Album Review: Iron Maiden – ‘Powerslave’

Here’s a new thing I’m gonna do.  I’ve always been a fan of album reviews.  As a student I lapped up NME and Melody Maker.  My problem with most reviews is that they’re written so close to the event.  So soon after an album release.  Therefore likely with very few listens.  You only have to read the reviews of Be Here Now by Oasis to realise how badly wrong things can go!!! This has always foxed me.  You see, I am one of those people who sticks a CD in the car (yes… still a CD!), and then listens to that CD until destruction.  Often months at a time.  And after the monumental number of ‘listens’ I rack up I truly know the album inside out.  I know the good and the bad.   In my head I then imagine I’m reviewing the album.  And the review is always easy because I know every single note of the album inside out.  If reviewers had to live with an album for 6 months you would get a whole different appraisal!  Probably a very honest one!  But of course… that’s impossible.  You need the review before or on the day of release!  So… anyway… I’ve decided to stick up the occasional review on this site.  The reviews will give a window into my world.  The albums I choose to review will not necessarily be representative of anything in particular… but they will be a snapshot of my life!

So… recently I’ve decided to listen to a cassette in the tape player of my van.  I’ve got a CD player in the car and a tape player in the van.  Now.. having moved house a couple of times I found it extremely difficult to actually find a cassette to put in the van!  I’ve only got CDs, and even then most of them have now been stuck onto the computer as MP3s.  You definitely get a sense that “physical media” is dead and buried!  Anyway… I managed to find one, solitary tape.  Powerslave by Iron Maiden.  An album I never owned on anything other than cassette.  So… a couple of months ago into the van it went.  And 100 listens later:

Okay.  Powerslave.  Hmmm.  First of all, you have to bear something in mind when you listen to my thoughts on this album.  Iron Maiden were pretty much my first love.  The most accessible of ‘metal’ bands, and for me, one of the most important.  At the time I bought this cassette, probably the late ’80s, I was much more into CDs and therefore this particular album was one of my least played of Maiden‘s career.  However, that is not to say I didn’t know the songs.  Many of these songs were played on the associated tour and were captured on the concert CD “Live After Death”.  In any case, when I say this album was one of the lesser played of my Maiden albums, I’m probably still talking 10,000 listens!  Ha ha!

Anyway, having listened to it in the van over the last couple of months I can say that the first thing that strikes you is the production.  The whole album has a warm, punchy, analogue sound.  In fact I’d go so far as to say that this is the archetypal “Iron Maiden sound”.  A lot of this probably has to do with the fact that I have only ever listened to this album on tape.  Tape has that effect on a sound. Any sound.  But it seriously suited Iron Maiden.  And so I listened to my old, worn, warped tape.

The era of Powerslave was arguably Maiden at their peak.  It was released in 1984 and features the “classic” line-up of Bruce Dickinson, Adrian Smith, Dave Murray, Nick McBrain and Steve Harris.  This is THE Maiden line-up.  And funnily enough, through thick and thin this line-up is still in existence today.  There have been a lot of ups and downs along the way – and in fact Maiden lost me as a fan for a good few years – but the nostalgic line-up is back together (with an added Geordie for extra measure).

So, Powerslave.  This album has the weight of a thousand sweaty teenage boys’ dreams on its shoulders.

Marty:  Let's talk about your music today...uh...one thing that puzzles me
        ...um...is the make up of your audience seems to be ...uh...
        predominately young boys.
David:  Well it's a sexual thing, really isn't it.  Aside from the
        identifying the boys do with us there's also a re-reaction to the
        female.....of the female to our music.  How did you put it?
Nigel:  Really they're quite fearful - that's my theory.  They see us on
        stage with tight trousers we've got, you know, armadillos in our
        trousers, I mean it's really quite frightening...
David:  Yeah.
Nigel:  ...the size...and and they, they run screaming.

Powerslave opens with Aces High.  A great opening song.  One of the greatest opening songs!  An interesting fact about Maiden (and perhaps a lot of heavier music generally) is that very few of the songs are about ‘love’.  There are no standard ‘love songs’.  Maiden take this a little further in that most of their songs are completely impersonal.  They tend to be songs about war, songs based on books, TV or poetry.  Aces High is a war song.  It’s the song they opened their gigs with at the time.  They spliced a Churchill quote onto the front of the song and it went down a storm.  A real kick of a song.  A song that Dickinson tended to struggle with live at the time.  As a singer he earned the nickname “the air-raid siren”.  And this album features much of his absurdly high pitched singing.  And he expanded on his “rasp”.  A voice used to greater effect in the ’90s, you can hear it evidenced on this album.

Two Minutes to Midnight then slices in with its great opening guitar riff.  This was Adrian Smith’s song and you can tell.  It has a different fire to the other songs.  Steve Harris tends to be the main songwriter for Iron Maiden.  In fact… to be honest that is a huge understatement.  Steve pretty much IS Iron Maiden.  But Two Minutes to Midnight certainly showcased what the other members could achieve if they were allowed to!  Dickinson is at his vicious best.  I used to have the poster for this song on my wall as a kid.  Eddie (the band mascot) sitting in the foreground with a nuclear explosion mushroom cloud serving as the backdrop.  Awesome artwork. Awesome song.

