and Gers are good, but they get lost in the sea shanty lyrics and musical dramatics. — Robert Ham
Pick up The Final Frontier here.
14. No Prayer for the Dying (1990)
The Essence of the Beast: For most bands, a record like No Prayer for the Dying would be considered a solid effort. But that’s the problem with creating genre-defining classic albums — when you misstep, it’s blatant.
No Prayer was a glaring downgrade from Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. The clunky arrangements and corner-cutting production choices are perhaps more indicative of the somewhat faceless era of heavy metal that was 1990, but other exterior circumstances could have also influenced the creative process. At the time, Dickinson was working on his debut solo album, Tattooed Millionaire; Smith was replaced by Gers. One can assume some distractions naturally crept in, and after the amazing string of albums in the 1980s, some writer’s block or burnout wouldn’t be out of the question.
Hallowed Be Thy Tune: Opening track “Tailgunner” actually offers a bit of hope at the beginning of the album, kicking off like the bastard sequel to “Aces High.” Dickinson loves those aerial military combat stories, and he again conjures that imagery against the songs stadium chords and generally upbeat, melodic riffing.
Wasted Minutes: The bar band riffs and cowbell hits that open “Hooks in You” should be a fair warning for the clunker to come. True enough, there are no hooks here, only some forced gravely vocals from Bruce and a lackluster hard-rock pose. There’s a reason they haven’t played it since the 1991 tour. — Jon Hadusek
Pick up No Prayer for the Dying here.
13. Dance of Death (2003)
The Essence of the Beast: Even hardcore Maiden fans seem to skip this late-period gem, maybe because it follows Dickinson’s triumphant re-emergence on Brave New World but also because of its truly godawful cover art. Apocryphally, cover artist David Patchett presented the band with a digital mockup, which the band then ran with. Patchett later asked to have his name removed from the PS1-era rendering of Eddie in an Eyes Wide Shut-type sex party, and who can blame him?
The music, though, is great, taking the moody prog-iness of its predecessor and adding a little more up-tempo oomph as well as a few never-to-be-repeated experiments — Nicko McBrain’s first and last songwriting credit on “New Frontier” and the band’s only acoustic song, “The Journeyman.” Those experiments have a way of weighing the record down — at 68 minutes, it’s a far cry from the brisk workouts of their ’80s heyday.
The big wins here are the fastballs, though: “Wildest Dreams” and “Rainmaker” are each muscular singles, and “Monstégur” is a hidden gem. The only song to achieve any longevity, though, is the central epic, “Paschendale.” In retrospect, it’s the blueprint for most great Maiden songs that followed. Brave New World might have been their return-to-form, but Dance of Death is the victory lap that the band has been running on since.
Hallowed Be Thy Tune: Common knowledge would say this honor goes to “Pashendale,” but real heads know “Monstégur” is where it’s at. Gers’ sole writing credit (alongside Harris and Dickinson) on Dance of Death is a nearly six-minute mosher retelling of a climactic siege in the Albigensian crusade. Dickinson’s chorus is a tad repetitive but his performance overall sounds energized, particularly in the curveball key-change at the end. Maiden’s never played it live and likely never will — but they should.
Wasted Minutes: “The Journeyman” isn’t so much a bad song as it is an outlier. The sole all-acoustic song in Maiden’s discography, it makes a poetic end for one of the band’s darker records, but it also comes after an hour of more energetic fare, including two eight-plus minute epics. After all that, one would be forgiven for giving this entertaining diversion a skip. — Joseph Schafer
Pick up Dance of Death here.
12. A Matter of Life and Death (2006)
The Essence of the Beast: On A Matter of Life and Death, the group’s shift toward more explicitly progressive metal from the beginning of the Blaze Bayley period reaches a fitting smoothness. At the time it came out, this was a contentious release, but the sophistication of these compositions and the mid-tempo majesty that marks later Iron Maiden feel perhaps their most at home here.
