REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Killers (1981, 1996 bonus CD)

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:

3.5/5 stars

Also pictured below:  A bootleg CD from the tour called Another Live.

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22 comments

  1. Here we go with Maiden’s second album. All Mike would tell me was that this would be a controversial one. With who? And why? Let’s find out! Also, remember, I’m hearing a lot of these songs for the first time (to my memory – it’s possible I’ve heard them before, but I’m damned if I know when).

    Ides Of March is a great, short instrumental intro that is a template for a whole tune! I wonder if they ever fleshed it out into a full tune, in later years? They should, so we’ll see, as we go on. Wrathchild comes in hot on its heels. It’s a song I know well from Mike. He talks about it a lot, sent e to it on the youtubes. It’s classic Maiden, just glorious. A high point, for sure. Murders In The Rue Morgue is a restlessly active, super-fast rocker. Woo!

    Another Life’s drum and guitar line intro crashes into an blistering tune that, if they ever play it live, must be truly awe-inspiring. It could be this album’s Phantom Of The Opera. Next up is the instrumental Ghengis Khan, which sounds just like I’d imagine the soundtrack for a galloping Mongol horde would sound, perfectly realized. And then it just goes absolutely bananas between the 0:57 and 1:46 marks – whoa! The battle part, perhaps! These guys are serious players – they just keep showing us over and over again. Innocent Exile’s bass line is very dextrous, and the song itself is perfectly slinky. It’s almost bluesy in its metal crush. Loved it. Killers is a natural to follow that one, an almost template 80s metal tune. The build, the wail, the intricate guitar workout, the speed of it all. Cool.

    Prodigal Son is the type of ballad only speed-metal guys could make: it’s a ballad but it’s not. It’s slower than their other stuff, sure, but there’s so much going on in the background and that ready-to-burst tempo that made me think it was gonna explode at any moment. Purgatory brings back the speed and intensity. Wow! I hear stuff like this and wonder how it all holds together. One half-beat misstep in those verses and it’d all fall apart. So cool. Twilight Zone brings back that bluesy guitar and melds it to their now-trademark metal rock blend and some great screamo vocals. And finally, Drifter is seven minutes of driving metal that lets us know that this band, even after all the work that fills this record, is by no means done with us. Tired? Who’s tired? So rest in the middle bit where it breaks down for a brief bit. Otherwise, let’s GO! This would be a great fist-pumper live, a perfect way to end a concert. But wait! There’s two and a half minutes remaining on the track… silence… then an annoying buzz until thte end! Does anyone else’s copy have this? Ugh, that wrecks it.

    Simply put, there’s not as many known Maiden Hits on this one, but so what? It’s a super-cool record that well and truly rocks. I thought it was fantastic.

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    1. Aaron I think you would also dig that live bootleg pictured, Another Live. Check out the track list.

      Annoying buzz? No sir. If you want, email me a picture of your version, back cover details, and I’ll add it to the post?

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  2. Well fella’s I skipped the review of first album cuz well the first album I purchased was Killers in the summer of 81(I was 14) and it was a toss up when on the record store rack it was sitting next to Leps On Through The Night.
    My buddy purchased that one and I purchased Killers…..When I got home home and dropped the needle it was like Holy Friggin Hell(literally) See at the time it was AC/DC ,Cheap Trick,Halen,Triumph,Rush for me and now Maiden this thing knocked me around the block and than some….I mean Innocent Exile,wow listen to the Bass play go,drums guitars,vocals…packaging I mean as a 14 yr old the Maiden artwork sold it to me that day without hearing a single note…and man they shot up my favourite lists that minute…..flip over the cover and the live action band shot..and how many bands would put a picture of the producer on the back album sleeve…..well I know of one…MAIDEN……
    Next thing is buying anything with press on them and slapping it on my wall to become big fanboy…..
    So basically this is where it started with me and Maiden……
    So if your keeping score and since Killers was my first discovery I’d give this one 5/5,whereas the first Maiden album I would give a 4/5 to…..
    Who knows if I had bought the debut first perhaps the numbers would have been flipped but I think your first purchase of your fav band will always rank a little higher than it should but in this case…nope…..
    Love the write ups Mike and the responses…..
    Keep it going!

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  3. Oh man, Deke! Thanks for the writeup there! Always great to have your insight.

