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Iron Maiden is one of the few bands that can boast an entire decade’s worth of quality material – the only other bands that come to mind are Judas Priest and Black Sabbath. And all legacies have to start somewhere; for Maiden, it’s their 1980 debut. NWOBHM to the core, yet harboring subtle tendencies for something radically new and different (which the band would realize once they acquired the legendary Dickinson), this album takes what was an established genre and raises it to an entirely unprecedented level. From the raw, gritty production to Derek Riggs’s phenomenal cover art, Iron Maiden’s eponymous offering unrelentingly bores “metal” into your psyche like a drill.
There’s a ton to like here, whether it be the straightforward, headbang-worthy rockers, the progressive epics or (surprise, surprise!) the moody ballads. The band takes no prisoners with constant yet varied barrages of musical domination. The guitars drip with steely power, Harris defiantly flaunts his unique bass prowess, and the underrated Clive Burr does much more than simply keep the beat. At the forefront is Paul Di’Anno, proving himself a force to be reckoned with.
Songs like “Prowler” and “Running Free” abound with cool riffs and street-smart lyrics. Maiden are not content to stagnate into repetitiveness as so many other bands do, and so even these straightforward rockers vary quite a bit. The former includes tasteful wah-wah guitar (take that, Metallica!), a proto-Dickinson-era solo (which is inherently good) and subtle changes in tempo, while the latter contains a distinctive drum intro and the first example of Harris’s famous galloping bass – not to mention some of Di’Anno’s toughest vocals. That section in the middle where he shouts “break!” has to be one of the coolest things ever, something revisited in the later “Revelations” to great effect.
Again choosing to make their music more eclectic, Maiden balances the heavy rock with slower, more brooding numbers like “Remember Tomorrow.” It’s full of cryptic lyrics (apparently about Di’Anno’s father) delivered in a more sentimental way, proving Di’Anno is quite multitalented. The song plays with sections of heaviness up to its climax, where it explodes into something much more than your typical metal ballad, finally erupting into its famed bass-led outro. “Remember Tomorrow” ranks among the best songs Maiden ever did – no wonder Dickinson sang it at his audition!
Iron Maiden also shows progressive tendencies with the epic “Phantom of the Opera.” A precursor to later numbers such as “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” or “To Tame a Land,” it eschews the strictly heavy metal riffs for those of progressive rock (not a bad thing by any means.) The song is multi-layered with alternating heavy, soft, fast, and slow parts, yet again proving that Maiden will not cement themselves in one style. The long instrumental sections hint at those of “Hallowed Be Thy Name” and Maiden’s other seven-plus-minute opuses.
Following Maiden’s number-one track is their longest instrumental, “Transylvania.” It sounds less like an instrumental in the vein of “The Ides of March” or “Genghis Khan” in that it rather resembles a section in one of Maiden’s longer works, containing multiple parts and several guitar solos, in sections highlighting each instrument. The album is rounded out with a couple more rockish tunes, not quite up to the level of the aforementioned “Prowler” and “Running Free” but still drenched in quality.
It’s not quite the most famous or the best thing Maiden’s ever done (those honors go to The Number of the Beast and Killers, respectively), but it’s a highly respectable first step. Trailing behind only its follow-up in innovation and variation, it’s the important beginning of Maiden’s storied career – and Maiden would only get better as time went on.