Dance of Death may have been an uneven attempt to capitalize on Brave New World‘s innovations to their late-era prog metal style, but this is where the group finally nailed it, producing the platform that has seen them through for 15 years now. Lengthy track times are back, with only two tracks hovering around the five-minute mark. They showcase a group that was willing to be innovative and adventurous, even late into their years, but without succumbing to an indulgent lack of editorial insight.
Still, the tendency toward seemingly padding out runtimes with lengthy repetitions that began in earnest in the Bayley era returns here, admittedly balanced in a less meditative manner than the superior Brave New World.
Hallowed Be Thy Tune: This is an LP that benefits from the album-oriented structuralism of this era best of all, with “The Legacy” feeling less like a single epic and more the pitched and feverish culmination of the past hour. Maiden throws the kitchen sink at you, something they’d do increasingly often in this era, but here it works, feeling like a passionate eruption rather than a clutter.
Wasted Minutes: Unlike many of the weakest tracks of this era, “Out of the Shadows” is not a bad song but instead simply one that’s shambolic compared to the majestic company it keeps. There is an attempt at a Who-style acoustic/electric hybrid section that just doesn’t work, leaving a track that disrupts the flow of an otherwise stellar record. — Langdon Hickman
Pick up A Matter of Life and Death here.
11. The Book of Souls (2015)
The Essence of the Beast: Every album that Iron Maiden has recorded since Dickinson’s return has been marked with a sense of urgency. A desire to get as much music out of their collective system, knowing all too well that their time on this planet is finite. Nowhere does that feeling pervade more than on the group’s 16th full-length, The Book of Souls.
The specter of death hovers over every track here, either in metaphorical form as with Dickinson retelling of the 1930 crash of a British airship on “Empire of the Clouds” or more directly on the fist-pumping “Tears of a Clown,” a song inspired by the suicide of comedian Robin Williams.
The album is ultimately undone by another aspect of getting older: the tossing aside of any internal anxieties or filters. With no worries about sales numbers or chart placements, they could dare to let fattier, less fleshed out material hang out across each of Souls’ two CDs. What could have been a lean, if lengthy album instead loses its momentum, wandering into the conceptual weeds on occasion. The flabbiness didn’t ward off their fans, however, as Souls hit No. 1 in the band’s native UK and several other countries, and landed at No. 4 on the Billboard 200.
Hallowed Be Thy Tune: Even with its downcast subject matter, “Tears of A Clown” rockets out of Souls’ lengthy running time. Written by Harris and Smith, the song wonders aloud about Williams’ seemingly positive public image with the sadness and depression that apparently roiled within him. Though he didn’t write them, Dickinson gives the lyrics his all, anchoring the tune with a questioning growl and just the right touches of tenderness.
Wasted Minutes: Dickinson’s performance on “The Man of Sorrows” is a bit shaky, and the song’s sparse production and lurching progression do him no favors. Generally, when Maiden open with a gentle, nearly a cappella intro, it promises a sweeping arrangement of dynamic peaks and valleys. But this song never seems to snap together, lurching forward with clunky riffs and ultimately failing to deliver the intended emotion of “sorrow.” Instead, we’re left with The Book of Souls’ most boring chapter. — Robert Ham and Jon Hadusek
Pick up The Book of Souls here.
10. Fear of the Dark (1992)
The Essence of the Beast: Fear of the Dark would be the last Maiden LP to feature Bruce Dickinson until 2000, as the singer went on to pursue a solo career. Although a marked improvement over the album before it, Fear of the Dark again suffers from meandering ideas and a general lack of consistency across its 58-minute runtime. That said, the highs here are very high, with opening tracks “Be Quick or Be Dead” and the legendary closing title track being among the band’s strongest compositions post-Seventh Son.
The title track has since become one of Maiden’s most popular songs and a concert staple. For many younger metalheads in the early 1990s, the song and album would be their introduction to the band. So, even if it’s not top-to-bottom perfection, Fear of the Dark gets major points for nostalgia. Its colorful comic-style illustrated artwork is also one of the last of its kind in the Maiden discography.
