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During the early 80s Iron Maiden was greeted with a measureable supply of core fans, and simultaneously established their identity with their unique and progressive approach to rock/metal. This album is often given mixed reviews by the Maiden faithful, and often gets passed up in favor of their debut album. While both the first album and this one are loaded with similarities, there are a good number of changes that give this one the edge over it's predecessor.
The first and most consequential change is the addition of axeman Adrian Smith to the fold. His melodic style is a radically different approach to soloing than the crazy pentatonic shredding that Dave Murray tends more towards, and the result is a competitive spirit to the guitar solo sections that rival the dueling guitars that Judas Priest are known for.
There is no shortage of great riffs and rapid changes in feel in this album, which is basically a concept album of sorts. "Wrathchild" is probably the most well known track off here with it's driving guitar rhythm and Di'Anno's over the top vocal performance, which Bruce struggled to recreate in the early 90s live. "Murders in the Rue Morgue" is an up tempo and quasi-punk influenced hommage to the Edgar Allen Poe classic detective story.
Songs that highlight the Maiden emphasis on melody are in full display on here as well. "Purgatory" is probably the most catchy song from this era of Maiden, loaded with two guitar harmony lines and other hooks. "Innocent Exile" has a memorable theme in the guitar between the verses, although Steve Harris' bassline steals the show at the beginning.
We are also treated to not 1, but 2 amazing instrumental tracks on this album that adds fuel to an already raging fire. "Genghis Kahn" is structured very similarly to Transylvania, but with a highly active drum beat that sounds at times like a military march, and others like a high speed drum solo. "Ides of March" is a short prelude that kicks off the album, and has some great lead guitar work.
More progressive tracks include "Another Life", which sounds heavily rock influenced, and has a load of changes in texture and feel. This song is easily recognized by the well placed drum intro in the toms. "Drifter" is cut from the same line, but is introduced with an intricant lead guitar riff. The middle solo section reminds me alot of the one found on "22 Acacia Avenue". "Prodigal Son" is an impressive and quasi-folk sounding acoustic ballad that has electric fill ins that pop in and out of seemingly nowhere. The intro figure in the acoustic guitar is unforgettable. "
However, the most amazing and classic track on this entire album is the riveting title track. This is a song that showcases all the talents that were present at the time. Paul Di'Anno gives the vocal performance of his life, ripping out the high wails and getting down and dirty with his lower range, basically playing the role of a psycho to a tee. Adrian and Dave trade harmonic lines and leads with amazing precision, Harris flies up and down the fretboard of his bass effortlessly and Clive makes one hell of a racket on his kit.
In conclusion, this album is an underrated classic that deserves more attention. Fans of traditional metal will love this, and even the more intellectual metal head of the progressive vain can find alot to grab onto here. This ranks as my second favorite album by Maiden after "Somewhere in Time". I aquired it 10 years ago from a former band mate and it still enjoys regular play in my CD player, and even occasionally influences my own band's compositions.