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Why is this album so underrated? It's really strange that this album is so often passed up in favour of albums like Number Of The Beast and Powerslave, especially as the primary reason for that is often the perception that they have less filler songs. The irony is that the opposite is true - a couple of exceptions aside, almost every song on this album just plain works, period. And even the weaker ones are pretty good in their own ways.
Like the self titled debut, Killers is a deeply atmospheric album with a great deal of the same rawness and grittiness and real, down to earth urban feeling that also characterised its predecessor, although the former of those two is somewhat reduced due to the much more polished production. While not as clean or as well produced as Number Of The Beast this is certainly less obviously raw than the debut. There's nothing wrong with that per se, and the heavier and stronger guitar tone actually helps for obvious reasons, but it does mean that the atmosphere, while still very strong in the same way as the debut, is a little less potent.
Nevertheless, this is an extremely well done album. The first song, The Ides Of March, is absolutely perfect and sets the mood brilliantly. Quite dark, almost menacing in a way, and very similar to what came before, but the improved production really accentuates the guitars. The riffs, while simple, are excellent, and it's such a truly heavy metal opening. The solo is also fairly simple, but again there's nothing wrong with that. It doesn't rely on a cheesy or poppy melody at all, which is another thing I love, and that I wish Maiden had kept on doing rather than just adding melodic riffs that you can't even headbang to right in the middle of their songs in order to make them more accessible to weak people, often not even genuine metalheads but hard rock fans and the like, who couldn't sit through real consistent heavy fucking metal riffs. This is something they unfortunately did do later, and it became so overdone that it often felt like they were just trying to become more popular and gain fans outside of the metal community in order to make more money - which is exactly what they did do, except they got away with it because they managed to keep a respectable image and still be fairly heavy, and were never accused of selling out, even when they should have been, because they hardly ever wrote love songs or anything that genuinely sounded too hard- rockish except to really trained ears. So they got away with writing pathetically stupid songs infested with horribly cheesy melodies designed to appeal to dumb and easily impressed people that somehow managed to become "metal" classics such as Aces High(in case any of you are thinking I'm off my rocker around now, I'm not, and I'm not joking either), Two Minutes To Midnight(not kidding here either), Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter, Run To The Hills, and Holy Smoke. Predictable, simplistic songs with pop-influenced melodies designed to appeal to people too stupid to look past their insipidity. Killers has none of this shit. Even the two singles(Purgatory and Twilight Zone, and the latter wasn't on the original)have pretty much nothing along those lines. The former does have a melodic clean sounding break that does seem like a prelude to the kind of poppy bullshit they'd overuse later, but this isn't a major problem as it isn't overdone here.
Anyway, long rant aside, that this manages to keep a consistent level of genuine heaviness along with excellent songwriting and great use of(more subtle)melodies and a respectable amount of grittiness with a dark atmosphere and NOT be too commercial is a testament to the band's skills and abilities and, at this point at least, their lack of any real pretentiousness. After the brilliant opener, Wrathchild kicks in, and this is a great song, a true classic and still played in Maiden's concerts to this day, for a bloody good reason: it's fucking great, real heavy metal despite its popularity. Di'Anno's voice here fits it perfectly; while Bruce sings it ok, I'd say Paul is much better suited for the atmosphere. It's a little short, but in a way this is more of a strength than a weakness. Rather punky in its own way, which is an interesting point that's often overlooked; yeah, we all know that Maiden's first two albums are punk influenced to one degree or the other, but the way they combined punk, rock, and metal together is what's so incredible. It's an element they sadly lost with Number Of The Beast for the most part, and after that record - well, just forget it, because it was then that they began their epic proto-power metal style, which was still good but lacking something essential that these two records have in abundance: real grittiness, urban atmosphere, and no fucking pretentious bullshit. Of course one could just as easily make the argument that their later style was simply different, and in its own way actually better due to the(somewhat) more complex songwriting, greater epicness, and more creative use of melody. That's a fair point and not one I entirely disagree with, but I still feel that they lost something after this record.
The most incredible thing here is the lack of filler. Remember how I said that earlier? Well, it's absolutely true; after the awesome Wrathchild, the equally brilliant Murders In The Rue Morgue kicks in, and it's another aggressive, almost brutal ass-kicker with a beautiful and atmospheric intro, which is then followed up with what at the time must have been some of the fastest riffing ever. That punk like aggression and power was an essential element of early Maiden, and one of their most overlooked strong points, I would say.
But it doesn't stop here, because then we have Another Life, which, if one chooses to nitpick, is not quite up to the level of the preceding three songs, but is still really good. Then comes Genghis Khan, a great and fucking heavy instrumental metal attack showcasing the band's skills without being too flashy. Innocent Exile follows, and it's another very atmospheric and well done song. Truth be told, these are less good songs than the best songs on Number Of The Beast, but they're also less good songs than the best songs on this same album, and you can't have everything.