Hallowed Be Thy Tune: Easily one of the finest heavy metal songs of ’90s, “Fear of the Dark” taps into Iron Maiden’s strengths while maximizing the effects of a slower tempo. For a band that could go fast with the best of them, a doom-like atmosphere and crushing arrangement suit Dickinson’s theatrical delivery just as well. He hits some of his highest and longest sustained notes on the track, and his ability to replicate it live (listen to the jaw-dropping Best of the Beast live version) makes it a beloved standout during every Maiden concert.
Wasted Minutes: Much of the criticism laid on early ‘90s Maiden comes down to the overt hard-rock influences that seemed to creep into the songs. The band rarely made concessions toward popular music, but tracks like “The Apparition” sound suspiciously like the dead-on-arrival hard rock that was languishing on major labels after grunge exploded. There are far better examples of Iron Maiden flirting with this style of commercial arena metal on this LP and No Prayer for the Dying. — Jon Hadusek
Pick up Fear of the Dark here.
9. Senjutsu (2021)
The Essence of the Beast: A new Iron Maiden album is always a cause for celebration, and both the band and its fans made sure the rollout for 2021’s Senjutsu was one to remember.
Initially, fans were “invited” to “Belshazzar’s Feast,” a mysterious tease that eventually led to the epic animated music video for the lead single “The Writing on the Wall.” The video’s concept was conceived by Dickinson and executed during the wealth of downtime caused by the pandemic. The band followed the video with the proper album announcement for Senjutsu, unveiling the “Samurai Eddie” artwork.
The release campaign proved an overwhelming success, with the new album reaching No. 3 on the Billboard 200 — Maiden’s highest charting LP ever. It’s also their most musically diverse in years.
Perhaps writing and recording the album during the career-spanning “Legacy of the Beast Tour” in 2019 tapped into the creative portals of yore. Epic song structures, an increased keyboard presence, and inventive riffing (i.e. the Southern-rock licks on “Writing”) result in highly memorable arrangements and beguiling melodies from song to song. Overall, Senjutsu feels less safe, yet more exciting than The Book of Souls (if a bit less cohesive).
Hallowed Be Thy Tune: Iron Maiden have been known to save the best for last, and closing number “Hell on Earth” is absolutely the finest track on Senjutsu. It concludes the 82-minute opus with an atmospheric burner that builds from hypnotic guitar lines to galloping, ride-into-battle riffage. Of the four tracks that push nine-plus minutes on Senjutsu, this one is the most balanced and fulfilling on repeat listens.
Wasted Minutes: On the other hand, the longest track here, “The Parchment,” pushes 13 minutes and isn’t nearly as captivating. Stacking three 10-plus-minute epics at the end of the record is a power move only Iron Maiden and a handful of other bands can pull off. But it’s hard to not just queue “Hell on Earth” when you know there’s eight more minutes of “The Parchment” left to go. The verses are far too repetitive and a slog on the ears, despite some solid riffs. — Jon Hadusek
Pick up Senjutsu here.
8. Brave New World (2000)
The Essence of the Beast: The past 20 years of the band’s life and legacy would be radically different if not for this one. After the middling Bayley years, in which the band introduced many new ideas to their repertoire but struggled to integrate them successfully into their overall sound, Maiden added back not just iconic vocalist Bruce Dickinson, one of the very best of the genre, but also radically under-appreciated guitarist Adrian Smith, author of key elements of the group’s iconic sound.
Importantly, they did not relinquish Janick Gers, allowing the band full access to the instrumentalists carrying out those newer experiments but bolstered with the key greats that anchored their position in the ’80s as one of the greatest of all time.
The result is a record that not only stands toe-to-toe with any of their greats, here scraping just below the golden period but in others places reaching deep into the stratosphere of ranking, but also an album that critically and commercially relaunched the group, producing a lineup and sonic era that now has far eclipsed the relatively narrow window of their own golden age. It’s a revolutionary record, in retrospect the first of the luminous era of brilliant comeback records from bands of their period and one of the first to make us heavily reconsider our cynicism on those positions.
