Album Review: Iron Maiden – ‘A Matter of Life and Death’

A Matter of Life and Death.  Great film.  Seen it?  I expect not.  It’s not the sort of film that would be made anymore.  When it comes to Iron Maiden I’ve got to admit that I gave up on them after Bruce Dickinson abandoned ship in the ‘90s.  I was going in a different direction in my life so it would be unfair to blame Maiden entirely for my disloyalty.  However, the band did not make it easy for people like me – the fans who didn’t have the ‘Killers’ album cover tattooed on their backs.  Maiden stuck, AC/DC/Status Quo-like, steadfastly to their blueprint.  It was as if the onward progression of music could not be heard from the lofty, ivory towers of millionaire rock stars.  I like the sound people make when they take risks.  For better or for worse, at least the music an artist creates when he tries to break the mould is interesting.  I didn’t hear that from Maiden after ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’, and yet, for a while I still enjoyed their music.  Iron Maiden did themselves no favours.  They painted themselves into a corner.  Dickinson’s decision to quit was probably the right thing for him to do at the time.  Maiden’s decision to replace him with Blaze Bayley destroyed one of my favourite bands – Wolfsbane.  I had a ticket to the Wolfsbane gig that was cancelled due to the Iron Maiden announcement and I remember being in two minds about it.  I loved Blaze Bayley and thought he’d be a pretty good fit for Iron Maiden.  In Wolsbane’s early days Bayley looked like an evil, demented Bruce Dickinson.  He did.  Seriously!  He had a similar quality to his voice too, albeit eight octaves lower.  I completely understand why he jumped at the Maiden gig.  Who wouldn’t?  To be lifted from obscurity and get to play with the big boys on the world stage.  Yes please!  Except it didn’t quite work out like that.  Did Bayley make the right life choice?  Who knows?  Hindsight is always 20/20.

For great Iron Maiden albums you have to look to the period beginning with ‘Iron Maiden’ and ending with ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’.  Yes, for a little while longer they still chucked out a few useful songs, but, as the cover art began to fall apart so did their music.  Perhaps, when Dickinson was killed in an ‘Iron Maiden’ (a modern invention masquerading as a real medieval torture device) during a weird live/magic performance on TV, that might have been the ideal moment to call it a day.  I remember that gig, as friends who weren’t Maiden fans watched it with me.  It did nothing to convert them to the cause, and my abiding memory is of Dickinson’s grown-out fringe.  I never owned the Bayley-era Maiden albums and I only listened to them for the first time very recently.  I may write about them in a future post.  Maybe.  During my time away from Maiden I released my own albums and gigged around the country.  Importantly, my music never strayed close to the Maiden formula.  You’d have thought that I would have been influenced at least a little by one of my favourite childhood bands.  But no.  Maiden had become something of a joke and I steered well clear.  I’m being unfair in singling out Iron Maiden here as I pulled myself away from the whole scene.  The faithful stuck with their band and for that reason the tattooed-album-art-adorned ‘true fans’ would never really count me as one of their own.  I would however take issue with that assessment.  I am a fan.  I am just a discerning fan.  As a fan you are allowed to take issue with the actions of your heroes.  Life isn’t perfect – and it’s too short to simply follow blindly.

I was watching Football Focus one day in the early noughties and a goal was being scored to a soundtrack suspiciously like Iron Maiden.  With Dickinson singing?  Yes.  Maiden were back.  But I didn’t buy the comeback album, ‘Brave New World’ – at least not until much later. And I didn’t buy ‘Dance of Death’.  I did however buy ‘A Matter of Life and Death’.

I couldn’t resist ‘A Matter of Life and Death’.  Great name.  Great art.  I loved the idea of songs written and played with no concern as to their length.  Okay, it’s a lack of concern that can be afforded when you have a million pounds in the bank, but nevertheless, it was liberating.  Look, let’s not beat about the bush here.  I went to Maiden’s complete run through of the album at Earls Court.  I like this album.  A lot.  This is the closest Maiden have come to hitting the highs of that earlier period I was talking about.  The bloated follow-up, ‘The Final Frontier’, was the sound of a band getting carried away.  For me, ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ was just the right level of self-indulgence.

