One year after Killers, two years after their debut comes Iron Maiden's first masterpiece, and the first album to truly gain them some notoriety, respect, and fame in the rock, metal, and wider music world. One of the most famous, popular, long-lasting, and influential metal albums of all time even some non metal fans should be familiar with one or two of the songs. Although not all of the credit can go the new vocalist Bruce Dickinson- the song writing has changed and greatly improved, Harris taking full control but letting other members have some valuable input- it is his power, style, and ability which raises the album and the band into legendary status. This cements much of the iconic imagery of both the band and the genre and became the benchmark for the thousands of imitators who have since, and will continue to come along.
`Invaders' blasts off at high speed with a dual drum and guitar attack before the new vocalist shows off his impressive lungs. Dickinson here shows a similarly pitched voice to Priest's Halford, but has a purer sound rather than the Priest frontman's shrieks. We notice immediately that the production values are higher, everything is cleaner, and there is a definite sense of newborn energy. Dickinson sings of war, battle, and Invaders attacking- nothing difficult but cementing a metal staple and doing it in style.
`Children Of The Damned' I always feel calms things down too quickly- after such a fast opener I expect a fast second song but this takes things down to a much calmer pace. Lyrically based on the book and film of the same name this sounds more like a Sabbath or slower 70's rock piece. This gives Brucie a chance to show off his vocals in a more unrestrained way as he doesn't have to compete with an insane beat. About halfway through the song though the speed picks up and we get some galloping solos- the band are clearly still keen to experiment with different shifts in tone, pace, and timing.
`The Prisoner' continues the themes of alienation and the influence of pop culture, inspired by the classic TV show. This one is again a riff heavy, fast song full of chugging power chords and dramatic delivery by Dickinson. The chorus shows the band have not only retained their ear for a catchy hook but have in fact become more experienced- there are many memorable melodies to ensure that this can be pumped from radios and speakers and get a driver, listener, or crowd to sing along to. As is to be expected the solos are furious and fit in well with the adjoining parts.
'22 Acacia Avenue', also known to some fans (me) as Banana Man continues the adventures of the Charlotte character. It opens with some atmospheric guitars and vocals before descending into a tale of debauchery and prostitution. Again the song is catchy, one to play or sing along to easily even though it lacks any discernible chorus although the `22' part can be taken as such. The band's musical ability has always been high but here, as with the rest of the album, we can see both guitarists and drummer varying things slightly from the norm as well as throwing in a few unexpected moments. The `lighters in the skies' section towards the end adds further depth and lets the story be expanded without becoming boring while the extended ending is strong.
`The Number Of The Beast' probably remains the band's most famous song, one of their most musically commercial and appealing. Opening with the infamous Barry Clayton reading of some verses from Revelation, firing through to the Dickinson scream and the huge chorus, this is every inch a classic. This is typical Maiden- a short story plot with lyrics in narrative form filled with horror movie imagery, dualing guitars, big riffs, and bigger solos. The is the type of song the band could never have played or written before Dickinson and he brings the right amount of cinematic performance to the vocals. The song is immediately catchy, funny, and with lyrics which will sink their hooks in to your memory.
`Run To The Hills' the best way to follow up your most famous song is with your second most famous. This has one of the most recognizable intros in rock/metal/music as a whole with the drums mixing in with the excellent riff. Dickinson sings of conquest and colonialism in the extended intro as if it is a tale of glory, before the beat shifts, speeds up and the lyrics become a darker vision of genocide with a fist punching chorus. The band proves here that they can more than make chart topping singles with universal appeal and the success of the album would show critics that the band were not just one trick ponies in a niche genre. Dickinson becomes a metal legend with his scream at the end, ensuring an army of imitators and fans would soon come along.
`Gangland' is one of the lesser known songs but it fires along just as frantically as everything else with drums knocking out the lingering, hanging chords. This time the lyrics cover gang warfare and the fear of death and violence among the young. Sandwiched among three famous songs this one is forgotten, musically it is fine, the chorus is catchy enough, the solos are very good, but it lacks the special moments of the tracks around it- in other words it is another solid album track.
`Hallowed Be Thy Name' is one of the band's best epic- while later songs would become much longer and progressive this one does not outstay its welcome or become lost amongst itself. The band seem to be at a peak here as every second of this has purpose and it is exactly the right length. The ominous hang man intro, the atmospheric riff coupled with the terrific melody and Dickinson's huge lunged vocals get this one off to a great start. This is followed by a second memorable riff as we kick into the next stage of the track, Dickinson screaming out the lyrics to yet another strong melody. After this we get a third classic riff before the twin guitar attack zooms between slow and fast parts. This remains a live favourite, sometimes played at a quicker pace and getting the crowd bouncing with all the air guitarists wishing they were on stage pirouetting through each riff and note. This is one of the best endings to any metal album, showcasing all the ability, imagery, and force which the band sustained from track one to the end.
With this album the band became superstars; heroes to kids around the world, enemies to worried, misunderstanding parents, and DJs freaking out about these loud, angry songs which had guitars instead of computerized beats, controversial themes, and longer than 3-minute running times. The metal world had new saviours with a band who could play loud and fast, ticked all the boxes, yet were heavily melodic too. The clichés would follow and a host of lesser bands would sprout from Maiden's sweat, there would be a few misses in their subsequent albums, but for now they were riding a deserved wave of unbridled success.