Hallowed Be Thy Tune: Quietly a tremendously difficult choice in this album-oriented era, “Blood Brothers” manages to barely squeak into the lead due to the combination of its intense passion, being a song about the recent passing of Harris’ father, as well as perhaps the greatest execution of Maiden’s deep desires to emulate the greats of ’70s progressive rock. Maiden is often exultant but rarely commands you to tears; “Blood Brothers” does both in fire, spirit, and passion.
Wasted Minutes: The very notion of the worst song on a record that is wall-to-wall solid is a befuddling one admittedly but, gun to my head, it’s “The Mercenary.” The reasons are mostly nagging issues; lots of repetition across its already short runtime, albeit of melodies both catching and powerful. The idea of this being the very worst is a testament to the incredible power of this album. — Langdon Hickman
Pick up Brave New World here.
7. Somewhere in Time (1986)
The Essence of the Beast: We are at the point in the Maiden discography that most of the albums form a kind of quantum superposition, where any given group of people at any given moment might produce a slightly different ranking. That’s because, at heart, this is the golden period, the undeniable run that made Iron Maiden not just any given metal band of the ’80s but one of the greatest bands regardless of genre in the world. So why does this land below the band’s other iconic LPs? We can thank largely the charmingly clunky “Alexander the Great (356-323 BC)” for that, being a clumsy if serviceable attempt to replicate the majesty of Powerslave‘s title track covering roughly the same era.
Likewise, the most exciting songs here seem to have gotten buried in time by the flashier singles which have made it on to compilations, leaving career-best material like “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner” and “Deja Vu” to moulder while “Heaven Can Wait” — still certainly a good song — runs away with the numbers. It doesn’t help matters that this, too, is the first record that Iron Maiden suffered from, well, themselves. After releasing such a landmark record as Powerslave, itself a radical departure from the Di’Anno years, fans seemed resistant to the band exploring new colors. This is the dual edge to becoming famous.
Hallowed Be Thy Tune: Everything great about the innovations of this album that would come to define the band over time melded firmly with the exultant anthemism that drove their earliest successes. “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner” features one of the most jaw-droppingly passionate choruses, topped only by “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” the greatest song they’d ever pen. Not bad for an album cut. Add in the liquid metal synthesizers and prog-metal flourish and we finally see Iron Maiden as they always saw themselves.
Wasted Minutes: While “Wasted Years” is a brilliant single and worthwhile addition to the band’s catalog, it nonetheless features an uplifting message and pop sensibility that cuts against the prevailing mood of the record. The rest of the record is psychic darkness and prog-metal constructs forged in their perfect melodies; however, “Wasted Years” feels more keen to sway in brotherhood and camaraderie. An album cut might be tempting, but only one track sticks out as running against the grain, especially over dozens of listens. — Langdon Hickman
Pick up Somewhere in Time here.
6. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)
The Essence of the Beast: Fitting that this comes on the opposite end of Maiden’s golden era compared to their debut, as it represents a polar opposite vision of the band. It doesn’t matter, strictly speaking, whether Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is truly a concept album or not. What matters most is how the group dialed down, despite many accounts to the likewise, the flighty and complex prog arrangements of their run from Piece of Mind to Somewhere In Time and infused them, by and large, with a hyperreal pop sensibility.
Sure, the album opener “Moonchild” and the title track give space for more complex arrangements. But this is largely high-concept pop metal shot through with enough toughness and cerebral moves to still kick it with the underground crowd. The result is a record balanced on a razor-wire, producing their last truly undeniable all-killer-no-filler record until the triple-guitar Bruce reunion lineup over a decade later.
If their debut record was punky hardscrabble leather toughness wielded by prog-sharp metal fiends, this was the group at the peaks of their pop power and at the absolute top of the world. By 1988, no other metal band was as close to as big or as important as Maiden — with Metallica having conquered the underground but not yet become the juggernaut we know today — and on Seventh Son, you could feel it.
