Iron Maiden turns 40

Today, April 14, 2020 sees the self titled debut album from metal legends Iron Maiden turn forty years old. We’ll examine the record track by track to see how it measures up.

As a debut goes, the record does its primary job right off the bat. One look at the cover probably did exactly what it was intended to. Circa 1980, one look at Eddie probably either scared you away or piqued your interest. Relatively unknown outside of England at the time, this was their first real chance to make an impression to the rest of the world.

Clocking in at just over 40 minutes, it’s a pretty standard length record for the times, although it’s a much more frantic pace than their recent releases. While I disagree with many assessments that liken early Maiden to punk, their sound on the first two albums with Paul Di’Anno on vocals is much different than the sound they’d become famous for years later.

The opening track is “Prowler” and is a smack to the face. It features elements that will later become their feature sound, albeit with Di’Anno’s more gruff voice. As for being the introductory song for the group, it’s a classic. It’s meant for Di’Anno’s vocals though, so sadly it’s time of being played live is probably over.

“Remember Tomorrow” follows and is quite honestly one of the most underrated songs in Maiden’s illustrious catalog of music. It very well could be Di’Anno’s greatest performance with the band before he was replaced by Bruce Dickinson. Seldom played live, it’s an absolute treat when it is. It is so unique when compared to the rest of their stuff.

The first hit off the record is the third track. “Running Free” is about as essential to their catalog of music as it gets. The single charted at 34 in the UK. The live version from 1985’s “Live After Death” recording is the absolute best with crowd participation. This fun song still gets played regularly when the group is touring.

The fourth track is without question the defining song of the Di’Anno era of the band. “Phantom of the Opera” is in your face from the opening get go and doesn’t let up for over 7 minutes. The musicianship on this one is phenomenal and is the first “epic” in a long line of “epics” that the band would go on to be known for. The entire band is at their absolute best on this one. It still gets played live regularly and for good reason. This one simply captures everything that they do well and is a precursor to where they’d end up fifteen records later. Turn this one up all the way!

All of that concludes the first side of the record. Side 2 opens up with an iconic jam that is entirely an instrumental piece. “Transylvania” is another one that has the vintage Maiden sound, and I’d love for it to be played live. That won’t happen, but the song is just the first of a few great instrumentals that they band would go on to release over the years.

“Strange World” follows and is another underrated Di’Anno gem. The song has a mellow opening, followed by a brief wailing guitar solo, and along with the aforementioned “Remember Tomorrow”, one of Di’Anno’s greatest vocal achievements. The track also foreshadows the progressive rock elements that would later become staple but in the early years were not as common for them. An absolute killer that I’ve yet to see performed live, but would love to.

The second single from the album follows, and as is usually the case with me and this band, it’s not one of my favorites. It’s not that the song is bad by any means. However, the first six tracks are what I’d call definitive Maiden songs. This one doesn’t meet that bar for me. What do I know though? It charted at 29 in the UK as the better performer of the two singles. It jams, but “Sanctuary” falls short for me of the six songs before it.

The next song is also one that I could do without. It has a fun opening and has some good rhythm work. Songs about ladies of the night are a tough sell for me I suppose. “Charlotte the Harlot” is a good play on words and the breakdown midway through is quite enjoyable and has some good vocals. Once again, it just doesn’t measure up to tracks 1-6. However, it would spawn a sequel a couple albums later that is flat out brilliant. So, I’ll give credit where credit is due.

The self titled album ends quite fittingly with the self titled track, “Iron Maiden”. In a sense the song may be a tad overrated. Simply because if you go to an Iron Maiden show you two things are for certain. One of them is that this song will be the closer to their main set. The second is that is when we will get an appearance on stage from the infamous Eddie that adorns each of their record covers. He will either be in classic Eddie form or reimagined to fit whatever “new” album the band is touring on. It is an absolute essential song to the band and as mentioned before is forever locked in to the live set. Watch the crowd reaction to this one!

Overall, this record is an iconic debut for an iconic band. Tracks 7 & 8 are the weakest in my opinion and one of those is the highest rated single from the album. That means it’s in pretty good shape. The overall grade for 1980’s Iron Maiden is a solid A! It is one of the early records that would shape heavy metal for the next four decades and counting.

Iron Maiden make triumphant return to Cincinnati

Twenty three years. Twenty three years had passed since the last time that Iron Maiden played in Cincinnati, Ohio. A lot has changed since 1996. Bill Clinton was president. Jeff Blake was playing quarterback for the Bengals. I was a ten year old boy that had not yet discovered Iron Maiden. That was a long time ago.

