Part 3 in my series of Iron Maiden reviews!
IRON MAIDEN – Killers (1981, 1996 bonus CD, EMI)
After the masterful introduction that was the first Iron Maiden album, the band jettisoned guitarist Dennis Stratton to get the guy that Steve wanted years before: Adrian Smith. An old buddy of Dave Murray, Adrian fit like a glove and the next album was recorded.
Written entirely by Steve Harris except for one Di’Anno co-write, Killers was also produced by Martin Birch. Birch had already helmed the biggest and best albums by Deep Purple, and was more than capable of capturing the Maiden sound in the studio, unlike former producer Will Malone.
Popular opinion is split on Killers. Some fans see it as a significant up-shift from the previous, others see it as inferior. Both aruments hold water. There is no denying that the partnership with Martin Birch created a better sounding album, one more consistent with the band’s live intensity. The addition of Smith on guitar meant that you’re hearing a more unified sound, two guitar players in great sync with each other. The songs are also harder and more intricate, with even more sections and changes.
While Killers is a good album in those respects, the songs were not as memorable this time out. There are two scorchers on this record that are among my all-time Maiden favourites: “Wrathchild” and “Killers” itself. Then you have some second tier goodies like “Murders In The Rue Morgue”, “Innocent Exile”, and “Drifter”. Beyond that, there’s little else here that would make my Maiden road tape. I don’t know why, but time after time, listen after listen, year after year, the rest stubbornly refuses to grow on me.
Killers contains one ballad (“Prodigal Son”, which is almost like Iron Zeppelin) and two instrumentals (“The Ides of March” and “Genghis Khan”). Oddly enough, one of those instrumentals, “The Ides of March” is identical to a song by rival NWOBHM band Samson, called “Thunderburst”. The song was originally an Iron Maiden idea; Samson’s drummer Thunderstick was very briefly in Iron Maiden during the late 1970’s. Samson’s singer was some guy called Bruce Bruce, known to his mum as Bruce Dickinson.
This picture disc edition of Killers came with a bonus CD containing all the associated non-album songs. “Twilight Zone”, included here, is actually an A-side of a non-album single. The US version of Killers had “Twilight Zone” on the album. Its selection as a single ahead of something like “Wrathchild” seems strange with hindsight. I never really liked the song that much, aside from Di’Anno’s screamy chorus. This one was a Dave Murray co-write as well.
Another non-album single, the infamous “Women In Uniform” is also included. This is the one that the band hated, a cover from a German band called Skyhooks. I liked it because of my early association with the cheesey music video. I wouldn’t call it a standout track, but I like it better than “Twilight Zone”. This single acually pre-dated Killers, and Dennis Stratton is still on guitar. Its two B-sides, “Invasion” and “Phantom Of The Opera (Live)” are both included. “Invasion” is an improved remake of the song from the first EP, The Soundhouse Tapes. It’s still not up to the standard of anything on album #1, but it’s still an entertaining tale of the Norsemen comin’, “raping and pillaging, robbin’ and lootin’ the land.” An early Maiden history lesson from Steve Harris.
I’ll have to say something about Derek Rigg’s artwork as well: Now we know what Eddie was up in that back alley on the last album! No good, clearly, as he’s weilding a bloody hatchet, as a man’s hands can be seen grasping his shirt. Behind Eddie, you can see a “kinky sex shop” and the Ruskin Arms, where many legendary Maiden gigs went down. Is that Charlotte in the red window?
Rating Killers is very difficult. It’s still better than most band’s best albums, yet it’s one of my least favourite. Trying to be objective here, I will rate Killers:
Also pictured below: A bootleg CD from the tour called Another Live.