As I sit typing this, Iron Maiden is currently embarking on their Legacy of the Beast tour. Legacy of the Beast is Iron Maiden’s mobile game. If you didn’t know, Iron Maiden rule the world. So because their Los Angeles show is coming up; what better time to write a review of all sixteen of their albums leading up to it. Their show is Saturday, September 14th at the Banc of California Stadium. So every work day (including one day with two), there will be a song-by-song Iron Maiden album review. If you missed yesterday, it was a review of Number of the Beast. Up today is their fourth album, Piece of Mind.
Background on Piece of Mind
It seems like the start of all these reviews has to do with turmoil among the band. Well, I swear this is the last one… At least until the next time someone leaves. Clive Burr, depending on who you ask, was either ousted by Steve Harris and management or he was doing a poor job and was replaced. Either way, Nicko McBrain, formerly of Trust, was the new drummer. Nicko is probably the perfect member for Iron Maiden. He fits in with all the fun and energy on the stage but he also is one hell of a drummer. You can hear his thunderstick style drumming right off the bat on this album.
This is the first of Iron Maiden’s albums not to have a title track. Originally the album was slated to be called Food for Thought, but then was changed to Piece of Mind. They changed it because they knew they wanted to show Eddie having been lobotomized on the front album art. It was recorded from January to March 1983. It was released in May of that same year around the world. Piece of Mind was the first Iron Maiden album to chart in the United States, topping out at number 70.
Even for Iron Maiden’s usual literary standards, this album is filled from top to bottom with literary, movie, short-story, and historical references. Eight of the nine tracks are based on some sort of historical, literary, or movie event. This doesn’t mean that it’s filled with lazy writing. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. There’s less juicy details about this album than previous ones. It was just the five Iron Maiden members writing in an off-season hotel and rehearsing in a closed restaurant. Nothing too out of the ordinary. Let’s get on with the show.
Track 1: Where Eagles Dare
Not sure of this Nicko McBrain guy? Take a listen to the first ten seconds of this song. You’ll be hooked. Based on the 1968 film Where Eagles Dare, the song is one of the more underrated songs by Maiden. They don’t bust this one out live too often, but when they do it’s a real treat. The opening drum fill tells you all you need to know. You’re going to get rocked and there’s nothing you can do about it. Add to that more time for Bruce Dickinson to wail away at you and you’ve got a recipe for success. The song’s guitar work by Adrian Smith and Dave Murray show just how much they’ve grown as players together. Overall a perfect opener for this album.
Track 2: Revelations
Making a top ten list of my favorite Iron Maiden songs would be almost impossible. What I do know, is that this song would be on that list. A song that follows similar paths of other Iron Maiden songs but does it in a way that you don’t hear from the band to often. It acts similarly to a ballad but isn’t quite like that. It’s one that’ll make you put up your lighter at a show. You’ll quickly realize that to headbang along, you’ll have to put that shit away real quick. Going from the ballad portion to a full blown-rocker like a sports car revving up, it picks up near the 2/3rds mark.
The subject matter is a mix of “O God of Earth and Altar” by G. K. Chesterson and Aleister Crowley’s brand of horror. Iron Maiden shows that you don’t need speed and pounding double bass to really make a kick ass song. It’s one that’ll make even the hardest of metal fans belt out like they’re 15 again.
Track 3: Flight of Icarus
The first single off this album, “Flight of Icarus” is based on the classic Greek myth of Icarus. He made wings and flew too close to the sun. Iron Maiden’s version is similar to that except it’s his father that betrayed him and he burns up in the sun. The song was incredibly popular in the United States. Something that many British metal journalists criticized the band for. It’s not a complete rocker like some of the songs on the album but it definitely has a place in Iron Maiden history. They hadn’t played this one since 1986 up until their most recent tour. It’s not a classic in my mind, but one that you can still listen to and enjoy.
Track 4: Die With Your Boots On
To break up the fact that the first two tracks on the album are over six minutes in length each, you’re gonna need some shorter, sweeter songs. “Die With Your Boots On” is the only song on the album not based on anything. It’s an underrated gem in the Iron Maiden catalog. A straightforward message about wartime and soldiers. The song starts off blistering and continues that the whole five and a half minute runtime. It’s one of Iron Maiden’s best chorus’s that I wish they would play live more often. Just to hear the crowd belt it out with Bruce. Overall a great underrated track.
Track 5: The Trooper
The second single from the album. I have no doubt that this is one of the three Iron Maiden songs you heard before you actually knew the band. It’s arguably their most iconic artwork. Derek Riggs portrayed Eddie as a British soldier during the “Charge of the Light Brigade” from the Crimean War. It’s always a treat to hear them play this song live and see Bruce dressed up in his British uniform swinging the British flag around the stage.
