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.