Ross here again with yet another retro review. Don't worry I know I said I would be looking at the all the Slipknot albums but we have plenty of time until the new album comes out and I'm still working on it. There's just too many albums I want to look at right now, starting with this one.
Now that I'm more comfortable with music reviews having written a few of them now, I wanted to start looking into the full discographies of my favourite artists starting with my all time favourite: Iron Maiden
Now this isn't going to be me just gushing all over the band, as I want to go over the history of the albums and the band at the time of release so that I can give my personal views on each one. There's no such thing as a perfect band and Maiden are no different as I will definitely be critical whenever is necessary. Just wait 'til we get to the 90s albums. It's like a goddamn minefield. I'll just be focusing on the studio albums though rather than the live albums but if we do come to certain points in time where live albums were released, I can certainly recommend them. Once I'm finished I might even rank all the studio albums.
Now as far as being as critical as possible goes, I don't get to start with one with that much in the way of criticism towards it, but I'm getting ahead of myself. How does the album hold up almost 40 years later? Let's take a look.
Iron Maiden first formed in Leyton, East London on Christmas Day all the way back in 1975. After five years of lineup changes, including longtime guitarist Dave Murray even leaving at one point before returning, their self-titled debut album was released to the world on the 14th of April 1980 through the EMI label. The record did surprisingly well for a metal debut as it peaked on the UK album chart at number 4 when it was first released and his since went platinum.
While reviewing this, I'll be going with the version that appears on both Spotify and on the vinyl as these exclude the B-Side track Sanctuary and while this is a good track, I feel like it's the true version of the album that needs to be looked at and it'll be the same on the next two albums since they're in the same situation.
Out of the five band members credited on the album, only two of them are still with the band to this day and the three of them that left the band would be gone by the time the band's fourth album was released.
Of course Maiden's most famous member is lead singer Bruce Dickinson, but he wouldn't join the band for another couple of years and so here we have Paul Di'Anno. While Bruce is known for his almost operatic voice, Paul sounds more like a singer you'd find in a 70s punk band which sounds weird for Maiden, but in the early days it worked surprisingly well. This album would be guitarist Dennis Stratton's only credit on a Maiden album as he was fired from the band shortly after the album's release.
The album cover designed by Derek Riggs, is also the first of many appearances of Maiden's belived mascot: Eddie. Riggs would would design each album cover up to 1990's No Prayer for the Dying before being replaced, and each of his covers has to be considered iconic and worthy of a t-shirt (of which I have a few).
In terms of the album's sound, it does have a distinct lack of polish that would be found on each following album, I do enjoy it as it gives the album a slightly edgier, punkier feel to it even if that wasn't what the band was going for as founder Steve Harris has said that he hates how the album sounds and that they hated punk music so hated being compared to the punk bands of the time. He may not have enjoyed it but the fans, myself included, still adore the album as I have read quite a few rankings of the band's discography and this album is almost always in the top five.
The album starts with the track Prowler and I don't think you could have picked a better intro to a debut album. Every time I start listening to this record, this track gets me pumped up for the rest of the album and it's one of Maiden's more underrated tracks. The song was originally recorded back in 1978 for the band's Soundhouse Tapes. The song is a short one but a great intro to a great album and right away you could tell that the band's guitar work alone was something to be feared from the twin axe attack that has now become legendary to a face-melting guitar solo. While the topic of the song leaves a bit to be desired (a man stalking a woman and flashing her), I can't help but love this.
We move onto Remember Tomorrow which starts off on what seems like a more melodic and ballad-like note, but then by the time we reach the chorus the band reminds you of who they are and burst in with a big guitar riff and another epic guitar solo that keeps you coming back for more. This is a song I've appreciated more with each listen and I'd definitely consider it another underrated gem. It's been covered a couple of times as well, most notably on the deluxe edition of Metallica's Hardwired to Self-destruct. Singer Paul Di'Anno has said that the song was about his grandfather who passed away the year this album was released, as 'remember tomorrow' was something he used to say to Paul as a kind of catchphrase.