    As for the picture of the producer inside, that is so funny since I just finished writing Piece of Mind, and taking the pictures for the article…and well…that one was no exception! Martin Black Knight Birch!

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  4. The Killers album was a huge sounding metal record esp when also that summer I had purchased Priests Point Of Entry and well compared to Killers,P.O.E was a commercial sounding record compared to Maiden.
    And we’ll Priest had some good momentum going and they kinda compressed there sound for that record….and Maiden came along and gave me the metal sound I was looking for…

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  5. It’s an interesting one this. It is a bit short on the “classics” but it all hangs together really well as an album. It’s actually a great record for car journeys (so you should put more of it on your road tape!) and I really love the deep cuts on this like Prodigal Son. That song used to fascinate me, a great combination of mellow and powerful. I really rate Di’Anno’s performance on the album too, he’s more versatile than often given credit for.

    I guess that on Killers they put in more of their prog and classic rock influences than most of their fans were comfortable with and were right to change tack for the next record. But it makes for a fascinating and unique period of their career. I give it 5/5, although the debut is more obviously rocking and hits-laden this is more enduring for me. Prog Rock with big pointy teeth.

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    1. I’m loving the differing perspectives here. It’s great to hear the feedback from fans of different stripes. I hope you guys enjoy what I still have coming, although I really need to get writing if I’m to keep up with myself! Hope I didn’t bite off more than I can chew!

      Hold onto your hats, folks. Bruce Bruce is coming soon…

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        1. Thanks man! I’ll be touching on some Samson for certain. As for reviewing it, I don’t know yet…after all I never got around to reviewing Frehley’s Comet yet!

          Meh, what’s the rush eh? Oh…and just so YOU know…I received a parcel today. The new Marillion, and the new Darkness were in there. You WILL see some sort of images this weekend! The Marillion is a deluxe and it is gorgeous. Have you ever heard of the Arecibo Message? That’s what they used for their artwork.

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        2. Brilliant! I didn’t get the Marillion this time around because I’m just not in that zone at the moment and I wasn’t a huge fan of the last one. I’d love to know what you think of it (and see the photos). I’ve seen the cover but I don’t know what an Arecibo Message is… Hope you like the new Darkness as much as I do!

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        3. The Arecibo Message is cool…I don’t want to spoil it. This may require a video blog! The cover art for this deluxe is different than what I saw online, that spiral thing. This is way cooler (to me).

          Hopefully I’ll have the time to put together something cool for posting.

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  6. I am a fan of this one. I think Murder in the Rue Morgue is not just one of Maiden’s most under-rated tracks, it’s actually one of their best. The production is clearly better than the first album, but in general the first record had better songs. They are a different band now, but this is the Maiden sound I prefer. Shorter songs, and heavier guitars.

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  7. Alright, new reviewer here….

    First off, this is one of my favorite Maiden albums, though it took some time listening to really get into the music. My opinion is that the reviewers above have not spent enough time listening to this album.

    This album is classic Maiden all of the way through. It shows Maiden advancing to their later work. Martin Birch makes a difference! The songs are prog rock / heavy rock and punk rock all at the same time – wow! – this album was a cohesive artistic statement that will never be duplicated again.

    The performances of the songs are rock solid. The song-writing and performances show a dedicated band triumphing over punk and new wave cliches to deliver a stunning sophmore statement. Almost every track on this album used to receive radio airplay in Los Angeles in the 1990’s (KNAC 105.5 Pure rock), to show you that this album has been well-received.

    It is clear this was a band that would go places other bands couldn’t, traversing literature, science fiction, criminal psychology, history, and more. The artwork presents perhaps one of the scariest Riggs compositions. It’s not pleasant, but it does have the effect of being scary, and this is a genre of music in which musicians can become scary, so they did.

    Eddie can frighten children, adults, your mom..but then Eddie can start to take you places. How about journeying back in time to ancient Egypt, into a future that looks like Star Wars, or to a future ice age. Perhaps story telling and being scared is something we need and cannot do without? This album is suspenseful.

    This album begins with a classic opening. All of the tracks hang together artistically as a single composition. The lyrics and music on the album are like 1800’s literature set to very aggressive music for musical brilliance. These are characters, history lessons, and themes that we constantly encounter in fine literature and story telling.