The first single pricked my ears.  Iron Maiden using viral advertising methods?  Bloody Hell!  The Curious Case of Benjamin Button… no, wait, /checks the title, ‘The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg’.  A few monstrous riffs welded together like only Maiden can do.  A ponderous, beating heart of a song.  Not flawless, not even necessarily great.  But good enough.  So, what would the rest of the album be like?

The album opens with ‘A Different World’ and a song with a pre-chorus featuring backing vocals.  I like it.  I like it a lot.  Dickinson’s vocals sound back on point.  For a long while I thought he’d lost it.  Even going back as far as the ‘90s he sounded burned out.  For me, and I walk sacrilegious paving slabs here, even during the seminal ‘Live After Death’ album he was struggling.  He’s one of those singers that soars on a studio album, but can falter on the high notes live.  A song like ‘Run to the Hills’ was sung with a different chorus during the majority of Maiden’s shows.  You wonder why bands do that.  But they all do.  Including me!  I hit notes on earlier songs that I can’t even be in the same room as now.  There are workarounds, as Dickinson found (and Blaze Bayley didn’t!).  But you know what?  Watching the documentary bundled with the ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ album reminded me of what a phenomenal singer Bruce Dickinson is.  He is a total power house, and, in many ways his voice has matured for the greater good.  His voice is not ‘better’ than it was.  Nothing beats ‘The Number of the Beast’.  It is different.  It’s in a different world.  Thinner, slightly strained, but absolutely gargantuan.  Dickinson should be included in any discussion of the best singer of all time.  He would never win, ‘cause he’s ‘heavy metal’, but he should be talked of in the same breath as the greats.

‘These Colours Don’t Run’.  A punch in the face of a song.  The seeds of the song’s creation were probably sown after something Dickinson said in retaliation during the Ozzfest concert when Maiden’s set was allegedly sabotaged by Sharon Osbourne.  The song is actually more fully formed than a simple two-fingered salute and likely has nothing to do with the Osbourne incident.  It’s a good, solid song.  Marching drum beats and intricate guitar workouts.  I have read ‘clever’ critiques that say Maiden now march where once they galloped.  There is nothing wrong with marching.  What’s the point in galloping when your horse has died of old age?  You might as well just clap a couple of coconut halves together.

Next is ‘Brighter Than a Thousand Suns’, the album’s highlight.  This song is a superb, complex and heavy piece of work.  The main riff is a lumbering beast – the sound of a dinosaur being awoken after consuming a particularly violent curry.  Dickinson sounds out of control, barking over a 7/4 time signature that he seems unable to get quite right in his head.  The chorus, another of Maiden’s ‘let’s repeat the title ad infinitum’ really works, and is one of the best I can recall.  The result is a song that sounds modern – or dated, depending on your stance on prog rock.  It was the bright point of the Earls Court gig and the fact that Maiden can still pull off such a song is one of the reasons for their continued success.  In a business built on the shallow foundations of youth it is life affirming that a bunch of ‘old’ men can still produce music with at least of a modicum of relevance.  That this is one of Maiden’s heaviest songs is testament to what can be achieved by men considered ‘past it’ by the X-Factor generation.  It’s ironic now that Maiden once released an album called ‘the X-Factor’.

‘The Pilgrim’ opens with the kind of riff Maiden used to dine upon in the years following ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’.  I’ve heard rumour that ‘The Pilgrim’ was considered as a title for the album.  I’m glad they changed their minds!  Terrible, terrible idea!  The song is okay.  Nothing special.  The first trough on the album, but not a deep trough… and filled with wine, not dirty water.  ‘The Pilgrim’ would have benefitted from being lowered a semitone or two in pitch.  Dickinson’s efforts to hit the high notes here sound forced.  This criticism could probably be levelled at the whole album.

The quality is shunted back up to eleven again with ‘The Longest Day’.  Dickinson hits great earthy tones on the verse and the chorus is memorable – although it makes for exhausting listening.  Given the title of the song I think we can forgive it its meandering nature.  There are a few rhythms and melodies which border on Maiden-by-numbers, but overall it’s a worthy track.

