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I can't think of another album cover that better represents the content of the music than Iron Maiden's Killers. Take one look into the beady eyes of Eddie as he lifts his bloody hatchet for a finishing blow and you'll know you're in for a lethal dose of heavy metal horror. Filled with dark and majestic imagery, Killers delivers just that, but it doesn't end there as Killers also features the best and most consistent musicianship, song-writing, and production of Iron Maiden's long and illustrious career.
By the time Killers was released in 1981, Iron Maiden had already established themselves as one of the premier NWOBHM bands with their early demo 'The Soundhouse Tapes'. After becoming local heroes, the group then hit a global audience with their debut album, the self-titled masterpiece 'Iron Maiden'. Boasting such classic metal cuts as 'Phantom of the Opera', 'Prowler', and 'Transylvania', the album perfectly captured the raw power and energy of a band on the brink of world domination. However, the album suffered from a cheap production job and, in my opinion, a few tracks that dragged on longer than they should have, 'Remember Tomorrow' for example.
Touring in support of their first album helped Iron Maiden further develop their sound and grow tighter as musicians. Following the departure of Dennis Stratton, axemaster Adrian Smith was hired as the second guitarist. It turned out to be a wise choice as Smith's heavy and rough-around-the-edges playing style perfectly accentuated Dave Murray's precise and complex riffs and solos. Paul Di'anno serves his duty well enough, delivering a signature raspy, wailing, punk-like performance. His voice fit the tone of the songs perfectly, but its easy to hear that Iron Maiden were progressing past him as musicians. Although this is his final album with the band, the personality he gives the early Maiden songs earn him major credit for their worldwide success.
Now that we've gotten all that out of the way, let's get down to what really counts- the music.
Killers hits the ground running with the thundering march of 'The Ides of March', a brilliant and powerful instrumental as heavy as it is beautiful. The track leads into what is perhaps the most well-known song off the album, 'Wrathchild'. Now considered a Maiden classic, Wrathchild is a hard-hitting rocker with a driving bass line and some incredible rhythms from drummer Clive Burr, a bonafide master of the skins. It's worth noting that Killers-era Maiden had the greatest heavy metal rythym section in the genre's history.
'Murders in the Rue Morgue' embraces a song structure that has proved to be a favorite of the band continuing to the present day, the slow and mellow opening leading to a heavy, crushing song. Although in later years the format would grow tiresome, it works very well on this track. The opening is just the right amount of time, gradually building up in intensity until a barrage of snare fills launches right into the opening verse. The track is frantic yet melodic, a balance that defines Iron maiden's music.
Perhaps the most musically accomplished track on the album, 'Another Life' begins with a hypnotic cacophony of opposing guitar solos on top of a steady driving beat. Dual guitar harmonies dominate this song, and represent the most addictingly melodic and expertly executed of the band's career. The instrumental 'Genghis Khan' follows as a sort-of sequel to 'Transylvania'. Although not as good as its predecessor, Genghis Khan still contains Maiden's signature galloping heavy metal style that makes you want to charge into battle.
'Innocent Exile' was an early song in the band's career that makes its debut on this album. It begins with an intense drum fill and doesn't let up from there. It is another quality metal song that displays a mastering of the craft. My personal favorite part is near the end after the guitar solo when there is a pounding break and Di-anno screams 'Lord I'm RUNNNNNNIIIIIIINNNNNNN'!!!!!! YEEEEEAAAAHHH!!!' to an eruption of guitar shreds and cymbal bursts. Now that's metal!
Flipping the album over to the other side gives you the title track 'Killers', which follows a similar format to 'Murders of the Rue Morgue' with a slow-building into that explodes into the main driving riff. The lyrical content is dark as the title suggests, and Di-Anno delivers them perfectly with his rough vocals. The song is very fast once it starts going, and is sometimes referred to as an early influence of thrash metal. After that is 'Twlight Zone', another quality hard-rocking track that has my personal favorite opening riff on the album. This is also perhaps the most melodic song on here, with a very catchy and fun-to-sing-along-to chorus that serves as a precursor to the song-writing that would dominate Maiden's later efforts in the 1980's. It is a great song that proves Paul Di'Anno can actually sing.
The next one is kind of an oddball. 'Prodigal Son' is a soft, ballad-style song, one of the very few in Maiden's career. Although it can be initially off-putting, there's still plenty here for heavy metal fans to appreciate. Clive Burr hits just as hard here as he does on the other tracks, and the intermittent heavy chords in addition to the acoustic-sounding main riff gives the song a unique dynamic. I believe this song represents Maiden attempting to show their mellow side in a heavier context with shaky results. I personally like the song, but it simply doesn't fit the tone of the record and disrupts the flow.
Things get back to normal quick enough with the frenzied opening riff of 'Purgatory', another earlier song, previously called 'Floating', reworked for this album. For a long time this was my favorite track on the album. It perfectly combines an exciting, fist-pounding rythym with an infectious vocal melody and brilliant harmonies during the chorus.
'Drifter' follows 'Purgatory' as an ending to the album, and what an ending it is! From the very beginning it hooks you with a unique bass line and a harmonious guitar part then kicks you in the face with a manic scream from Di-anno on top of some ripping solos from Murray and Smith. It's another hard-hitting rocker (my favorite type of song, in case you haven't guessed by now) that breaks into a dreamy and mesmerizing mid-section that features the most melodious guitar solos yet. For the final run the band goes full force in what definitely feels like a fitting conclusion to such a heavy album. Every member of the band shows their chops in the closing minute of 'Drifter', easily one of the most exciting songs ever recorded.
With their sophomore album 'Killers', Iron Maiden had fully defined their signature sound , a combination of the bluesy hard rock of Deep Purple, the metal edge of Judas Priest, and the complexity of Prog masters Yes. Killers represents a band at the peak of their creativity and skill set, ready to conquer the world through the power of their music. Needless to say their journey has been a success, and the early albums are very much a part of that. Killers features some of the best album cover, the best songs, and the best line-up in the history of Heavy Metal. It is a masterpiece, and my personal favorite record.