Next up is Running Free as this is a track that has become a bit of an anthem for the band and is a track they still play as a gig closer to this day. This is where the comparisons to the band being a bit punk come from, due to the bouncy sounds to the track, and the theme of running away from the law definitely goes with that. A short track with great musicianship from everyone involved and the guitars just can't be stopped at this point and Steve Harris is making damn sure that his bass can be heard from all angles. A fun track and a fan favourite.
Track four is Phantom of the Opera and is of course about the novel of the same name. Apparently this is the song that made Bruce Dickinson fall in love with the band so it definitely earns extra points for that. This is Maiden's first attempt at an 'epic' style of song, something they would become the masters of in later years, and even now this is one of their best ones. After a fast and furious start with a fantastic riffing intro, the song slows down and allows for more instrumental time which I absolutely love as the twin axe attack is in full force here. This is the kind of song you can listen to a few times over and find something new to love each time. This is another that's still a live favourite and for good reason as the song sounds even better with Bruce on vocals. Best song on the album for my money.
After that track, a break is needed and I think the band knew this as well as Phantom... is followed up by Transylvania, a rare Maiden instrumental track. I'm not usually big on instrumental tracks that last over four minutes, but this is an exception as it's Maiden at their best. When it's just the band and their instruments, magical things happen and it's no different here. The song starts slightly slower than some of the other tracks before building and building to massive finale that could easily spawn a mosh pit. If you're a fan of guitar play, then it should be obvious by this point that this album is for you, and we're not even done yet! Another gem and this wouldn't even be Maiden's best instrumental track but we'll get to that another time.
To bring the adrenaline back down again, we now have Strange World which is a song I didn't really like all that much when I was younger due to it's slower nature , but it's one I've appreciated much more as I've gotten older and can appreciate how well it works to the album's pacing as there was no way they were following the last two tracks so it was best to slow things down a bit. The song almost has a Pink Floyd quality to it with dreamlike lyrics that no one can agree to what they actually mean, as well a great guitar solo that will stay with you for some time. Paul's singing is at it's best here as his voice is quite beautiful when a more melodic sound is needed. Another gem of a song that deserves more attention.
Immediately after, we being the saga of Charlotte the Harlot, which would be revisited on a few albums for the next twelve years. This is rare track written by Dave Murray as he doesn't get too many writing credits. Of course this song is about a man in love with Charlotte and can't seem to get over the fact that he can't have her to himself as she needs to be with other men to make ends meet. A short, fun track that's a very easy listen and yet another underrated gem on this album that doesn't get enough mention. I mean I'm pretty sure my face is now melting after hearing that intense guitar solo so excuse me while I go clean it up.
And finally we end with the song Iron Maiden, on the album Iron Maiden, by the band Iron Maiden, because confusing the Spotify search bar is fun. Anyone that knows Maiden knows this song as it's the only song of theirs that has been playing in every gig they've performed since they started releasing albums. The riff at the start is just so iconic at this point as we then burst into the first verse with Paul threatening to kill us in his room. Fun times ahead. Again the guitar work is just flawless and I can't help but headbang along. This is the point in a live gig where Eddie would come out to terrorise the band and the audience so I have fantastic memories of this song. A perfect closer for a practically perfect album.
Overall, I can't find anything to criticise here as everything just works and flows so well and it might just be the best debut album by any band ever. There isn't a bad track on here and it has a something for everyone vibe to it. Want some ballads? Covered. Completely instrumental? Covered. A longer epic track? Covered. The album is full of timeless classics and underrated gems that are worth more than a glancing look. If you haven't heard this album before, I urge you strongly to pick it up. It's a short album at only 37 minutes total and it might just convert you to one of the greatest bands in existence. Somehow they would only get better after this! Up the Irons.
Tracks to Download: Just all of them, but if I had to choose three I'd go with Phantom of the Opera, Iron Maiden, and Prowler.