The album continues with overlong, sometimes simplistic, sometimes demanding, music.  While it is true that the album could probably benefit from a thorough edit, I think it might also lose its soul.  What we have here is an album that, due to its very construction, will split an audience down the middle.  Some will love it and some will hate it, often with venom.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that this is not the fans’ favourite Iron Maiden album.  The lengths of the songs have been heavily criticised as have their pace.  But we have what we have.  This is a weighty, thoughtful album.  It is an album that celebrates the whole concept of what it is to be an album.  This is a collection of songs that feel ‘right’ together.  This is a collection of songs showcasing great musicianship.  Most of all, this is an unrestricted, primal scream of emotion.  Yes, it would be more commercial to edit the songs down to nice three and a half minute portions that would fit in a radio-friendly box.  But that would be to miss the point.  This is not an album full of catchy songs.  This is not an album to put on at a party.  For the world to rotate, life needs light and shade.  For every ‘Thriller’ or ‘Rumours’ you need an album that provides the battleship-grey paint.  If everyone else is listening to ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ on their iPhones, don’t fret.  Iron Maiden are still writing ‘War and Peace’.

Album Review: Iron Maiden – ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’

25 years since Iron Maiden‘s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.  Bloody Hell?!?  Where did time go?  Where did my life go?  Ha ha!  Anyway… Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.  An important album for me.  Maybe THE most important album of my entire life.  This album made me the man I am today (that is meant in a positive way!).

I was at school.  A friend in my class suggested I listen to Seventh Son.  I think his sister had bought it.  I actually bumped into that friend relatively recently after not having seen him for twenty-odd years.  We exchanged pleasantries.  I didn’t remind him of his album recommendation.  He probably wouldn’t have remembered and I’d have just felt stupid.  Besides, it wasn’t an important moment for him.  It was nothing for him…  but eventually everything for me.

Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is an album I have wanted to review and ‘push’ on other people for a long time.  However I could never find a reason.  A ‘review’ of this album would seem a little ‘out of nowhere’ and unnecessary.  But today I just read a tweet mentioning that the album is twenty-five years old.  So why not!

SSOASS (see what I did there!) is Maiden‘s seventh album.  It kind of ended a run of ‘classic’ albums.  Starting with the Di’anno sung Iron Maiden and Killers through the ‘classic period’ albums including Powerslave, into the slightly tired Somewhere in Time.  Each of those albums warrant thousands of words in their own right.  But safe to say that Iron Maiden‘s album, tour, album, tour, album, tour schedule had left the band a little burned out by the late eighties.  All Maiden fans have their favourite album and their favourite period.  Many will in fact cite Somewhere in Time as the best album – that’s the power of Maiden.  For me however, that sixth studio album got a lot of things wrong.  Of course, I come to all these conclusions in hindsight.  SSOASS was my first Maiden album, my introduction – bought on cassette!  Therefore the very first thing I ever heard by Maiden was the acoustic intro of this album.  Very, very unrepresentative of Iron Maiden.  But there you go.  That’s life!

Thinking back, what first struck me was the ‘weirdness’ of Bruce Dickinson’s voice.  THAT vocal!  That strange, effortless vibrato.  Remember, I was coming from a position of listening to A-ha.  Actually, that’s a bit disingenuous.  I wasn’t really into music at all.  In any case, A-ha were great!  They will probably get a ten thousand word essay from me at another time.  What was I saying?  Yes… Bruce Dickinson’s voice, to the uninitiated is something to be pondered.  But once you’ve taken it in you just have to appreciate the sheer wonder of it.  His voice is an instrument.  Yes, I know a lot of people SAY that.  “My voice is an instrument.”  But, really, that’s bollocks.  Dickinson’s voice is the real deal though.  Just listen to this album.  It is a marvel.  The eighth wonder of the modern world.  Now, during live performances around this era (the Maiden England gig/video for example) Dickinson’s voice was shot.  Totally ripped to hell.  But on album he was still a god.

“Seven deadly sins

Seven ways to win

Seven holy paths to hell

And your trip begins…”

Moonchild, the first track on the album, kicks in.  A magnificent opening.  A great showcase for the epic bombast of the frowned upon power chord.  When Dickinson enters with his first words he pierces you to your heart.  He growls, and yet has a crystal clear voice which could shatter a chandelier.  Moonchild, based on the works of Aleister Crowley gives you a taste of what to expect from this album.  This is a work laced in mysticism and witchcraft.  If you like Hammer Horror (I do!) then you’ll love this album.  This is a concept album.  Yes, I know, the songs don’t necessarily tell a complete story.  But it is a concept album.  There is a consistency.  It’s like the argument as to whether Sgt Pepper is a ‘concept album’.  What is a concept album exactly?  Well, if the songs flow, and feel connected then that is the concept right there.  Feed the donkey.