Hallowed Be Thy Tune: “Moonchild” may be one of the few devoutly progressive numbers of the album, moving through several discrete sections. More importantly, it is the only song I literally blew my throat out screaming when seeing them live. The intensity rises perpetually in this song, but on that riveting cry of “Lucifer’s my name,” it’s hard not to view this as one of Iron Maiden’s very best songs.
Wasted Minutes: “The Prophecy” contains a series of strong and striking ideas that nonetheless struggle to feel at home together as a single song. Perhaps on a record more sonically indebted to its shockingly dark album opener than the more vibrant prog-pop metal that makes up its body, this track would fit more comfortably. Given the record-as-delivered, “The Prophecy” sticks out like a sore thumb. Granted, most bands would kill for this to be the worst song on a record. — Langdon Hickman
Pick up Seventh Son of a Seventh Son here.
5. Killers (1981)
The Essence of the Beast: Far from a sophomore slump, Iron Maiden’s second record Killers represents the band at their most raucous and nasty while also planting the seeds of their more ambitious future affairs. Where their debut featured pseudo-ballads (“Remember Tomorrow”) and prog workouts (“Phantom of the Opera”), their second full-length keeps things lean and mean, maybe because it was written and recorded in a hurry following the success of the debut.
Perhaps the pressure did the band some good: rumbling riff fests like “Murders in the Rue Morgue” and the title track make Killers maybe the best Maiden record to throw on at a party. Fans looking for Maiden in book-report-rocker mode might not rate it so highly, but those who preferred when the band would openly profess admiration for punk will find it here, thanks in no small part to original vocalist Paul Di’Anno.
Though Maiden dropped Di’Anno after this LP, his sneering bravado lends a real air of danger to the largely criminal tales the band spun in 1981. While Harris and company achieved great success later with songs Di’Anno probably couldn’t pull off, his performance on this record — especially “Wrathchild” — is potent enough that one can’t help but think there was still gas in the tank, and wish he’d kept on prowling with another band.
Hallowed Be Thy Tune: As good as Killers is, it peaks early with “Wrathchild.” Built around a bass riff that’s as simple as it is memorable, the song delivers all the hallmarks of a great Maiden song – memorable verses, a shout-along chorus, and a melodramatic build in the second half — in under three minutes (a feat the band wouldn’t repeat). The real standout on this song, though, is Di’Anno, who plays the bastard ne’er-do-well main character almost too well and elevates the song’s tremendous crescendo with his best lupine howl.
Wasted Minutes: It seems unfair to pile on an instrumental as the worst song on an album, especially for a band as instrumentally talented as Iron Maiden. At the same time, this is a band who live and die by their vocalists, and whose career has waxed and waned in direct proportion to the power of their lead singer. It’s no surprise then that “Genghis Khan” is a bit of a low point on Killers, though truthfully the album’s awfully consistent and skipping it isn’t recommended. — Joseph Schafer
Pick up Killers here.
4. Piece of Mind (1983)
The Essence of the Beast: Iron Maiden’s second outing with Dickinson makes further use of his bombastic vocal range and rapid-fire vocal delivery, while trimming back some of the punkiness that still hung over The Number of the Beast. That said, though Piece of Mind is a bit statelier than its predecessor, it’s still golden-era Iron Maiden. From acrobatic opener “Where Eagles Dare” through the creepy-crawly pseudo title track “Still Life,” it is non-stop classic metal at its most memorable. Songs like “The Trooper” and fan favorite “Flight of Icarus” are among the band’s most anthemic, tailor-made for soccer-chant sing-alongs.
Some of the record’s tunefulness comes courtesy of drummer Nicko McBrain. This was his first record with the band, and he plays these songs with a crisp, loping groove that’s never easy to pin-down but perfectly suits Harris’ galloping rhythmic sense. Much as some fans miss Clive Burr, it’s hard to imagine him nailing “Die with Your Boots On.”