In fact… now that I’ve mentioned artwork I think I might just mention Derek Riggs.  Derek was the artist for all of Maiden‘s ‘golden-era’ work.  He came across as a strange little man on the only footage I’ve seen of him.  But at his best (during the ’80s) he came up with some inspirational album cover art.  Perhaps some of the best.  Although I personally favour some of the other album covers, I have to admit that Powerslave is a classic.  Yes… a classic ‘metal’ album cover.  A classic album needs a classic cover.  Hmmm… do you think I’m gonna end up concluding that this is a classic album by any chance?!?  😉

The next track on the album is a strange one.  Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra).  Now, I was never a fan of the name of this instrumental.  Not then and certainly not now.  Poor.  Very poor.  But I have to look beyond the title and into the meat and two veg of the song.  And actually… it’s a pretty damn fine instrumental.  Certainly not up to the standard of something like “The Crusade” by Trivium (that IS an instrumental to end all instrumentals!), but it is a real tour de force for Steve Harris and Nicko McBrain.  Steve is the bass player and Nicko is the drummer.  And this song, and in fact this whole album is about the bass and the drums.  I think Steve and Nicko as a team were at the top of their game on this album.  Losfer Words is a mental showdown for the pair.  Nicko is one of the most distinctive drummers of all time.  He tends to have a motto: “Why hit one drum when you could hit a hundred?”.  He owns Losfer Words.  He owns the album.  His drumming is killer throughout.  I bet a lot of boys took up drumming after listening to Nicko.  (because you can’t ‘watch’ him – he’s always hidden behind a wall of drums!).  In fact Dickinson probably rebelled against this when he went solo in the ’90s.  He went into a shop and asked for the “biggest drum kit they had”.  The guy behind the counter said “Well… we could probably make a kit up of as many drums as you want.”  Dickinson replied “No… I only want three drums… I just want those three drums to be the biggest you can get!”.

For all its technical difficulty and complex drum and bass work, the honest truth is that a song like Losfer Words could only have been helped by having Bruce sing something on it.  What’s the point of having the greatest metal singer of all time and leaving him to sip Soda Stream in the studio storeroom?  Come on guys… what the hell was this all about?!? And change the name of the song!!!

The next song, Flash of the Blade, is credited to Dickinson.  It has aspects to it which are quite pleasing.  The chorus for example has a nice enough melody and it is perfectly well sung.  The playing all round on the album by everyone is spectacular.  But.. you can’t help but feel that Flash of the Blade is album filler.  Quite good album filler… but album filler nonetheless.

As the Duellists emanates from the van’s speakers I can’t help but notice that my cassette is incredibly warped on this song.  Dickinson is singing like an X-Factor hopeful.  Anyway… terrible song.  Needs no more said about it.

A turn of the tape (remember having to do that?!?) reveals the next song.  Back in the Village is likely a song referencing one of my favourite TV shows of all time – the Prisoner.  And Back in the Village kicks ass!  Serious ass!  I see now that this song is also credited to Adrian Smith. That makes sense.  This song hits you in the face similarly to Two Minutes to Midnight.  Back in the Village has always been an underrated song.  I have never heard Maiden play it live.  I have never heard them mention it.  It’s like it doesn’t actually exist.  Fits with the theme of the Prisoner actually!  Ha ha!  When I was a kid I never gave Back in the Village the time of day.  Pure album filler.  However, re-evaluating it after 100 more listens I can confirm that this song is the dark horse of the album.  A killer guitar riff (perhaps one of the reasons they never played it live – it’s killer to the point of being impossible! ha ha!), a great snarling vocal by Dickinson and pure powerhouse playing all round.  A friend of mine (actually a top music reviewer) recently said that this was the second best song on the album.  I have to admit that I look forward to turning the tape to hear this song.  Perhaps the most underrated, undervalued Maiden song ever?

The title track is the pop song of the album.  It starts with an intro that reminds you of Michael Jackson‘s Thriller.  Then the Maiden stomp enters like a full force lovin’ machine.   Bass and Drums.  Killer.  And I’m pretty sure I hear guitar synthesisers on this song too.  A little two-faced after boasting on earlier albums how there were “no synthesisers used in the making of this album”. Ha ha!  Oh well. I’ve backtracked on my own decisions enough times in my life to know that a statement is only ever as good as the second it’s made.  Ten seconds later… u-turn!  Ha ha!  Anyway, Powerslave is another kick-ass song.  Dickinson’s vocals are excellent and there are a few different tones on display with the instrumentation.  The song mellows the feel of the rest of the album.  You could probably say it was the most rounded song on the album, the perfect showcase for the band… if it wasn’t for the closing track!

Yes… the final track of the album. A song that for me is far and away the greatest of the ‘long songs’ Iron Maiden have written.  It is another song based on literature, and for me it is also the best example.  Rime of the Ancient Mariner is everything an epic song should be.  It clocks in at over 13 minutes and never gets dull.  It features amazing instrumentation and cinematic atmosphere.  Just listen to that middle section.  Just the bass and guitars, with the sounds of the ship creaking!  Magnificent!  The weaving of the classic poem into a rock song is done with perfection.  Steve Harris has dropped the ball with these ‘epic’ songs on so many occasions, yet here he gets it all absolutely right!  The way the song comes out of the soft middle section with a monumental gallop always brings a smile to my face.  Bruce is again on top form.  This song is what music is all about.  It must have seemed such a risk at the time.  But now it still holds its own.  A truly epic work of art. The perfect end to a classic album.

So… I think I’ll give my album reviews a mark out of 10.  One thing you must always bear in mind with me is that I use the full scale!!!  1 is dire.  5 is average.  10 is perfect.  Weighing up the pros and cons of Powerslave I have to give it the only fitting mark.  It is not a bad mark.  It is a good mark!  Thank you for reading.  I shall be back with the next review soon…  for the album I currently have in my car!

Iron Maiden – Powerslave: 6/10

2 thoughts on “Album Review: Iron Maiden – ‘Powerslave’

  1. I love this album, but it is sorely overrated. The album comes to a screeching halt at the instrumental and does not pick up again until the song Powerslave. 4 out of the 8 songs are OK or worse. During the 4 song slump there is not ONE but TWO songs about SWORD FIGHTING!!! Give me a break!!!!

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