Bruce sounds deranged.  He cackles.  Before we know it we’re listening to Infinite Dreams.  This is one of the first songs I ever learned on the guitar and I can still play it to this day.  I can also sing it absolutely off by heart.  I can recite the lyrics word for word, even after years of not having listened to it.  Great lyrical lyrics.  This isn’t an album to play in your car while you make the suspension go up and down at the traffic lights.  This is an album to learn from.  Does anyone still appreciate that sentiment?

Adrian Smith’s guitar playing on this album deserves a special mention.  He actually became so disillusioned he ended up leaving, but here, he sounds great.  He always brought something else to the party.  Dave Murray’s signature ‘ultra-fast-widdle’tm may be the defining feature of Maiden’s music, but Smith brought some thoughtful, technically precise playing to the forefront.  He was later replaced by the opposite kind of guitar player in Janick Gers – but, again, that’s a subject that warrants its own dissertation!

Can I Play With Madness?  Maiden‘s best hit single?  Maybe?  No.  It is.  Fact.  Forget Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter.  I’m still embarrassed about that song even now.  Mention Iron Maiden and the ‘common person’ will think Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter.  Arrrghh.  I could pull my hair out I really could.  Please understand, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with BYDTTS (see what I did there again! 😉 )… it was a song written by Dickinson for A Nightmare on Elm Street.  It was a solo track.  It was supposed to be a ‘funny’ song for a silly horror film.  But apparently bass player, Steve Harris (Harris IS Iron Maiden) heard it and thought ‘I want that for Maiden‘.  Now, when it comes to Maiden, Harris is rarely wrong.  That is how they became the best  Heavy Metal band in the world.  But this decision was wrong.  BYDTTS should never have been a Maiden song.  It has made it difficult for me to talk in a serious manner about them ever since.  Honestly… kids at school mocked me.  Members of my own bands laughed at me.  It did Maiden no favours… yes, yes, apart from a number one hit single.  So, again, where was I?  Oh yes, Can I Play With Madness?.  Yes, a great single.  Quite unlike Maiden to start a song with a burst of the chorus vocal.  They must have been aware of the significance of this song even as they were writing it.  I love the song.  I hear new things in it all the time.  Layers of sound.  The whole album is like that.  Layers.  I would say like an onion… but what does that really mean?  Perhaps if an album made your eyes sting you could truly draw the comparison.

The Evil That Men Do.  Great intro guitar line.  De de de.  Nicko McBrain’s right foot on that bass drum pedal.  Awesome.  One of the greatest drummers of all time. Another galloping beat, a stampeding bass.  More of Dickinson’s growl.  Then into the chorus where Dickinson displays his famous ‘air-raid siren’ voice.  Another song that I love and admire.  The lyrics are just superb.  The lyrics throughout the album are intelligent and memorable.  “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.”  Shakespeare.  Maiden are the most well-read of bands.  Sometimes too much so.  After reading a book, Steve Harris seems compelled to write a bloody song about it.  This habit has had a few embarrassing results.  A few horribly drawn out, meandering ‘epic’ songs.  But not here.  No no no.  The title track is the defining moment of the album…

Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.  Okay, Iron Maiden had pulled off epic before (just listen to Rime of the Ancient Mariner), but with this song they cracked it.  Totally blew the opposition away.  A band at the very top of their game.  Perfect instrumentation, perfect singer, perfect theme, perfect lyrics.  Bruce gets to do some of his best “ooooooooohs” in this song.  He gets to play his ‘characters’.  He gets to sound evil.  But, here’s the amazing achievement – it all sounds so clean!  This is a heavy metal band pulling off bad-ass imagery.  A group who have pounded the world and been responsible for some of the greatest British rock music.  But this song is clinically polished.  Not in the negative way the word ‘clinical’ is often meant.  This song is like a surgeon’s blade.  It will cut you.

“So it shall be written

So it shall be done”

Choirs.  Well, synthesised choirs.  The ‘choir’ keyboard preset that Maiden used then and have continued to use ever since is just fabulous.  Yes, it’s dated, but screw that – it’s just ‘right’.  Enter guitars steeped in delay.  This song IS epic.  If you ever have to explain to someone what an ‘epic’ song sounds like then just play them Seventh Son of Seventh Son.  Job done!

