REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Powerslave (1983, 1996 bonus CD)

Part 7 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

IRON MAIDEN – Powerslave (1983, 1996 bonus CD)

Tell me why I had to be a Powerslave?

I don’t wanna die, I’m a god, why can’t I live on?

How much did I love Powerslave, especially after taking Ancient Egypt in highschool?  Finally I knew what the Eye of Horus was, and what the hell the lyrics were about!  When I was growing up and first getting into Maiden, Powerslave was the current album.  The neighbor kid had it.  We literally stared at that album cover for hours.

Derek Riggs outdid himself on the artwork this time, really outdid himself.  The Egyptian theme of the artwork allowed him to weave all sorts of hidden messages into the hyroglyphs.  I don’t have the LP, but I could swear that somewhere on the cover (front or back) it says “Indiana Jones was here”!

I taped the album from that neighbor, unfortunately on one of the worst sounding Scotch blanks I ever heard.  It was unlistenable.  Then my dad bought me the tape from the local music store, but even it sounded terrible — warbly.  I found that many Capitol Records releases in the mid-80’s in Canada had awful cassette quality.  From my Maidens to my Helix, they were mostly unplayable.

It was a long while before I got a listenable version of the album.  Then it hit me like a ton of bricks — holy crap, this is GOOD!

“Aces High” and “2 Minutes To Midnight” are the two singles, and of course they lead the album.  I only wish “Churchill’s Speech” was included as it was in the “Aces High” video!  As kids we always preferred “Aces High”.  It combines the manic speed of early Maiden, with the anthemic Dickinson choruses.  Just great.

“Aces High” was yet another song that my dad didn’t mind me listening to out loud, since it was about one his favourite historical subjects:  the Battle of Britain.

“2 Minutes”, a reference to the Doomsday Clock,was a Dickinson/Smith composition.  At 6 minutes long, it wasn’t an obvious single.   Vocally, it’s a lot less catchy than “Aces High”.  Bruce doesn’t so much sing a melody as he does spit the words out like a furious machine gun!  Musically, the riff seems lifted directly from later Budgie, and early Diamond Head.  See if you can spot it.

Up next is an instrumental, the first since Killers!   “Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra)” is really the only weak song on the album.  As an instrumental, it’s not as exciting as something like “The Ides of March”.  The riff is rather simple and it sounds like an unfinished song, like Bruce didn’t show up that day or something.  The guitar playing (well, all the playing) is of course stellar, there’s always that!

Then comes “Flash of the Blade”, a fucking awesome track, and one of my favourites.  I remember trying to learn that riff as a kid, as it’s catchy but uncomplicated.  This one’s penned by Dickinson alone, and is about…of course…fencing.  Like Steve Harris was on the exact same wavelength, his song, “The Duelists” is up next.  Yet another song incorporating fencing, this one was my personal pick for a third single.  I remember even drawing my own cover art, with Eddie dueling the Devil!   The middle section is an intricate dance of delicate guitars, you can almost picture the men parrying and feinting.

And that ended side one.  Side two opened with “Back In The Village”.  This would be the only other song beside “Losfer Words” that doesn’t make my road tapes.  Another Smith/Dickinson song, it’s got a cool signiture Adrian riff, but up against the rest of these songs, it just doesn’t stand out to me.

But “Powerslave” does!  This is another solo Bruce writing credit, and a powerful song it is!  Bruce metalizes Ancient Egypt with that cool riff, and his lyrics are a labyrinth of Egyptian mythology.  Very cool.  The best part of the song however is the middle section.  The song slows down at roughly 3 minutes, and there’s some pretty amazing soloing (sounds like Dave).  Then things pick up at 3:52, and Adrian plays my favourite Iron Maiden guitar solo of all time!  (Of all time, Kanye!)  Damn I love that solo!  I always have, even when all I had were those crappy cassettes.  And as if that wasn’t enough, then there’s a harmony part with Dave and Adrian together, and then Dave’s off on another amazing solo of his own!

(For the record:  if there was a second favourite Maiden guitar solo for me, it’s “The Wicker Man”, also performed by Adrian.)

Before you know it, we are at the end.  But not quite, for the final song on Powerslave is 14 minutes long!  “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner”, based of course on Coleridge, is the latest and perhaps the greatest so far of Steve’s epics.  I don’t know if I want to even think about ranking his epics anymore, but “Rime” is certainly a favourite.  That opening riff alone would have made a song on its own.  But this is a complex song, and it twists and turns and goes through all sorts of different adventures before we’re done.  As kids I remember were all blown away that this whole song was written by just one guy!

