A word of warning before I start, I may overuse the term 'underrated gem' here and I apologise in advance for this.
As I said in my review of Maiden's self-titled debut (link here) I would be looking into each one of Maiden's studio releases and now we look into their sophomore effort, always a testing time for any band especially after a debut as good as theirs.
There's been a bit of a lineup up change since we last heard from our heroes as Dennis Stratton is out and Adrian Smith is in on guitar. Adrian is still a member of the band to this day but he did leave at one point which we'll get to in a future album review. This would also mark the last album recorded with vocalist Paul Di'Anno before he was fired due to drug and alcohol issues causing problems with his stage performance and we'll get to his replacement soon enough. According to Paul, he wanted to leave the band due to missing home and needing a break from the tour schedule so believe who you like.
This was also the first album produced by Martin Birch who would remain with the band until 1992 and you can already hear the improvements from the last record as the instruments are so much clearer than before, and Martin was smart to keep the vocals sounding similar to the last album as Paul's raspy, punk rock voice is once again a highlight and making it any clearer would have ruined it in my opinion.
Killers was released onto the world on February 2nd 1981 and ended up being the album that made them a big deal in America and Japan whilst also growing their fanbase at home in Britain. The artwork is quite simply gorgeous and is one of my favourites that the band has ever released, showing beloved mascot Eddie with a sadistic grin on his face after cutting down a victim in the middle of the night. Yeah this is one you're going to want to get on a t-shirt.
Just like the last review I'll be looking at the vinyl album version which is the same as the ones that can be found on streaming sites like Spotify and Amazon Music as it features the original 10 songs, so no 'Twilight Zone' here unfortunately.
So how did this release match up with their spectacular debut? Let's take a look.
The first song is strangely quite a well covered song despite being an instrumental track that only lasts about a minute and a half but bands like Arch Enemy have featured this on recent releases so it must have had a bit of an impact. 'The Ides of March' is a cracking start to the album and really builds up your expectations as to what's coming next and sure enough we're greeted with the Maiden classic 'Wrathchild'. This is one of the bands shortest ever songs clocking in at just under 3 minutes, but it definitely leaves an impact in that short amount of time. Right away you're hit by Steve Harris's bounding bassline before a guitar riff comes in out of nowhere to tear your face off before Paul's harsh vocals appear to sing about a boy looking for his estranged father in a quest for vengeance. This is how you start a Maiden album off right and it's no wonder why this is still a track that is played live to this day and I've had the luck of being able to experience it in person.
Next up we have 'Murders in the Rue Morgue' and my isn't this an underrated gem of a song. It sounds like it could have been a backup opener for the record with it's slow, atmospheric start before bursting out like an Alien from John Hurt and hitting a fast and furious verse that could quite easily cause a rare Maiden mosh pit if they wanted. This is a song they haven't played live since around 1982 and I really with they would because it would be such a set highlight due to how much energy there is here. The song follows a man that has discovered two butchered girls by the side of the road, and as he's the only person there, the police believe he's responsible and he runs away from a crime he didn't commit. Fun stuff that would be continued later on.
Next up is 'Another Life' and I'm sorry but this is another underrated gem from the band and another one I'd love to hear played live again. The song starts with a great little drumming intro to really show off the skills of Clive Burr before another awesome guitar riff keeps your attention. The song only has three repeated verses with no chorus but it still has a fascinating little story here as a man is lying in bed, going insane with voices running through his head and contemplates suicide. Great little track here.
Up next is another instrumental track called 'Genghis Khan' following in the vein of 'Transylvania' from their last album. I'd say it's a slight step down as this new one isn't nearly as memorable as the old one, but it's not bad at all. I mean it's a galloping Iron Maiden with more great guitar work so you can't really go wrong.
'Innocent Exile' is the next track and follows on from 'Rue Morgue' earlier in the album as we continue with our framed protagonist as he continues to run away from the law for a crime he had nothing to do with. While not as energetic as it's predecessor, this is still a good little track that can be filed under the 'underrated' songs. It keeps the flow of the album going well and onto the title track which is probably my favourite of the entire record. This track is just so good and those twin guitars before the verse are just heavenly. This song was made for Paul Di'Anno to sing and it's one he continued to play even after leaving the band. The song follows a madman stalking the underground and killing anyone he comes by. I'm starting to see a theme with this album. The guitar work here is just fantastic and you could see how Adrian Smith and Dave Murray would become as legendary as they did with their dual axe attack. Just terrific and highly recommended if you haven't heard it already.
The next two tracks are 'Prodigal Son' and 'Purgatory' that have always just came across as filler tracks to me. Don't get me wrong they aren't bad songs in the slightest and they certainly have their moments, but 'Prodigal Son' sounds like they were trying to redo 'Remember Tomorrow' from their first album and it didn't work out quite as well. Outside of a damn fine chorus and some great guitar work 'Purgatory' doesn't have much else going for it and becomes a bit forgettable. I'm sure there are some people that consider these two to be underrated gems themselves but I'm not one of them.
Finally we end the album with 'Drifter' and this is definitely an album highlight and the best note to end proceedings on. This is yet another one that could make a comeback in their live set and it would blow everyone away. After all the murder on all the previous songs, this one is more about a band on the road singing their songs so it does stand out a bit due to that and just due to how much fun it is. The instrumental sections are especially good after the first chorus with guitar and bass just working so smoothly together that you can't help but tap your foot along. A great ending to a great album.
Overall I had a blast reliving this album as I always forget how good it is. It's always been considered their most underrated by their fans and while it does rank as the weakest of their 1980s output (which is freaking mindblowing) it's album definitely worth checking out for some songs that deserve a second look. While it might not be as good as their first release, it was still one hell of a way to follow it up and things would only get better from there.