Part 6 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!
IRON MAIDEN – Piece Of Mind (1983, 1996 bonus disc)
Exit Clive Burr. Enter that hilarious crazed drum dynamo Nicko McBrain! Surely one of the most beloved characters to ever grace an Iron Maiden album, the band decided to kick off Nicko’s first album with a drum flurry. Like machine guns strafing the sky, Nicko opened “Where Eagles Dare” with a decidedly skillful salvo.
Piece Of Mind is one of Steve Harris’ favourite albums, and one of mine too. Each of its nine songs is worthy of the album; no filler. The subject matter is increasingly more interesting to me as well, as Steve punders history, literature and movies. “Where Eagles Dare” was based on the classic Clint Eastwood film of the same name, and does not disappoint. It is over six minutes of soaring vocals and solos, with the band riffing steadily behind it.
This is followed by one of Maiden’s epic slow tunes, and first ever Bruce Dickinson writing credit on a Maiden album, “Revelations”. Almost seven minutes long, “Revelations” is lyrically complex and melodically incredible. I recall one of my old highschool buddies, Andy Kandic, sang “Revelations” at a highschool audition because he wanted something that would blow the judges away. This is one of Bruce’s best vocal performances ever, but not the last of his writing contributions.
The first of Bruce’s many collaborations with Adrian Smith is next. The hit single “Flight of Icarus” is a shorter number, the type of hard rock song that Maiden occasionally pull out for use as a single. Its chorus soars like the title character, without that annoying crash at the end! This is certainly one of Maiden’s most memorable songs.
As if that wasn’t enough to exhaust you, Bruce and Adrian teamed up with Steve to pen “Die With Your Boots On”. Right from first listen, this was one of my favourite Maiden tunes. Loosely based on Nostradamus, the lyrics are great! “In thirteen the Beast is rising, The Frenchman did surmise, Through earthquakes and starvation, The warlord will arise.” But the bottom line according to Maiden is “The truth of all predictions is always in your hands!” If you’re gonna die, die with your boots on. Great song, great singalong chorus.
Side two is kicked off by one of the greatest Maiden songs of all time: “The Trooper”. This is one that has steadfastly remained in setlists, even through the Blaze Bayley years. It’s a great example of the trademark Maiden gallop. Lyrically this one is about the Charge of the Light Brigade, and the Crimean War. This is where I think Maiden deserves some credit from the educational field. Sure, a five-minute song is not going to sum up the Crimean War, but it got many, many kids into history. My father was always impressed that I had interest and knowledge in history, partly thanks to Maiden songs. He always encouraged me to listen to songs like “The Trooper”, and then follow it with some reading.
Dave Murray’s “Still Life” slows the pace, introduced by Nicko’s backwards Idi Amin impression! Then it picks up, big time. This haunting number is a story of possession, perhaps along the lyrical lines of “The Number of the Beast” and the later “Dance of Death”. I love this song. It was rarely played live, but can be found in live version on a later B-side.
“Still Life” is followed by two lesser known cuts. Slightly less impressive than the rest of the album, “Quest For Fire” and “Sun and Steel” both blow away many songs by the average metal bands out there. Both are short hard rockers, under four minutes in length, anchored by memorable choruses. “Quest For Fire” is not surprisingly based on the film of the same name, but isn’t quite as exciting as the previous stories on this album. “Sun and Steel” though is a fencing number, of course written by Bruce with Adrian. The protangonist killed his first man at 13, and goes on to live a life of battle with the blade. This would not be Bruce’s last foray into fencing with his lyrics.
Finally, another long Steve Harris epic ends this album: “To Tame A Land”. Musically and lyrically very complex, it is based on Dune by Frank Herbert. It is very, very difficult to sing along to this labyrinth of lyrics: “He is the Kwisatz Haderach, he was born of Caledon, and will take the Gom Jabbar.” Without reading the books, you’ll be lost. After reading the books however, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Today this is one of my favourite Maiden classics. It’s certainly hard to get into instantly, but once those tricky melodies and riffs burrow their way into your head, they are there to stay!
They couldn’t get permission from Herbert to use the name “Dune” as the title of the song. Reportedly, when asked, his people responded, “Mr. Herbert does not like rock bands, especially heavy metal bands, and especially heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden!” A shame that was, as “To Tame A Land” was the gateway drug for many to discover the delights of planet Dune.
On Derek Riggs’ cover art, Eddie has been lobotomized, chained up in a padded cell. An open window and a disembodied hand tease him on the back cover. This would have made a great gatefold sleeve! I always imagined that Derek was sequentially trying to tell a story. Previously, we saw that Eddie was pulling the Devil’s strings on The Number of the Beast. But if you looked carefully, you would see that the Devil was really pulling Eddie’s. Now Eddie’s been captured and lobotomized. Further albums covers show Eddie’s burial, resurrection, cybernetic enhancement, and his offspring. I like to think that there was a hidden narrative going on with the artwork.
The bonus CD contains the two B-sides from this album’s sessions, both covers: Montrose’s “I’ve Got The Fire” and Jethro Tull’s “Cross Eyed Mary”. “I’ve Got The Fire” was previously covered by the Di’Anno-led version of Maiden, but this version’s even better. The solos and Bruce’s vocal brings the song to a whole new level, although it does lose some of Di’Anno’s punk-like reckless abandon. “Cross Eyed Mary” is not my favourite Tull song of all time, but I’m not surprised that Maiden are fans! This was probably a good choice, and Maiden do a solid job on it.
Not to overstate the obvious, but Piece of Mind is one of Maiden’s all time best. 5/5 stars