Talking about “Rime” in words is tough.  Lyrically I loved it.  Suddenly I understood Coleridge, and it wasn’t at all painful!  But musically this is just about perfect.  Bruce’s delivery is flawless, and the guitars are woven into epic and amazing solos once again.  Just about every section of this song is memorable.  It lags a bit in the atmospheric middle section, but this is soon replaced by a triumphant vocal with bright bass guitar melodies.

This 2 CD deluxe edition includes a bonus disc with all the B-side goodies.  Didn’t you always love that cover for “Aces High”?  Eddie in the Spitfire, flying on, even with a bullet in his head?  The B-sides include a live version of “Number of the Beast” that used to annoy us as kids, since Bruce only sings “six!” and gets the audience to finish with “six six!”.  With hindsight, who cares, it’s a great live version.  It’s just funny how I have that memory so very distinctly!

“King of Twilight”, a cover from a band called Nektar, isn’t a standout though.  I like that “Ahh, ahhh, ahh” section and I love the pounding drums.  Otherwise it’s not a road tape classic.

“2 Minutes To Midnight” had two excellent B-sides:  “Rainbow’s Gold” and “Mission From ‘Arry”.  The riff that kicks off “Rainbow’s Gold” is just really catchy, as is that vocal melody.  This is a cover from somebody called Beckett.  Gotta give Maiden credit for trying obscure covers!  Love this song.

And…”Mission From ‘Arry”.  Not a song at all, here’s the story.  One night, Nicko was asked to extend his drum solo while Harris (‘Arry) got his bass rig up and running.  ‘Arry sent his roadie to tell Nicko, who was distracted by the roadie and fucked up his drum solo.  Furious he launched into said roadie and gave him a good solid dressing down.  After the show, Steve in turn told Nicko that he was out of line and to apologize.  In walked Bruce Dickinson with a hidden tape recorder and a mischievous grin!  The rest is history, as released on this B-side!

Now, I’m from Canada and I don’t know my British slang that well.  Do you guys often use phrases like “Fuck my old boots!”?

I don’t think Powerslave was the album that Piece Of Mind was, but maybe I like it a fraction better than Beast.  I dunno.  It’s so hard to rank, we’re really splitting hairs here.  Powerslave was a little colder sounding, a little brittle compared to the past.  Steve’s bass is a little rinky, not warm and deep enough.  But that’s the sound of the LP, the songs still rise above.

4.75/5 stars

17 comments

  1. Powerslave will always rank high in the upper Maiden echelon as far as I’m concerned.
    The songs are all crafted well,I just about died when I had seen the credits that there was a 13 minute track, I mean who the hell does that? Maiden does…..
    The cover/artwork/inside sleeve /lyrics man it’s all there….
    I prefer the production on Piece a little bit better…….
    Really absolutely no filler on this one…….
    First time I seen Maiden was on this tour with Twisted Sister supporting back in dec 84 in Winnipeg.
    Me and a few friends took the train from Tbay to the Peg….fantastic show,one of the best I have ever seen even to this day….show was sold out at about 12,500 or so…..some may say there peak just by the Live after Death video and u could see the reason why…..
    Big album….big tour……and lots of Fanboys!!!…
    Hahahahah

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  2. Really enjoyed this review! Makes me want to dig out those B-Sides cause I’ve forgotten how a few of them go. I prefer this to Piece of Mind but, only just, and I agree it’s splitting heirs. The preference can often just come down to your life experience. Me and my school friends used to listen to this all the time when we were playing RPGs! It just seemed to fit the mood! So it’s imprinted on my DNA now.

    Like the tern rinky… I think Steve’s bass is often a bit like that. It’s very percussive isn’t it? You sometimes hear the slap more than the actual notes!

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  3. I stole that term “rinky”…I think Martin Popoff used it to describe Steve’s playing before. A writer should really never admit when he or she steals, until caught. Then they should claim, “Oh, I guess I subconsciously absorbed that!”

    But Martin Popoff is, in my opinion, the best writer ever to tackle the genre of metal so I need to give a shout out to my biggest influence. I mean, this guy has something like FOUR books about Deep Purple alone. Who else can say that?

    Regardless, I appreciate your comment. Paul Stanley once said in regards to plagiarism, “If you’re going to steal, steal a diamond and not a cheap piece of glass.”