Piece of Mind would rank higher were it not for its imperfect final stretch. The last three songs on the record have their fans, and rightfully so — this is a high-tier album by one of the most potent metal bands (or guitar-based bands, period) in history — but they don’t match the might of “Flight of Icarus” and its ilk. If Side A of the album had been released as an EP, it might be Iron Maiden’s finest hour. Even as a full-length, Piece of Mind is still a must-listen.
Hallowed Be Thy Tune: Any of the masterpieces of Side A could vie for the top slot here but Piece of Mind’s B-side opens with Iron Maiden’s ultimate mosh call — “The Trooper.” Here Harris’ triplet bass note gallop reaches its most massively propulsive power, and his cohort falls in line for a full-frontal assault. Dickinson’s charisma as a vocalist and storyteller takes this loose retelling of Lord Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade” to infectious heights and made this song one of Maiden’s live staples.
Wasted Minutes: “In a time when dinosaurs walked the earth / when the land was swamp and caves were home,” sings Dickinson in the opening lines of “Quest for Fire,” a song that ought to have gone extinct. Harris’ expansive visions can sometimes lend a literary and expansive air to Maiden’s songs, but here he overreaches. Not even Dickinson can make this stuff less hokey, which would be forgivable if the rest of the tune were a little more impressive. — Joseph Schafer
Pick up Piece of Mind here.
3. Iron Maiden (1980)
The Essence of the Beast: The birth of the self-titled debut album by Iron Maiden was difficult. The band fired two producers early on and supposedly took the reins of the sessions after the third victim couldn’t be bothered to work with this upstart crew of rockers. That may help explain the somewhat thin sound of the finished product, but the simple truth is that, even with those logistical hurdles and sonic issues, Iron Maiden still managed to smoke the rest of the NWOBHM school of the time.
The band’s debut is a fascinating mixture of ideas and ambition. The group’s sound had yet to fully cohere, with many of the nine songs on Iron Maiden feeling slightly malformed. Still, the pub rock, doom metal, and prog rock influences clash in an alluring fashion, resulting in shaggy classics like “Phantom of the Opera,” a shape-shifting re-telling of Gaston Laroux’s 1910 novel, and “Iron Maiden,” a thrashy statement of purpose.
Iron Maiden would go through a quick evolution from that opening salvo, losing vocalist Paul Di’Anno, rhythm guitarist Dennis Stratton, and drummer Clive Burr in the years that followed. And they’d soon dial in a sound and aesthetic that turned them into one of the premier metal bands of all time. Yet fans still return to this rough-and-tumble debut, knowing that its cheap thrills and jagged edges are just as powerful some 40 years later.
Hallowed Be Thy Tune: Iron Maiden threw everything they had at their band anthem “Iron Maiden.” Written by guitarist Dave Murray, the song shows what the group could do collectively, nailing the knotted up time signature of the intro with ease, and individually, as each member is given a little spotlight turn throughout. It’s also a guaranteed crowd pleaser, forceful and groovy in equal measure. Little wonder that it remains a staple of the band’s setlist even today.
Wasted Minutes: Every generation needs their anthem of freedom, which is what Iron Maiden tried to write with “Running Free.” This one didn’t quite hit the mark, however, what with its leaden blues rock tempo and Di’Anno’s blushingly corny lyrics of outrunning the law in a pickup truck and nabbing a hot chick at the bar. This must have been a blast to dance to during the band’s early live sets, but these days, it feels like a relic of a less enlightened era. — Robert Ham
Pick up Iron Maiden here.
2. The Number of the Beast (1982)
The Essence of the Beast: Introducing the world to one Bruce Dickinson, The Number of the Beast is a definitive heavy metal masterpiece and arguably Iron Maiden’s finest moment (the decision to slot it at No. 2 came down to a tight vote). Some of the band’s most famous songs are housed here (“Run to the Hills,” “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” “Children of the Damned,” the title track) and the no-filler deep cuts make it one of the most consistent front-to-back listens in the Maiden discography.
More than anything, the album truly set the guiding aesthetics and imagery of heavy metal. It might look cartoonish now, but the cover sleeve was a shocking and controversial statement in 1982. A massive, sharp-edged logo in red, illustrated skeletons, devils, and occult and Satanic imagery: Maiden set the template, and it still hasn’t changed.