    Remember the insane asylum? Remember the French Revolution and storming of the Bastille? Remember Robespierre? This band will take you there and many other places. At the opening, you can hear revolution taking over at the dawn of the 1800’s. Revolution, anarchy, poverty, factory-crowded cities, depravity, forced institutionalization of the mentally handicapped, all the staples of the 1800’s that we so painfully outgrew in the 1900’s:

    Imagine a trip through a century that previously only was brought to us through literature!

    most memorable tracks –

    Ides of March
    Wrathchild

    Killers, – interplay with bass/drums/guitar/vocals
    Prodigal Son, – classic poetry
    Murders in the Rue Morgue, – reads like classic poetry

    another Life – a classic – listen again! – one of my all-time favorites, bluesy riffs, soaring guitars, Paul’s voice with Maiden
    (“As I lay hear lying on the bed…..”)

    genghis khan
    innocent exile

    Drifter – a classic in early live performances, encore, closer, interplay with audience – this song is not filler nor are any of these songs

    The rhythm section is doing things, going places, that simply are not on the first album. The Harris/Burr Rhythm section is constantly in conversation with each other and the guitars. There isn’t one boring moment here. Cleary, that fact that the bass is out front in Maiden has been the cornerstone to their success, but it’s not just the bass….

    The twin-axe guitars are soaring over the rhythm section. These two guys are finally playing together – Adrian and Dave. This team would go on to compose such classics as run to the Hills, Number of the Beast, Where Eagles Dare, Flight of Icarus and much more.

    I urge you to go back and listen again to this fantastic and underrated album!

    It’s got everything you want to hear from Maiden + more. If you want to think thematically, consider Charles Dickens, english literature of the 1800’s. This band was writing honestly about poverty, criminality, overcrowded cities, children pressed into labor, factory conditions, primitive insane asylums of the 1800’s (before concern for ethics).

    Picture the Victorian era of England to imagine the themes the band was trying to communicate.

    Dust off that album and listen again! There is more there that the band would like you hear, or someone would like you to be aware of….

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      1. Thanks Mike, a discussion would be cool of the different albums and songs. Many of Maiden’s fans out there don’t have a way of discussing Maiden unless its through blogs. I played in rock bands through high school and college, but the other members weren’t Maiden fans in the sense that they had given time to the band’s large output.

        Maiden clearly has reached another generation of fans now. The 1990’s were tough for Maiden after Bruce left. The band seemed to lack the maturity that is clearly present on Somewhere in Time through No Prayer for the Dying (Mother Russia was a mature statement and captures that post-cold war era – i.e. Scorpians “Winds of Change”).

        I felt they could have been doing something more artisitically satisfying from 1993 to 2000 and could have still called it Iron Maiden. Maybe a guest song with Paul Di’Anno? Maybe instrumental works? Soundtrack work? Maybe songs with a heavier Celtic influence? They could have involved outside songwriters, more collaboration, more recognition that they were falling into monotony. Maybe an all-acoustic album? Maybe they could have treated loyal fans to becoming part of the recording process as a kind of fan/producer?

        I think that art of Derick Riggs became integral to the themes of the albums. Maiden failed to recognize that Riggs was an integral player to the chemistry of the bands albums. The cover artwork became a focal point as a center of attention with Riggs artwork. The cover artwork for Fear of the Dark simply failed to deliver as a follow-up to earlier albums. The cover with Eddie in the Tree immediately struck me as juvenile and not worthy of Maiden when I first purchased the album in 1992 (same as Be Quick or Be Dead single).

        Riggs is still doing his masterpieces for the band. But the band, label, and management failed to recognize that Riggs’ voice as the cover artist equated to perhaps the 5th Beatle (or 6th member). The band could have done better to have used Riggs exclusively as the artist for album covers and singles. Concert artwork would have presented a time for other artists to create Maiden-inspired artwork (a new genre of visual art with Eddie??).

        Maiden’s commercial success was in part due to the artwork of Riggs – other artists did not deliver. This is a case where Maiden fans can trust the visual judgement of Riggs over the visual judgement of the band members, manager (Rod), and labels.