More acoustic guitars.  The Prophecy.  For me, the weakest song on the album.  But its redeeming features are just so totally redeeming.  This ain’t no Maiden filler as found on some of their other albums (and come on, they all had them… be it Gangland, The Duelists  whatever), this is another great song.  The beautiful, windswept, woody, earthy guitar outro is worth the price of admission alone.

Then we have the Clairvoyant.  A typically ‘clunky’ (and I’m specifically referencing the ‘thwack’ sound Steve Harris achieves with his fingers) bass intro.  Then more tight, thunderous power chords.  Cue one of the most uplifting guitar melodies you’ll ever hear.  Dickinson is all-powerful here.  Emotional, almost spoken verses combine with operatic sections to produce another highlight of an already brightly lit album.  Superb end to the song.  The transition to the next song is perfect.  You can imagine the band standing in the studio twenty-five years ago nodding their heads in approval.  This album was recorded in an era when the album was still king.  And there was still a place for an almighty prog rock concept album.

Only the good die young is a phrase I have often used.  I only have to watch the news on TV for a few minutes before you’ll find me uttering those words.  Another great song.  Mighty fine interplay between the guitars and the vocals.  And a rock ending!!!  Yeah!

“Seven downward slopes

Seven bloodied hopes

Seven are your burning fires

Seven your desires…”

This album, for me, is Iron Maiden‘s finest hour.  That’s not to say their other albums weren’t also great.  I think your favourite album by a band depends very much at what point you joined the party.  I love the music on this album.  I think the artwork is fantastic.  For me the music from this album will always sound ‘light blue’.  Is there anyone out there who knows what I mean?

Maiden probably had more important albums.  The Number of the Beast is likely their defining album.  A Matter of Life and Death is as consistent and epic.  But Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is the Maiden album I would take to that desert island that we sometimes consider retiring to.  If one more person on this planet listens to this album because of this review then my job here is done.  I thank you.  Oh, and… ten out of ten.

A splendid time is guaranteed for all

So, I was dressing up to go to a heavy metal gig.  I thought… you know, what should I wear?  So I went with a t-shirt with a skull on it and my favourite leather jacket.  A leather jacket that is extremely rock!  It has a skull with a snake slithering through it on the back, and snakes down the arms.  (on a side note… the only problem with this jacket is that the skull and snakes are actually made up of a series of holes.  Which means that when it rains the skull and snakes perform the function of making you (…me) get wet… not an entirely useful ‘app’ for a jacket!  But… in any case, it looks good… and in today’s society what else could be as important as ‘looking good’???).

I come down the stairs wearing the t-shirt and the jacket.  The girls are clustered in the hallway around the mirror getting ready.  You can picture the scene – all glasses of champagne and hair straighteners.  One of the ladies says “What’s with the pirate get-up?”… and this flummoxes me for a moment.  But then I realise it’s the whole ‘skull and crossbones’ thing.  “Hmmm” I say…  “I see what you mean”.  And that sets me thinking.  Is heavy metal particularly ‘pirate-y’?  “Why do you have to dress as a pirate to go to a heavy metal gig?” she asks.  “Hmmmm…” /again.  I just say that I don’t think metal is particularly pirate-y and that it’s more to do with the ‘death’ and the ‘danger’.  But it was certainly food for thought.

So… I go to the gig. It was at a kind of underground basement place – the kind of venue where the sweat drips from the ceiling.  Funnily enough the place is called “The Underground”… spooky that!  I walk down the stairs into the darkness to be met by my friend.  Fine.  Good stuff.  So I turn to go to the bar and what do I see?  A life-size pirate.  A life-size model pirate.  Not only that… but this is a life-size model skeleton pirate.  “Hmmmm…” I think /again/again.  Hmmm… you know what… perhaps metal is actually a little too pirate-y?

The band plays.  A band called Meansteed.  They play a pretty good approximation of ACDC.  In fact… the whole evening had a feel of NWOBHM.  The singer has something of the Bruce Dickinson about him and the guitarist a little of the Joan Jett.  I bought the CD and they all signed it.  I have now placed the CD in a secure vault just in case any one of them goes on to be the next Bruno Mars or Ed Sheeran (unlikely).  But a good night was had by all.  Jolly good in fact.  Jolly Roger.  Hmmmm… /again/again/again.

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