Musically, The Number of the Beast offered up longer, more grandiose compositions that verged on theatre epochs. This was full-blown art. Dickinson’s wide range and dynamic singing opened up new corridors of songcraft, which Harris, Murray, and Smith were eager to explore.
Meanwhile, the punk influence of Burr’s drumming still played a role, making this album a rare and singular moment in the band’s career… it’s the most “evil” Iron Maiden record. Burr brings an urgency that works to the advantage of every song here except “Gangland.” Things would get a little more rhythmically intricate once McBrain entered the picture, but the lineup on The Number of the Beast was on fire. Heavy metal has rarely sounded better.
Hallowed Be Thy Tune: Many a Maiden fan were converted upon hearing “Hallowed Be Thy Name.” Elevating the mystery and otherworldliness of ’70s prog and hard rock to new sonic extremes, with a healthy serving of badass riffs, Iron Maiden close out the Beast with arguably their greatest song. That’s for another list, but “Hallowed” would certainly be in prime contention. An eternal heavy metal masterpiece with an incredible chorus, refrain, solo, and central riff. Every element is perfect.
Wasted Minutes: The boogie-inflected “Gangland” never reaches the stature of the shoe-in classics crammed onto this 40-minute slab. The other songs seem to exist on another plane, whereas “Gangland” sounds bound to this mortal world… or perhaps the local pub (the often under-appreciated pub-rock influence on NWOBHM is very apparent in Burr’s opening drum breaks). Even “22, Acacia Avenue,” the only other track that could possibly be considered “worst,” still has that enveloping atmosphere that makes this album timeless. — Jon Hadusek
Pick up The Number of the Beast here.
1. Powerslave (1984)
The Essence of the Beast: With Dickinson and McBrain road-and-album tested, Iron Maiden delivered a tour-de-force with 1984’s Powerslave. From the blistering opening salvo of “Aces High,” to the dynamite second strike of “2 Minutes to Midnight,” to the blockbuster finale of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” it’s the first and maybe only Maiden album to execute Harris’ creative vision with military precision from start to finish.
Its power stems more from its performances than its songwriting. Dickinson was already a world-class singer, but after two years of writing and recording, his well-earned confidence shines through in every note. Harris, Smith, and Murray (who curiously has no credits on this record) already knew their way around a melody, but they deliver the blistering runs of “Back in the Village” and the cinematic climax of the title track with a sharper attack than before. It doesn’t hurt that after three albums in as many years, producer Martin Birch knew how to record Maiden’s mid-ranges, so they sat perfectly together without blunting one another.
Iron Maiden supported Powerslave with a theatrical and crowd-pleasing world tour captured on the Live After Death record the next year. It features most of these songs in even more savage form — a must-listen. It’s also somewhat bittersweet, marking the end of the NWOBHM’s time on top — one last triumph for the Union Jack before Def Leppard went pop and Metallica led the thrash movement to dominance, leaving Iron Maiden as one of the last great British metal stadium bands.
Hallowed Be Thy Tune: Powerslave delivers the goods through and through, but Maiden were never more aggressive with Dickinson than they were on opener “Aces High.” Dickinson spits out Harris’ lyrics at machine-gun speed in the verses and soars during the choruses while his bandmates harmonize their vocal-supporting fire. It’s great storytelling and better riffing, with a nonstop staccato groove that lets up just enough so imaginative listeners might feel like they’re strapped into the Spitfire with Eddie piloting — rolling, turning, and flying into the fray.
Wasted Minutes: Though there’s no fat to cut on Powerslave, its momentum does slow a bit in the middle third — maybe that’s just anticipation building for the epic songs at its end. Of those seldom-or-never performed second act songs, “Flash of the Blade” is the worst. Its vibe is a bit frivolous compared to the bullet-biting fare before and after, though it’s nice and short and features a great chorus. — Joseph Schafer
Pick up Powerslave here.