The momentum Iron Maiden had as they prepared to record ‘Powerslave’ is one I highly doubt heavy metal will ever see the likes of again.
Written by: Dangerzone
ARTIST: Iron Maiden
SERIAL: EJ 2042001 / POWER 1
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: England
LINEUP: Bruce Dickinson – vocals * Dave Murray – guitar * Adrian Smith – guitar * Steve Harris – bass * Nicko McBrain – drums
TRACK LISTING: 01 Aces High * 02 2 Minutes To Midnight * 03 Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra) * 04 Flash Of The Blade * 05 The Duellists * 06 Back In The Village * 07 Powerslave * 08 Rime Of The Ancient Mariner
The momentum Iron Maiden had as they prepared to record ‘Powerslave’ is one I highly doubt heavy metal will ever see the likes of again. Relentless recording and touring was the order of the day, with the band barely taking a breather since the 1980 debut. The thought of a band releasing an album a year and touring almost non-stop is almost alien today, but for Iron Maiden that’s what the machine consisted of in the early days.
It was paying off too, with the ‘Piece Of Mind’ tour seeing them become headliners in their own right, on their way to becoming the biggest metal band in the world. This album also represented the first time the lineup was stable for two consecutive records. This was in a way the end of the first era of Iron Maiden and somehow I don’t know if they were ever the same again.
The whole package of the Egyptian artwork, the huge stage show, the metal itself and the resulting tour represented Maiden at their apex. They conquered not only the U.S., but the world also, in comprehensive fashion. Where was there to go after that? It’s hard to say but that momentum was never quite regained.
The opening pairing of ‘Aces High’ and 2 Minutes To Midnight’ barely need any explanation, easily the most remembered from the album and still plundered live unmercifully to this day. The combination of the galloping riffs and melody is Maiden at their peak, with ‘2 Minutes’ one of the greatest songs.
The guitar work takes on a more serious edge, with the political themed lyrics another departure. But it’s the melody which carries it along and in 29 years it hasn’t dated one bit, with ‘Aces High’ cartoon metal by comparison, but exactly what Maiden specialized in.
What a shame Harris became too good for this uniquely British style of metal. I’ve always asked myself the exact intent for ‘Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra)’ which was the first instrumental since the ‘Killers’ album. It’s acceptable, with some highly harmonic guitar work from Murray and Smith and McBrain thrashing his kit, yet somehow unfulfilling.
I say this because of the following pairing of ‘Flash Of The Blade’ and ‘The Duellists’. Now these aren’t bad songs, but I’d be hard pressed to compare them to the lesser known tracks from ‘Piece Of Mind’. The guitar harmonies distinguish ‘Flash Of The Blade’ and there’s some guttural riffing, but it’s never moved me except for the guitar work. One of the reasons is the production, which doesn’t capture the bands heaviness as well as the last two albums. It’s lacking some clout, but at least in those days each Iron Maiden album sounded different from the last, something which ended in 2000.
‘The Duellists’ melodically has traces of ‘Where Eagles Dare’ and realistically is one of the most forgotten tracks from those years. It’s mildly uninspiring, almost as if the band was rushed while recording, which does seem to be the case when researching the album. Technically it’s bland and the first signs of real fatigue on an Iron Maiden album. Harris continues to adapt film plots into his songs here, this one of a 1977 Harvey Keitel film, with Steve displaying his eye for obscurities.
By contrast ‘Back To The Village’ deserves none of the low profile it has taken on over the decades. This is Dickinson era Maiden at its fiercest and heaviest, more than enough to wipe out a host of pretenders in 1984 (including Judas Priest). This is exactly the kind of song Maiden forgot how to play over the years, with a streetwise tone that once epitomized their attitude and image. More importantly they knew how to get to the point in the early days, with a vitality that’s evident in the urgency of this track. This should have become an Iron Maiden staple, but amazingly it eased into the background behind some inferior tracks.
The final pairing of songs could have been viewed as daunting with their running time of 20 minutes, but once again they demonstrate the purpose Maiden played with then. The title track is seven minutes, but starts immediately with a chugging riff straight from the metal handbook. It’s brutal and it inspired a million copyists, but it’s heavy metal through and through. That’s the difference.
They don’t take three minutes to get to the point, with no lush acoustic intros or buildup. It sounds less dated than anything since Dickinson returned in 1999 and that’s a critical error of the current lineups somehow vaunted albums.
Another case in point is the bands longest song ‘Rime Of The Ancient Mariner’, which runs at 13 minutes and was probably frowned upon initially in 1984. But again the song begins with another trademark galloping riff, almost belying a song of such length. This is how to construct an epic, pulling in the listener straight away, instead of boring with long winded passages that meander aimlessly.
The tangents this track take shames any epic since, sometimes fast, sometimes slow with a ghostly breakdown evoking the famous poem itself. It was certainly ambitious by Harris, but pulled off and executed flawlessly.
The story has been told countless times, but Maiden would embark on their longest tour ever following the album’s release, with the ‘World Slavery Tour’ entering metal folklore due to its punishing schedule. I once read an interview with Adrian Smith where he said Dickinson would cower in a corner before shows near the end, so thoroughly burned out by the endless cycle of album, tour, album etc.
This could best explain why ‘Somewhere In Time’ seemed like a massive departure in 1986. For once the band actually took its time recording, incorporating technology into their sound, losing the aura that surrounded the prior Dickinson albums. Iron Maiden couldn’t maintain the pace forever and they became somewhat of a shadow of themselves for the rest of the 80’s.
Only on ‘No Prayer For The Dying’ and parts of ‘Fear Of The Dark’ did they ever come close again to sounding like the band of 80-84, with everything else falling well short of ‘Powerslave’ and its peers.
2 Minutes To Midnight
Entire Album (Select Tracks)