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. Starting off with the first album, the self-titled, Iron Maiden.
Before we get into the full festivities, let’s go into some background on Iron Maiden for those new to class. Steve Harris is the bassist and founding member of the band. He placed an ad in the paper in 1975 looking for a band. A few weeks later, Iron Maiden was born. They’ve gone through numerous lineup changes, but the main lineup for their formative years was: Paul Di’Anno (vocals), Dave Murray (guitar), Dennis Stratton (guitar), Steve Harris (bass guitar), and Clive Burr (drums).
The band would play clubs and small venues at this time of their existence. Through a combination of slow melodic songs, fast paced heavy songs, and even a little bit of punk rock, their first album Iron Maiden was released in the UK on April 14th, 1980. I’ll be using the US track-list for this review as it has a slight change to the UK version. On with the show.
Track 1: Prowler
If you didn’t know what Iron Maiden was about before, take a listen to this track and you’ll find out. Hard, fast, heavy, and thundering bass guitar. That’s what describes this album pretty much. It’s a stark contrast to their later work with Bruce Dickinson at the helm as singer. Paul DiAnno is a much more limited singer. That doesn’t mean he can’t belt one out like this track. Maiden doesn’t bust this one out live too often but if you can get your hands on a live recording of it, it’s one to check out for sure. A great way to start off their freshman album.
Track 2: Remember Tomorrow
After that blitzing start with “Prowler”, the Maiden boys continue with an ode to Pink Floyd and melodic rock. That doesn’t mean that they can’t kick a fair amount of ass on the track. Paul Di’Anno shows just how high his range is on this song especially in the faster bit around the 2 minute mark. A song that shows how their songwriting and range would change in the near future. It’s a look into future Iron Maiden songs, while also showing off this era quite nicely.
Track 3: Running Free
A song that should normally be quite innocuous and to put it nicely, bland. But if you listen to it enough it starts to grow on you. And grow. Until you’re screaming the lyrics alongside Di’Anno like you’re a backup singer. To take that to the next level, take a listen to the Live After Death version. The song tells the story of a teen/20’s person who goes out for a night on the town and has no inhibitions. They’re “running free” driving cars, drinking, partying, getting thrown in jail, and much more. It’s a staple of Iron Maiden live shows for band introductions, bass interludes, and crowd interaction.
Track 4: Phantom of the Opera
Now this is the main event. If you wanted to know exactly what Iron Maiden is all about. Show someone this song. First off, it’s based off the classic novel by Gaston Leroux. It doesn’t share any musical resemblance but it tells the same story. “Phantom of the Opera” has all the makings of an Iron Maiden classic, great vocals that tell you a story, thundering bass, electric guitar play from Dave Murray, and it just makes you want to air guitar along with them. From 3:30 to the end of the song is worth the price of admission alone. If this doesn’t make you pumped, Iron Maiden isn’t your thing.
Track 5: Transylvania
After such a blistering middle track, you and I probably need a break from belting out Phantom of the Opera. So Iron Maiden gave us a vocal break with an instrumental track. One that has the title of “Transylvania” but echos more of a pirate sounding guitar line. The track has some great playing by Stratton and Murray. With Murray being the real highlight, you can almost feel the fire coming off his fingers with the solos on this one. The musicianship is really top notch and it’s only their first album together.
Track 6: Strange World
Another slow one for the album. Paul Di’Anno does his best on these types of songs. They don’t need him to strain his vocals to keep up with the pace of Harris and the others. It’s a song that you can listen to when you feel like drifting through space. And as the song talks about someone seeking their perfect place in a world that’s uncertain. The album is paced nicely with some rockers and these slower songs breaking up the fast-pace. The guitar tones here are especially a highlight. It’s not like most Iron Maiden you hear.
Track 7: Sanctuary
A song that wasn’t originally on the UK tracklisting, this was originally released as a single. It was then put on the US tracklisting upon release. “Sanctuary” is a song about running away from the police. It’s pretty simple in that regard. But the song is a blistering take on the early New Wave of British Heavy Metal genre. This is the song on the album that sounds the least like Iron Maiden does today. You can hear the punk rock influence that Paul Di’Anno brought to the band. Even though Steve Harris has been quoted about how much they detested that movement and it’s music, the song has influence from it.
Track 8: Charlotte the Harlot
The first part in a four part epic saga of a maybe fictional, maybe not, prostitute from the East End of London. “Charlotte the Harlot” tells the story of the titular Charlotte. It goes through her pricing and the various men the narrator says she’s brought to her room. Charlotte will show up again in Iron Maiden’s discography and she’ll get to even brighter heights than just a “fiver” on the East End. Powerful vocals and guitar bring this one up to Maiden classic territory.
Track 9: Iron Maiden
So while you’re listening away to this album, you can tell yourself that you’re listening to Iron Maiden, while listening to the Iron Maiden album, while listening to the song “Iron Maiden”. Not too many bands can say that. This just so happens to be one of the quintessential Iron Maiden songs. Not a live concert goes by where this one doesn’t close the main show leading into the encore. It’s everything that Iron Maiden stands for and the perfect way to end this debut effort for them. The band lets everyone know that “Iron Maiden can’t be fought, Iron Maiden can’t be sought”, “Iron Maiden wants you for dead”, and that “Iron Maiden’s gonna get you, no matter how far”.
Closing Statements and Score
The medieval torture device that the band is named after transcends that horrible imagery of someone getting shoved into a spike sarcophagus. They send out an image of not only a zombified teenager committing acts of horror, fun, excitement, and justice throughout time, space, history, and even the digital realm. Iron Maiden by Iron Maiden is the beginning of a 40 year saga of the greatest heavy metal band in history (fight me on this one, please). The band would go through some turmoil and lineup changes after this. But their first album is a landmark in the history of the genre of heavy metal. It has classic songs, and some hidden gems. It doesn’t contain a bad song on the album. I don’t normally like giving out scores but I’ll have to give this one an 8.75/10. It doesn’t reach the heights of the other albums in my mind. The punk sound that’s here is obliterated into heavy metal dust by the time Bruce Dickinson joins the band. The production on the album is shoddy and doesn’t sound like the band at their peak. But you cannot deny that this is a classic.
Check back tomorrow for a review of Killers, Iron Maiden’s last album with singer Paul Di’Anno.
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All images and audio are courtesy of Iron Maiden.