        The band has suffered in commercial appeal when their cover art has been too gruesome. The cover for X-Factor immediately comes to mind. This was a cover I simply did not want to look at nor think about. The artwork was not life-affirming and instead celebrated the horror genre of films which exchanges mystery, suspense, and story telling for banal gore and depravity. Maiden failed to recognize that the whole of their artistic output could regress into something overly-repetitive, juvenile, with gore that the human mind naturally wants to filter out (We naturally don’t like to think about creatures who have the rest of their body removed below the torso – perhaps that is a protective mechanism that nature has provided to alert us that dangerous predators may be nearby). The gore in Maiden’s artwork wasn’t really shown explicitly in Maiden’s earlier artwork.

        The Wolfsbane albums did not show a vocalist ready to front Iron Maiden. I found Blaze not worthy to follow Bruce nor to follow Paul. Yes, Paul with Maiden did not have the range or register that Bruce has. But the two Paul Di-Anno albums show an artistic depth that Wolfsbane did not achieve.

        I simply don’t see how the vocalist behind LIVE FAST, DIE FAST could be chosen to front Maiden. Wolfsbane struck me as juvenile and not worth my time to listen to. As an indie label act (minor leagues), this band lacked the depth, artistic sense, and ability to produce a Maiden vocalist (major leagues). The lack of maturity showed in the music, lyrics, artwork, and the stage interactions of the band. There goes Blaze threatening concert goers. Man on the Edge and Lord of the Flies were not worthy Maiden singles. The band should have recognized that they were not matching the quality of their previous work.

        But it gets worse…..the “Lord of the Flies” is a terrible thing to label or name to call someone. This title or lack of title is like cursing someone or a group of people. Remember back to Holy Smoke, “Flies around shit, bees around honey.” Bruce may have been cursing at we he deemed to be “bad preachers for the devil to stoke.” Flip forward and we have the band and this new singer calling themselves and their fans the Lord of the Flies, “something within us, we are Lord of the Flies.”

        I felt betrayed by the band at the time and still do. I continued to collect their output due to the quality of their earlier work. They didn’t win over my listening preferences after Fear of the Dark. They actually lost me with From Here to Eternity. It was ironic to me, or unlikely, that they would later release a greatest hits package titled From Fear to Eternity, as if their fans still want to relive that terrible song (again, the content of these lyrics are something the human mind would rather filter out and not dwell on).

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      2. Wow! Dan! You left me a lot to chew on here! First of all – Agreed of From Fear To Eternity’s titles! Although some of my readers so like that song, I think we’re in a majority that couldn’t care less.

        As for “Lord of the Flies” and the new singer, I’m going to hold off commenting until we get there. But rest assured I’ll be covering The X Factor soon…this week in fact. Watch this space. I expect much disagreement to ensue but I had a blast putting it together.

        Interesting perspective on Riggs’ artwork and putting him as high as a 6th member! Never thought of it that way. You know you, I’ve been talking about the cover art as you go, and you can’t deny that it was critical to everything up to Seventh Son. I wasn’t into the X Factor cover (again, we’ll be going there soon) but I have nothing against Hugh Syme as an artist. He’s great although some of his covers are pretty lame. Queensryche’s Hear In The Now Frontier being an example of his lamest!

        Another funny observation: I’m really not a fan of the lyrics to “Mother Russia”. While they’re certainly more mature than something like “From Here to Eternity” I always felt that they were a little shallow. Just my personal opinion and nothing more!

        Anyway check back soon, hope to see you when we get to The X Factor!

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        1. Great, looking forward to your X-factor review. That was a tough period for fans if you really got into Maiden and had bought all of their singles. The band released a slew of live albums and live singles in 1993. ***Anything you can add about their change in record labels in the 90’s would help.***

          I really didn’t know what to think. Blaze joins, gets in accident, and then it was like whoa, this guy doesn’t sing with the same level of dynamics as Bruce. Blaze’s voice seemed distant to me from the microphone – lacking conviction, while Bruce is able to work a microphone as good or better than any singer. Bruce always sounds right in front of the mic like a radio announcer.

          I thought the band had long outgrown their use of 666 in artwork and lyrics (pointing especially to the maturity of Somewhere in Time + B-sides). I guess the band would completely disagree that their use of 666 could be construed as artistically naive or lacking in artistic maturity. That challenges me to figure out why the band’s use of 666 has persisted so prevalently in their output post-1992.

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