Like a lot of their classic metal brethren, the mid nineties were not kind to Maiden. Lead singer Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith had long left the band to focus on other projects, certainly fatigued by the demands of being in Iron Maiden in the 1980’s had put on them. The version of the band without Dickinson or Smith played in a small club in Cincinnati. My, oh my, how times have changed since then.

A couple years later, the classic Maiden members would rejoin the band, write a modern metal masterpiece in Brave New World, and reclaim their throne at the top of the heavy metal mountain. The rest is history as the band has released several more fantastic albums and embarked on absolutely legendary world tours.

As we fast forward to Thursday night in the Queen City, the buzz surrounding the Legacy of the Beast World Tour has been the talk of the rock and metal community. The reviews have been phenomenal. Coming from publications and radio stations that have never paid any mind to this band and sound like fools as they are just now discovering the band that has absolutely set the standard for live metal music for the past four decades. This point has not been lost on Dickinson, who made sure to have some fun at Rolling Stone’s expense.

Over 15,000 Ohio metalheads descended onto Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati to celebrate the Legacy of the Beast with Eddie and the boys. As is custom, UFO’s “Doctor, Doctor” blared over the PA system, alerting all in attendance to get back to their seats in earnest. When the lights dimmed and the familiar sound of Churchill’s Speech began, there was no doubt that “Aces High” would be the song to get the show going. That wasn’t a big shocker, as the band uses the song to open fairly frequently on non-album tours. However, while the song choice wasn’t surprising, the airplane that ascended over the stage during the song about warfare from the skies would be only the first awe-striking moment of the performance.

For the next two hours, the band would take the massive crowd on a journey through war, good and evil, and a whole lot of pyro. All of the big “hits” were present which is fun for the fans. The set list chosen for this tour featured plenty of rarely played gold as well for the true diehards. The first of those rarer songs was the second song of the night. “Where Eagles Dare” is perhaps Maiden’s greatest percussion piece that they’ve created and even as he creeps towards 70 years of age, Nicko McBrain absolutely owned the stage during the song behind his drum kit.

 

Everything about the show was Maiden at it’s absolute best. And while Dickinson assured the crowd that they’d be back soon with new music, I honestly have no clue how the six piece band will ever be able to top this tour. The band sounded even better than they did on any of the previous six times I’ve seen them perform. Dickinson in particular seems to have found new life on his legendary voice. The Air Raid Siren is back and better than ever.

Of course Eddie made his two expected appearances, but it was the backdrops and other effects that make this the absolute must see tour of the year. During “Flight of Icarus”, which they notoriously haven’t played live since the 80’s, the stage was enhanced with a giant Icarus while Dickinson ran around with flame throwers. The stained-glass themed back drop during the religion portion of the show is the greatest imagery I’ve ever seen at a concert. There was lots of pyro. There were fireworks. Dickinson had countless costume changes. This was a vintage Iron Maiden concert times ten. I’ve seen them with a tank on stage during the A Matter of Life and Death Tour. I’ve seen the ship during “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. I’ve seen the epic Seventh Son of a Seventh Son themed “big” Eddie. Those were all great and a spectacle to behold. THIS BLEW EVERYONE OF THOSE AWAY.

None of that would matter though if the music sucked. Thankfully, it didn’t. From the chug, chug-a-chug of “Icarus” to the long Maiden epics and everything in between, this band has always been about the music first. That’s how a band with no airplay has been able to build the empire that it has. The connection that the band has with its fans is second to none. All three guitar players (Smith, Dave Murray, and Janick Gers) traded off flawless solos all night. Bass player Steve Harris’ right hand seemingly never was any slower than 100 mph and Dickinson beckoned the crowd to “Scream for me Cincinn-at-iiiiiiii!” no fewer than twenty times. It was glorious. As expected.

What wasn’t expected was songs like “Sign of the Cross”; “The Clansman”; and “For the Greater Good of God”. Absolute epics that mandate crowd participation took this setlist to a whole new level. Then you throw in gems like “Where Eagles Dare” and “Revelations”? Unbelievable. Of course, the greatest metal song ever written (“Hallowed Be Thy Name” duh…) being back in the set always helps as well.

Now that Cincinnati has been treated, let’s hope Columbus will get a visit for the first time in 15 years in 2020?

Iron Maiden Setlist Cincinnati, OH 8/15/2019

  1. Churchill’s Speech/Aces High
  2. Where Eagles Dare
  3. 2 Minutes 2 Midnight
  4. The Clansman
  5. The Trooper
  6. Revelations
  7. For the Greater Good of God
  8. The Wicker Man
  9. The Sign of the Cross
  10. Flight of Icarus
  11. Fear of the Dark
  12. The Number of the Beast
  13. Iron Maiden

        *Encore*

    14. The Evil That Men Do

    15. Hallowed Be Thy Name

    16. Run to the Hills