The song itself needs no introduction. It’s Iron Maiden at their finest. Steve Harris’s bass guitar turned up to 11 and his fingers picking faster than the horses Bruce is singing about. Just give Iron Maiden their justice and crank this one whenever you hear it.
Track 6: Still Life
After such a blitzing attack of a song like “The Trooper”, listeners need a break. You’ll get one for a little bit by hearing the weirdly distorted backwards voice of drummer Nicko McBrain. “What ho said the t’ing with the three ‘bonce’, don’t meddle with things you don’t understand…” Nicko and the band put this on here as a jab to their critics saying they’re satanists after the Number of the Beast album. I have to admit, I used to skip this song on the album because I didn’t get past the intro.
Boy, was I stupid. I was missing out on one of the more underrated songs in the Iron Maiden discography. (This whole album is underrated in my opinion, it’s sandwiched in between the two albums that most people list as their favorites). It’s based on the short story “The Inhabitant of the Lake” by Ramsey Campbell. Bruce Dickinson puts on a master class of vocals on this track. One of my favorites. It’s also the only mention of “peace/piece of mind” on the whole album.
Track 7: Quest for Fire
One of the sillier sounding Iron Maiden songs. Based on the film Quest for Fire from 1981. I used to consider this one of the worst Maiden songs. I’ve softened my stance in recent years (and also because I listened to No Prayer for the Dying over again). It’s silliness is what makes this song. It’s no means a classic but it doesn’t need to be. The song is just a little romp through some similar Iron Maiden lyrical topography. Nothing super special but good for a laugh when it comes on shuffle.
Track 8: Sun and Steel
Another song that gets forgotten about because it’s buried down here on the tracklisting. But it’s one of the better galloping, thunderous songs from this era. The chorus will get it’s way into your head for days. You’ll find yourself singing this one for weeks after hearing it. Based on the Samurai, Miyamoto Mushashi, it tells the story of the blade and how to use it. It’s a lost gem down here that always seems to make it on to my playlists.
Track 9: To Tame a Land
Here it is. The finale to Piece of Mind. The genesis of what Iron Maiden would become later in their career. A progressive metal grandfather of a song. I’m surprised that Iron Maiden hasn’t brought this one out as a nod to their later career work for a tour. It’s based on Frank Herbert’s novel Dune. And it’s just as epic in metal scope as those novels. Originally the song was to be called “Dune” but after calling Herbert’s representatives they got this message “Frank Herbert doesn’t like rock bands, particularly heavy rock bands, and especially bands like Iron Maiden”. What a blow.
The song itself leans heavily on Steve Harris’s bass and the guitar work of Murray and Smith. For 1983 this was a stretch in terms of what Maiden was doing musically. To go from blistering tracks like “The Trooper” and “Flight of Icarus” to this on the same album must’ve been quite the shock for listeners. Listening back to this one, it’s quite the epic song and a great way to finish off this album as a whole.
Piece of Mind, like I said before, is an album that sort of gets defined by “The Trooper”. Yeah, it’s the album with that song on it, but it’s more than that. It’s a showing by the band that they can still rock harder than anyone in the business but it was also a showing of what’s to come. With Nicko McBrain in the band, they had a stable lineup for the first time in a long while. If Number of the Beast let everyone know that Iron Maiden with Bruce Dickinson is here for real. Piece of Mind let them know that the band wasn’t just a one trick pony. Maiden had real staying power in the metal scene.
Iron Maiden embarked on their first major tour of the US, the World Piece Tour. They headlined shows in America for the first time here, building their popularity around the world. “The Trooper” would get people listening to the band and the other songs on Piece of Mind would keep them listening.
The Dreaded Review Score
Despite following up what could be considered one of the greatest albums of all time in Number of the Beast. Piece of Mind admirably does the job. It’s an album that could be seen by some as just a depository for “The Trooper” and the rest of the songs get lost. But listening back to the whole thing gave me a deeper appreciation for this album. Songs like “Quest for Fire” might be silly, but they’re not terrible. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of Number of the Beast, but it remains a classic of the metal genre. I’ll give it a 9.5/10.
After this, the band would take a short break (three weeks) to start on what some consider to be their finest work. Check back tomorrow for the ancient Egyptian inspired Powerslave.
All image and audio is courtesy of Iron Maiden.
For more Iron Maiden, heavy metal, pop culture, or whatever else your heart desires information, stay on That Hashtag Show.