Part 2 in my series of Iron Maiden reviews!
IRON MAIDEN: Iron Maiden (1980, 1996 bonus CD, EMI)
Straight out of the gates, Maiden galloped onto the international scene, with their own sound and a debut album as strong as anybody’s. An incredible album in fact, Iron Maiden had the benefit of containing songs that Steve Harris had been playing for years, in various incarnations of the band. They were road tested and taut as muscle.
The cover by Derek Riggs depicts a prototypical, haunting version of Eddie. But there he is still, roaring under the streetlight of some London back alley, probably up to no good. This cover was re-painted for the 1998 remastered edition, but I think an original is always best.
Although Harris despised punk rock, Iron Maiden is punk-like in its delivery. While plowing through intricate riffs and time changes, they do so with the intensity of their punk rivals, feeling like they’re about to fly off the rails. But they never do; Maiden were absolute pros even then.
Producer Will Malone did not capture the full-on Maiden sound, sonically. It is however a step up from their EP, The Soundhouse Tapes. Maiden would not find their studio sound until hooking up with Deep Purple/Rainbow producer Martin Birch, next album.
Every song is brilliant. The opening wah-wah guitar intensity of “Prowler” warns away the timid, before the song trounces forward, propelled by Steve Harris and new drummer Clive Burr. Paul Di’Anno is absolutely at his peak as a singer, with range, grit, and power to spare. He throws it all into “Prowler”.
“Remember Tomorrow”, co-written by Paul, is a slow-burner, along the lines of those old slow Black Sabbath songs. Paul sings his ass off, and if any one song was his showcase, I would say it has to be “Remember Tomorrow”.
The tempo picks up again with the first single “Running Free”, a song that I feel never peaked until released in a live verion. Live, it’s faster and more intense. In the studio, it feels like it never quite gets up to speed. However, a classic song it remains, with Maiden’s first undeniable sing-along chorus.
7 minutes of “Phantom Of The Opera” closes side one of the original vinyl. Steve’s first multi-part epic, this is the song that proved too difficult for many guitarists auditioning for the band. Long time axeman Dave Murray could handle the material no problem. Finding a second player proved difficult, until Dennis Stratton showed up and fit the bill. “Phantom” proved to be his undoing nevertheless. While the rest of the band were out, he overdubbed Queen-like choir vocals and guitar harmonies, which horrified Harris. It wasn’t so much that Stratton had initiative and ideas to present, it was that they were so far off what what Steve’s vision of Maiden was. Stratton proved to be the wrong fit, and this remains his only album with Iron Maiden.
Side two began with the instrumental stomper “Transylvania”. This fades into a spacey ballad, “Strange World”. “Strange World” is one of the most immediate songs on the album, perhaps because it’s different from the rest. If I had to compare it to something else, it might be “Solitude” by Black Sabbath, but with guitars instead of flutes! And solos too…Dave’s epic side of solo composition.
Dave’s first ever writing credit is up next, “Charlotte The Harlot”. This fast one introduces the character of Charlotte, who turns up again in future Maiden songs. This standout song is followed by the band’s signature closer, “Iron Maiden” itself. I think it’s likely that this song will remain in Maiden’s sets pretty much forever. Not only is the riff great, but the pace is absolutely perfect for headbanging!
The bonus CD comes with the associated B-sides for this album. From the “Running Free” single, there’s “Burning Ambition”. This is an early song that wouldn’t have fit on the album, as it is too much hard rock and not enough heavy metal for the album proper. The bonus CD also contains the non-album single “Sanctuary”, another classic up there with “Iron Maiden”. This song was slipped onto the US versions of the album. It’s awesome of course! Also from the “Sanctuary” single are live versions of “Drifter” and “I’ve Got The Fire”. “Drifter” was another earlier song that would show up in studio form next album. This version has Di’Anno’s reggae-ish “Yo, yo yo yo” singalong which I have always liked. “I’ve Got The Fire” is an excellent Montrose cover, and not the last time Maiden would cover Montrose (nor this song)!
With an album this this under their belts, the future for Iron Maiden would be bright indeed.