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    1. Haha – caught! If your going to steal from a Metal writer Martin Popoff is the MAN! Absolutely love his writing and his opinions. Even when I disagree! I used to read his first “Collectors Guide to HM” (I think that’s what it was called anyway) all the time when I worked in the bookshop and really loved it. Wish I’d actually bought a copy cause it’s pretty pricey now.

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      1. I don’t know what his shipping rates to the UK are like (canoes are expensive) but I subscribe to his mailing list, and he’s constantly mailing out deals. Like, “I have 40 copies left of the [whatever] book and then they’re gone. $15.” And then he signs every book took, he’ll chat via email…he’s just a really cool guy from what I can tell.

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        1. I might have a look at that. I think he does eBooks now as well so I’d maybe think about that if they’re cheap!

          I used to listen to the Shockwaves Skull Sessions podcasts a lot. He contributed to some fun debates on those, going to through the relative merits of bands entire catalogues. Him and Monte Conner made a great double act!

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  4. But HMO back to the album and the bass, when I was a kid with crappy tapes and a crappy system, I COULDN’T hear the bass! All I could hear was the slapping, and you’re right, it’s percussion. I think Nicko once said that Steve plays slightly ahead of the beat, so it’s him leading the charge.

    It’s funny because I never appreciated Steve as a bass player until I had a player where I could hear the NOTES!

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      1. I am kicking myself for this…I gave away all my rock magazines 4 years ago. Everything. That Nicko quote from from an issue of RIP Magazine, right around the time of Fear of the Dark probably. A whole full-on interview with Nicko and he was such an interesting guy since you don’t hear from his as much. And I gave it away, along with my entire collection of Hit Parader. All I kept were my M.E.A.T. magazines (a Canadian metal mag) because they’re so rare.

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        1. Yeah, Nicko’s perspective is always interesting to hear. Adrian’s too! A lot of the time Nicko just plays the joker but he obviously has more going on than that.

          Glad you clarified that M.E.A.T. was a Metal mag. With a name like that it would have been open to misinterpretation!

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        2. I know, people in highschool used to look at me funny when I told them I was anxiously awaiting the next issue of M.E.A.T. (Originally it meant nothing, it was just supposed to look cool, like W.A.S.O. Then they decided it stood for “Metal Events Around Toronto”. As it became a national mag they changed it to mean “Metal-Alternative”.)

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      2. Maiden England ’88 certainty was the best place to hear Steve’s unorthodox bass tone at it’s most indulgent. Clank, clink, clank

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  5. Alright, here we go with the next record. Again, I haven’t read Mike’s review yet.

    Aces High is a total ripper. What energy! The band is on fire and Bruce’s vocals are just out there. Makes every hits record they issue, and with good reason. So does 2 Minutes To Midnight. Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra)has kind of a dumb title, but these guys are relentless. What an instrumental track! It’s like, OK boys, we believe you, you can play like crazy and you’re amazing! DAMN.

    Flash Of The Blade doesn’t let go of the throttle at all. Just another great track. Same goes for The Duellists. How does Bruce not trip over those lyrics? And yet continue belting it out like he does? And how are his vocal cords not ripped to shreds? At least he gets to rest during all those mind-blowing solos! And that middle section with the intricate (duelling!) staccato guitars… yeesh. Back In The Village just keeps the intensity on full. You know, I’ve been listening since the beginning of their albums, and I haven’t heard this many songs in a row at such breakneck speed. There’s always a track that breaks it up a bit, even half-speed. Not here!

    The title track, Powerslave, chugs menacingly, and Bruce’s vocals in the verses match it perfectly. This is some of the coolest singing he’s done so far, on this record – probably because it’s different from his usual delivery. The guitars are so crisp. Beautiful. And as if that isn’t enough, you get the stellar Rime Of The Ancient Mariner to cap the whole thing off. Untouchable.

    But you know the real star of this show? Not Bruce and his otherworldly vocals. Not the guitar attack that melted my brain. No, it’s Nicko on the drums. To keep up with all of that, and to do it with precision and verve… I raise a glass to this talented man. He’s the star, here.

    I loved this record. What ENERGY! The whole thing just flies.

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  6. I love this album, but it is sorely overrated. The album comes to a screeching halt at the instrumental and does not pick up again until the song Powerslave. 4 out of the 8 songs are OK or worse. During the 4 song slump there is not ONE but TWO songs about SWORD FIGHTING!!! Give me a break!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahah great comment Anthony! Thanks for posting! It’s true, two songs of seven is a high percentage of sword fighting songs. 28.5% to be exact! Compare that to 0% sword fighting songs on Number of the Beast, Killers, etc ;)

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