Normally here I would write an intro of sorts. However, this is Iron Maiden. I’m certainly not their biggest fan but could easily tell you that they’re one of the biggest metal bands of the planet (if not the biggest) and have had over 10 studio albums worth of material at their disposal. So, what does that mean for our wonderful ‘Versus’ feature? Well, it means there’s going to be a hell of a lot of debate.
Two of our writers have stepped up for this one. This could easily have been more, but we’ve had to keep some locked up for their own good. As Richard Heaven and Tom ‘The Machine’ White metaphorically tear each other limb from limb using their imaginations and words in this here piece, we ask you, fellow reader, to have a read! Seriously, just keep reading. Read their thoughts, decide that they’re right, or wrong of course, and then let us know what your opinion is. There’s so many albums to choose from that this is certain to be a messy one. Yikes. I wonder what Eddie would say…?
Killers (Richard Heaven)
There are very few bands who are respected quite as much as Iron Maiden. They’ve seen – and survived – almost every trend in metal whilst retaining their signature gallop and iconicly british sense of humour. Their most common criticism is also their strongest praise – they may have been going for over thirty years now but they’ve never changed their sound to please the naysayers, and that’s admirable. Unfortunately we’ve got a job to do today, and that job is to argue our favourite albums. Whilst both ‘Dance of Death’ and ‘A Matter Of Life And Death’ are modern metal masterpieces, tonight I am fighting the corner for their 1981 album ‘Killers’. Whilst there’s no denying the influence that Bruce Dickenson’s vocals has had on modern metal, I’ve always had a soft spot for their second voalist Paul Di’Anno.
You see, the first Iron Maiden album – yes, the self titled – was the rawest album the band was ever going to release. The guitars sound tinny, the drums flat and Paul… well, he sounds pissed. He sounds like a punk singer (well, this was 1980). This was great – but it wasn’t the Maiden that changed the world. Maiden, as we know them today, really came to the forefront with ‘Killers’. ‘Killers’ took everything that was good from their debut and improved it with a thicker production and boosted bass. It also added a deeper, more operatic element to Di’Anno’s voice. Whilst Bruce would prove to be the stronger of the two in this area, he always lacked Paul’s punkier edge. ‘Wrathchild’ is a perfect example of this, his vocals never losing that rough edge despite the improved, slightly over the top production.
If ‘Wrathchild’ was Paul’s crowning glory then – for ‘Killers’ at least – ‘Purgatory’ was to be Dave Murray and Adrian Smiths moment to shine. ‘Purgatory’ really shows off their trademark duelling guitar style as they exchange lead riffs before coming together again for the meatier choruses. ‘Innocent Exile’ may not showcase the galloping basslines that will become Steve Harris’s trademark but that off-kilter intro really adds an element of groove that wasn’t seen too often in earlier recordings.
It would be 22 long years until Maiden made an album which, in my mind, rivalled ‘Killers’ (although ‘Piece Of Mind’ came close) in ‘Dance Of Death’. Strangely enough this is an album which saw Maiden reinvent themselves again, bringing classic metal into the technical 2000s. Metal – and England – will lose a valuable asset the day they decide to unplug their instruments for good. Long live Maiden.
The Number Of The Beast (Tom ‘The Machine’ White)
Iron Maiden is a band of epic proportions. They have influenced metal on such a global scale with their fifteen studio albums. This makes it very difficult to pick one singular album as their definite “best” album. So much of their 80’s output was genre-defining (‘Powerslave’, ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’, ‘Somewhere In Time’) and their resurrection album after their late nineties slump, ‘Brave New World’, was brilliant too. However, there is one album that stands head and shoulders above the rest; ‘The Number of the Beast’.
This album is clearly the best for many reasons. This is the first album in which the trademark wail of Bruce Dickinson appeared, replacing the punkier vocal of Paul DiAnno. It is the first album in their catalogue that features their now-synonymous operatic metal aesthetic and for the first experimentation with this sound, it still remains their best.
Also, there’s the little matter of this album featuring not one but two genuine metal classics on it in the form of ‘Run to the Hills’ and ‘Number of the Beast’. The former introduces the familiar and oh-so-satisfying galloping guitar sound that is iconic of Iron Maiden’s later work (think ‘The Trooper’.) The thundering guitar sound so associated with Maiden is also present in ’22 Acacia Avenue’. The other, slower and more epic side to Iron Maiden is also represented in the form of ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’. Overall this is an album of archetypal Iron Maiden tracks that stand the test of time thirty(!!) years later.
It also managed to attain a Number One album spot back when number one albums still meant something. Can you imagine that today? A metal album at number one in the charts? Just another reason why this album is truly special.
Overall this is an album of sheer quality from start to finish. It is written into the folklore of heavy metal and completely changed the landscape of the genre. It eclipses the band’s admittedly catchy punk debut and still stands above the later metal albums by a long way.
Iron Maiden are the Saturday headliners for Download Festival 2013. The festival takes place from the 14 – 16 June 2013 and you can view the Download Festival website here.
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