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Powerslave is a monumental album in many respects. Drawing inspiration from an age long past, here was Iron Maiden at the top of their game. I mean…fuck yeah, man! This was the band! I wasn’t there myself, but just listening to Powerslave fills me with the kind of adrenaline rush that no other band can. This is the kind of stuff that makes me want to move mountains. It is the kind of music that makes a man want to sail the seas and battle rivals for treasure hidden in dank caves and under waterfalls. It isn’t really as good as some of their other 80s albums like Piece of Mind or Somewhere in Time, but that doesn’t mean anything, as this is still a great, great album that any metal fan worth his salt should have.
What does this album do right? It’s just epic and exciting as hell. Everything about this is big. Have you seen the stage shows from this era? Huge pyramids, Eddie as an undead pharaoh and enough scope to make this band and this album larger than life altogether. Maiden went all out making this as hugely grandiose as possible, and it really makes the whole thing a lot of fun. I remember reading something Bruce Dickinson said in an interview about how his stage antics and singing were doctored to make sure everyone in the whole arena can hear him – it’s about making sure everyone gets the full experience, he said, and to do that, you have to emphasize everything important to the nth degree.
That about sums up the feel of Powerslave. The songs on here lack the punkish quality of the early releases and they aren’t quite as intricate as the compositions on Piece of Mind, but they make up for that with a lot of swagger and bravado, making every single note count. They have a lot of energy here, too, and it’s a lot of fun. Nothing is subtle about this, nothing is abstract or downplayed, and it all makes the whole experience more enjoyable. Lyrics are about everything from sword fighting to fighter planes to Ancient Egypt; it’s practically a soundtrack to every boy’s innate dreams and fantasies growing up, except magnified to a real-life, moving epic of metallic wonder. It is a certain childlike sense of imagination that pervades the music here.
The music itself is rife with upbeat twin guitar harmonies, galloping riffs, Steve Harris’ trademark bass acrobatics and the wailing crescendo of might from vocalist Bruce Dickinson’s iron-coated lungs. No ballads, no bullshit, just heavy metal putting everyone’s balls to the wall for eight rounds of ass kicking. Opener “Aces High” soars to the clouds with dizzying harmonies and a daring motif before album single “Two Minutes to Midnight” stomps through the speakers with its own display of doom and despair. “Losfer Words” has a supreme hook, galloping onward without fail, and then the duo of “Flash of the Blade” and “The Duellists” pits the listener in a fight for their life with excellently crafted riffs swiping through the speakers like sharpened blades. “Back in the Village” is a more restrained hard rocking song, but Dickinson’s bellowing and the cut-throat guitar attack elevate it to a better plane.
The two best songs on here are saved for last, with the title track coming first. The riff in this song is just fucking legendary, with a killer groove and a sinister laugh backing it up to make it sound like it really did come from some dark, musty Egyptian tomb long since buried underground. The verses are excellent, demonic and deep-throated in delivery, and the chorus is delivered with a dramatic flair that is nothing less than irresistible. Filled with theatrics and metallic pomposity, this song just flat out rules. But then they hit you with the thirteen minute Samuel Taylor Coleridge reference “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” – bet you wish you paid attention in English class now, don’t you? This song’s epic scope is also just fucking legendary, never getting boring or wearing out its welcome. Do you want the full experience of this song? Go get the original Coleridge poem, take an iPod or other mp3 playing device, and put this song on while you read the poem by the sea. I have done it myself, and it is truly epochal and wondrous. Try it out sometime. Take my word for it.
So that’s Powerslave. It encompasses just about everything Heavy Metal is about, from the adventurousness to the iconic over-the-top execution. This might not be the best Maiden album, but it’s probably the most quintessential example of what they are about, as well as 80s metal as a whole. A grand-standing masterpiece. Unforgettable.