When it comes to discussions in my student household, we are almost constantly debating and arguing; whether it being about films, games, news, life in general or interestingly music. Music is mostly debated about by me and my housemate Tom ( a while ago I discovered that Tom's ears don't work properly, I discovered this when he said that Kiss were crap whilst I was listening to the Destroyer album). One band which we both agree is beyond awesome, yet argue on which albums deserve more merit than others is the mighty Iron Maiden. This got me thinking on an ideal blog topic, on which of their albums are the best, which is criminally underrated and which is not so worthy of recognition. Hopefully this will be the first of many of this kind, but firstly, up the Irons!
The Number Of The Beast (1982)
Picking Iron Maiden's number one, essential album was a very difficult task, the sheer quality of their best work makes some of their albums so hard to choose from. In fact this accolade could have easily gone to the Powerslave album, however I'd say TNOTB just pips it to the post. The début recording of former Samson frontman Bruce Dickinson, replacing former front man Paul Dianno, the Irons immediately showed just how truly great they could be with a much more versatile and well fitting frontman. TNOTB is such a consistently good album and of such a hig quality and loaded with essential maiden anthems such as the title track, Run To The Hills, Hallowed Be Thy Name and the slower Children Of The Damned.
No song on the album is unmemorable, nor does any member of Iron Maiden not make an astounding musical performance. The show is inevitably stolen by the presence of Bruce Dickinson, an infinitely stronger vocalist than his predecessor in every conceivable way, sometimes reaching notes so powerful that he must have made a pact with the devil himself (maybe thats why he is involved so much on the album.) This album isn't just an essential Iron Maiden album, but one of the essential metal albums (heck even just general albums) out there, and as a metal head, if this is missing from your record collection you have a hole bigger than the one the iceberg gave to the Titanic!
Listen to: Hallowed Be Thy Name, Run To The Hills
Closely following TNOTB is the almost equally impressive Powerslave. Released just two years after TNOTB (with the epic Piece Of Mind released the year in between) it is striking how great and consistent their albums are in the early period of Bruce's reign.
Opening with the stonking Aces High, one of the greatest album openers of all time, and the ultimate set opener for the Irons, what follows is a collection of epic and near faultless metal classics. 2 Minutes to Midnight, Powerslave, Flash Of The Blade, these songs need no introduction, they are examples of pure class, and the album closer, the epic journey of Rime Of The Ancient Mariner is a fantastic story based on the classic novel and manages to remain exciting for the full 13 minutes of its duration (Iron Maiden starting to show signs that they are not afraid to write long epics as well as punchy 4 minute classics). Not the perfect album however, Back To The Village not being the most memorable of songs and not matching most of the rest of the album, while instrumental Losfer Words (Big 'Orra) whilst containing impressive musicianship is a rather dull affair and perhaps could have been done without. These are the only reason why this is not sitting at the top of the pile here.
Listen to: Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, Aces High
Iron Maiden (1980)
1980 has to be one of the great milestones in metal history. The year of Priest's British Steel, Motorhead's Ace of Spades, Ozzy Osbourne's debut The Blizzard of Oz as well as the age of NWOBHM thriving. Arguably most notable of the NWOBM albums is this corker of a debut by Iron Maiden.
Before Bruce Dickinson there was Paul Dianno, a man who, despite almost no vocal talent whatsoever and an impressively limited range would give a menacing and classic vocal performance. Backed with an instantly tight band of musician's, Steve Harris' signature bass rumble, and staggering twin guitar work this album was an essential NWOBHM classic (even though they would drift away from pigeon hole and branch into more epic and progressive sounding territory).
Chock full of anthems, each song is an instant anthem much like TNOTB, although not all of as high a quality, Paul Dianno adding a more punky vocal sound to the band which perhaps shouldn't have worked so well.
Listen to: Running Free, Transylvania
Brave New World (2000)
Any doubts that the second coming of Bruce Dickinson perhaps wouldn't live up to the past were quickly dispelled with the arrival of this awesome and underrated gem. What was more of an experimentation into more Prog schools of metal through their 80s heyday, becoming more prominent on later efforts such as Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, this would now become their niche, with them becoming a much more progressive band in the 21st Century.
Opening with The Wicker Man, an instant anthem with the in your face wallop of yore, the vast majority of the rest of this albums songs sit above the 5 minute mark, yet not being so long as to become tiresome and dull, including Ghost Of Navigator and The Nomad. The Mercenary being of similar ilk to The Wicker Man, another instant punchy anthem, showing that this band is still more than capable of making snappy, enjoyable classics as well as longer, more challenging but thoroughly enjoyable epics.
Listen to: The Ghost of Navigator, The Mercenary
The X-Factor (1995)
Replacing a figure as widely revered by fans as Bruce Dickinson is as enviable a task as being the Incredible Hulks anger management consultant. Perhaps this is why the albums released during his departure are mostly overlooked. Which is very unfair on both those albums and vocalist at the time Blaze Bayley, because not only is Blaze Bayley one of the finest (and criminally underrated) vocalists in rock and metal, but The X-Factor is an absolute gem of an album that deserves your time as much as most of the rest of Maiden's back catalogue. Opener Sign Of The Cross immediately puts you at ease that things were still good in the Maiden camp, and Blaze shows of his impressive set of pipes with a range almost on par with Bruce's, although the song is excessively long and begins to tail off in the middle.
Whilst no match perhaps for the classic era of Maiden in the 80s, with songs not quite as memorable as on those albums The X-Factor does have some definate gems, The Man On The Edge and Lord Of The Flies have to be heard. This album is as worthy of your time as anything that followed Somewhere In Time, overlooked perhaps by the lack of the messiah, his apprentice still does a sterling job here.
Listen to: Man On The Edge, Lord Of The Flies
Unessential/ Tread Carefully
Virtual XI (1998)
It may seem hippocritical that after saying that the albums in the Blaze Bayley period are underrated and worthy of your time, that his second and final Iron Maiden effort should find itself at the bottom of the pile, but choosing Iron Maiden's weakest album is such a difficult task as well due to the high quality of the whole back catalogue, and compared to other efforts Virtual XI isn't as strong.
This album is by no means an awful album however, and is certainly worth hearing. Opener Futureal is arguably the best song to come from the Blaze era, featuring one of the greatest Iron Maiden solos of their entire career, and a mighty vocal performance. Unfortunately this is the most memorable song by a country mile, as the others do not ignite anywhere near as much as much of the rest of their repertoire. By no means a bad album, but this is an album you might listen to once every few months at best. There are 14 Iron Maiden albums you should get before you get this.
Listen to: Futureal, Lightning Strikes Twice
So there you have it, my brief overview of one best back catalogues I have heard, a back catalogue with no obvious weakness, and as near to perfection as you can get. Now if you excuse me, I expect some disagreement from a certain Tom.