Then comes the title track, which is amazingly awesome in every way imaginable. The bass dominated intro is one bone of contention I do have, because it goes on a bit too long, and Paul's screams actually aren't all that brilliant. But when it gets heavy at around the 1.00 minute mark it gets really good. From then on it's several minutes of heavy metal at its best. The almost clean sounding melodic riff from 2:18 to 2:28 is unfortunately very obviously a precursor to the all of the overused melodic and not at all headbangable riffs that would virtually ruin the heaviness of some of their later albums(at least for me), but here it works, for two reasons: it only lasts 10 seconds, and it's a prelude to one of the most classically heavy fucking metal riffs in the whole of heavy fucking metal ever. Seriously, that riff from 2:29 to 2:39 is just...well, one of those riffs, the kind that when you hear loud makes you bang your head until it hurts and/or go completely bonkers. It's that metal, and really shows that Maiden were heavy as fuck well before The Number Of The Beast. The rest of the song is brilliant too, and also features one of Paul Di'Anno's best performances ever. He's really genuinely menacing here, and he should be: he's taking the perspective of a demented serial killer. This song must have influenced many thrash and later even death metal acts out there due to its subject matter, heaviness, speed, and aggressiveness. An absolute masterpiece, no doubt about it. Hell, if this was the only good song on the album it'd be worth buying for this song alone. But it isn't - in fact, every other song up to this point has been either good or great too. Can you say the same for Number Of The Beast or Powerslave? I think not.
After this work of brilliance, however, is when things, to some extent at least briefly go downhill with the weird and not all that metal "Prodigal Son". It's supremely atmospheric, I'll give it that...a lot like Strange World from the first album. But that song was the weakest song on the debut in my eyes along with Sanctuary, and the debut was so amazingly filled with such an atmosphere on every single one of its songs that one completely unheavy song didn't matter - everything else was so good that I didn't care. Here, though, Maiden try something more along the lines of a power ballad like Remember Tomorrow, except unlike that fantastic song, this isn't a typical power ballad at all. It's dominated by acoustic guitars which are interspersed with heavy distorted riffs every now and then, and has several sections where the guitars are completely clean, most notably the first verse. It picks up a little later, but it's just so...well, weird, for Maiden at least. It just doesn't sound very much like anything they'd done before, or would try again for that matter, and that makes me think it was the product of an idea they had: they wanted to try something different, and in that respect they certainly succeeded. But did they execute it well? I'm not sure...and that's part of the problem with this song. I don't hold anything against it per se, and there are some good moments on it, but I don't really care for it all that much either, and the preceding seven songs were all far better.
Anyway, moving on, we then have "Purgatory", the only original single from the album, which unlike a lot of future Maiden singles(which, despite their commercial status, are often beloved by almost all Maiden fans for some reason, who seem to be incapable of seeing their often fundamental flaws and lack of much real metalness)is actually a pretty good song. Its use of melody is neither cheesy nor overdone, and creates that same intensely powerful atmosphere, very urban and gritty and harsh(and not clean at all), that made early Maiden so great. The lyrics are(as far as I can tell, don't quote me on this one)something about a ghost, and all of his memories, and also something about love, although I'm not sure what the exact meaning of the song is. Nice, and I mean that seriously, because here it really works. It's dark, quite cold almost, and even the clean melodic riffs don't ruin the song - in fact, they help it as they make the atmosphere even more potent.
"Twilight Zone", the bonus track which became the album's other single later, is another very well done song with no real problems. I'm not sure what it's about exactly but again it's very potent and real, completely down to earth, and quite similar to Purgatory in a lot of ways, but there's nothing wrong with that.
Finally, we get "Drifter", which unfortunately is the only song on here that, like Prodigal Son, never really clicked with me. It's about a cowboy going from place to place and singing to help people's spirits, or something along those lines, and while it works as a closing song, it just isn't all that interesting. There are hardly any really memorable riffs here, and it's quite predictable and repetitive. It's a bit of a shame as almost every other song on here is either good, great, or fantastic, but considering that's true I suppose it doesn't matter all that much. Still, I would have liked the last song on the album to be a good one at least.
So there we have it, a highly underrated album that is still quite definitely a piece of metal history. While not as important or as revolutionary as the debut, as most of the greatness on here comes from taking the same excellent formula that worked brilliantly there and doing it again, it's still a great metal record to say the least, and the number of consistently good songs on here that work without being either too commercial or remotely cheesy is amazing. I'm still trying to understand why Maiden couldn't have written their later brilliant epics without becoming cheesy, pretentious, and far more commercial - they succeeded at creating a fantastically potent atmosphere here just as they did with the debut, and that album had Phantom Of The Opera, an epic song that was astounding and not at all commercial, pretentious, or corny. This album doesn't have any epics of that kind, but nevertheless the material here is of overall extremely high quality and the album has only two weaker songs. Out of 11 songs, I'd call that a bargain.
To sum up, another absolutely essential Maiden classic. If you want overdone cheesy epics with absurdly over the top singing and weak guitars, this isn't for you. If you want songs about slaying dragons, Egyptian Pharaohs and dogfights, this isn't for you. If you want lame hard rock posing as metal with obscenely dumb lyrics this certainly isn't for you. But if you want real heavy fucking metal with powerful lyrics, real grit, a superb urban atmosphere, genuine heaviness(as opposed to pussy hard rock 'heaviness')and NO FUCKING PRETENTIOUSNESS, then this is a definite must have.