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. On to the second album, Killers.
Iron Maiden embarked on an interesting time starting in November of 1980. They had just released their self-titled debut album earlier that year. The heavy metal scene knew who these kids from the UK were now. A lineup change was necessary though. Dennis Stratton was out. He wanted the band in a more Queen-like direction. There’s a story that he added “Bohemian Rhapsody”-esque backing vocals to “Phantom of the Opera”. That wasn’t Iron Maiden’s image. Who would replace Stratton on their next album? None other than Adrian Smith.
New Members of the Band and Crew
Adrian Smith was an infusion of life into the band. Between him and Dave Murray, the twin-guitar attack of Iron Maiden was born. Also coming along for the ride would be producer Martin Birch and the artist behind Eddie, Derek Riggs. Eddie would need to be better and more vibrant this time out. His first piece for the self-titled album, was done in 1975. His new piece for the Killers cover would cement him and Eddie in heavy metal history.
Killers released on February 2nd, 1981 in the UK and June 6th, 1981 in the US. The majority of the songs recorded had been written in the time before Iron Maiden had a recording contract. The only songs not written by Steve Harris were the title track, “Killers” and “Twilight Zone”. Paul Di’Anno and Dave Murray helped Harris with those songs. As with the self titled debut, I’ll be using the US remaster tracklisting. Enough background information, let’s get on with the show.
Track 1: The Ides of March
Starting off with a bang is always how Iron Maiden does it. Killers opens with an instrumental that tells you all you need to know. Iron Maiden is here, Clive Burr is going to beat the crap out of his drums. Dave Murray and Adrian Smith are going to shred. Steve Harris is going to play the bass like a million galloping horses. And your neck is going to hurt from headbanging. “The Ides of March” leads perfectly into our next Maiden classic…
Track 2: Wrathchild
There are some contenders for the quintessential Di’Anno Iron Maiden song. It’s either this or “Phantom of the Opera”. This song has attitude, it has power, and it has one of the best guitar riffs in metal history. If you wanted to tell someone who had never heard heavy metal before, what it is, this song is on a short list. It doesn’t overstay it’s welcome but it was a perfect way to show how Iron Maiden had changed in the short time between albums. A heavy metal classic in every sense of the phrase.
Track 3: Murders in the Rue Morgue
A track that sounds similar to “Strange World” or “Remember Tomorrow” from the debut album. That very quickly changes as the Steve Harris bass goes from light and moody to hard and heavy in an instant. Based on the Edgar Allan Poe poem of the same name, it tells the story in a way that only Steve Harris could. Di’Anno sings his ass off on this track and it’s a wonder why this one isn’t more of a classic among Iron Maiden fans. “Murders in the Rue Morgue” was written during the recording sessions for the album. Unlike most of the other songs on the album. Clive Burr’s drumming is the real highlight for this song in my mind.
Track 4: Another Life
Here’s where this album starts to lose it’s way a bit. I’ll never accuse Iron Maiden of putting filler songs on their albums. That’s just not what they do. But in the case of Killers, there are definitely some weaker songs on this album in comparison to the debut record. There’s nothing really wrong with “Another Life”, it’s just meh. It isn’t really memorable, I’m not going to drive down the road screaming this song like other Maiden deep cuts. Not one that I include on my playlists.
Track 5: Genghis Khan
An Iron Maiden album with two instrumentals? Now that’s really weird. Unlike “The Ides of March” this one isn’t as short or as memorable as “Transylvania” from the first album. It’s just another in this line of good enough, but not great songs. The guitar play on the song is damn good, you just won’t remember most of it after you’re done listening. There’s not much to say about this one. It’s okay.
Track 6: Innocent Exile
I can tell you right now, these last three songs are probably either the lowest “play count” on my iPod for Iron Maiden or at least in the bottom 10. They just don’t do it for me like the first tracks and some later tracks on this album. As a massive Iron Maiden fan, I love all their songs, but these ones I had to force myself to listen to for this review.
Track 7: Killers
Forget about those filler tracks from before, this is a goddamn masterpiece. Steve Harris and Paul Di’Anno tell the story of a literal Killer going around London and the tube murdering people. If you run down the Iron Maiden checklist: 1. does it have thundering bass guitar? Check. 2. Does it have a great story and writing? Check. 3. Does it make me want to drive above the speed limit? (Please don’t tell my dad about this one) Check. 4. Can I listen to it 100 times and still enjoy the crap out of it? Check, check, and check. You have yourself an Iron Maiden classic then. “Killers” is no different. You can’t get any cooler than “You walk through the subway, my eyes burn a hole in your back. A footstep behind you, he lunges prepare for attack”.
Track 8: Prodigal Son
The longest track on the album. “Prodigal Son” is one that’s hard to rate. It starts off and doesn’t sound like an Iron Maiden song. The guitar tones are all lighter and softer. It sounds like a ballad almost. The song follows a similar pace throughout it’s 6 minute run-time. I don’t think this one is a song that most people are saying is their favorite Maiden song. It’s not atrocious but it’s definitely different.
Track 9: Purgatory
Now we’re talking. After a dip in quality on the album we finally get to a hard and heavy classic. It sounds like a precursor to speed metal in 1981. The blistering twin-guitar attack is out in full force on this one. Murray and Smith light up the track trading guitar licks and solos. Di’Anno gives his finest performance on vocals here. The high notes he hits on this track he probably couldn’t do anywhere else. Songs like this are the reason why Di’Anno Maiden is still so popular.
Track 10: Twilight Zone
Originally not on the UK release of the album. “Twilight Zone” would have been a nice inclusion on that cut. Without it, the album sort of drags. Putting this in between “Another Life”, “Genghis Khan”, or “Innocent Exile” would break up the monotony of those tracks. It’s not a perfect track, but it’s fine for a mid-album tempo boost. It has the makings of a great Maiden song, but falls short slightly with the generic lyrics.
Track 11: Drifter
With one of the coolest openings to a Maiden song ever, it hits you with a tone that you won’t hear on any other Maiden song. And then ramps into an upbeat track about who’s “gotta keep singing my song, gotta keep roaming”. It’s a fitting send-off for Di’Anno when you think of it as the last song of his Maiden tenure. The song is a perfect cap for him because it is 100% a Di’Anno Maiden song through and through. You can hear his punk inspired vocal style, the fast-paced guitar play, and the thundering drums of Clive Burr.
Final Thoughts and Score
Iron Maiden would go through a massive change after this record. Steve Harris saw that Paul Di’Anno would cap their upside as a band. He wasn’t very flexible as a singer, he was having alcohol and drug problems. He wasn’t reliable on stage. While he was a perfect singer to start off the band, Di’Anno wasn’t going to be the guy that helped them into the stratosphere. They would be capped as some club band or an opening act. That’s not what Harris wanted. Di’Anno was dismissed after his performances started to suffer at the end of the Killer World Tour. Someone magical and a breath of new life would enter Iron Maiden after this. But to hear about that, you’ll have to check back tomorrow.
As for a review score, this is not one of my favorite Iron Maiden albums. There’ll be worse ones ahead, but this one is remembered fondly because of the artwork and a couple of classic tracks. “Wrathchild”, “Murders in the Rue Morgue”, “Purgatory”, “Drifter” and “Killers” hold it up from being mediocre. There’s a lot of filler tracks that you probably won’t be listening to a lot. The production is much better this time around. Martin Birch is the best producer that Iron Maiden would work with. If I’m giving it a score, it would have to be a 7.5/10. It has some classics, but also some filler. That’s it from Eddie and me to you, for now.
Check back tomorrow for a review of Number of the Beast
All images and audio courtesy of Iron Maiden.
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