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Running out of steam a little here... - 80%

OlympicSharpshooter, March 2nd, 2004

Wow, this album disappointed the hell outta me. I was expecting sheer Maiden perfection with all the praise lofted on this one, but I guess I should've looked one album back. This isn't to say that Powerslave is a bad album, on the contrary, when it's good it's literally as good as metal gets period. But when it's off, it's just tepid.

The band was coming off the 'omigodbestalbumevar'-type performance on Piece of Mind, and hopes were high for a follow-up to be just as good. Alas, just as Motorhead's Iron Fist paled against Ace of Spades (which in turn was considerably weaker than Overkill), and Sabbath's Technical Ecstasy was hardly a shadow of Sabotage, so it was again here. But man, give the boys credit for starting out the gates strong.

"Aces High", the most giddyingly Maiden track in the Maiden catalogue just hammers out of the gates, digits flying, vocals soaring, guitars harmonizing like nobodies business...if you wanted to explain Iron Maiden to someone, file this alongside "The Trooper", "Fear of the Dark", and perhaps "Wrathchild" as your instant declaration of metal supremacy personified. I love love love this song.

Next up, "2 Minutes to Midnight", the most rock 'n' rollsy swaggering track on the album, a two-fisted pummelling in which horror of horrors, Steve Harris pretends to be a normal bass player. And wow, try to follow that narrative if you can (made even more confused by the nonsensical video), or just revel in Bruce's most deliciously vile performance 'til "Be Quick or Be Dead" five years hence. It's a truly godly tune.

Now, perhaps you're wondering why I sorta slammed this album earlier, so here it is. This album has got filler, and extremely dreary filler at that. "Flash of the Blade" is a waste of vinyl, the band half-heartedly trying to repeat what worked so gloriously on PoM to no avail. "Losfer Words" is unremarkable in the extreme, a solid little Maiden gallop they should've just used in a real song. This is, and feels like, filler. And then, "The Duellists" another sagging gut of a track that despite Bruce's epic approach to the lame narrative, succeeds in merely passing the time, no pulse evident. This stuff is just so horribly ‘blah’ that I barely had the heart to listen to it.

But lo and behold!, the boys come to with "Back in the Village" leading the way into a eventful ending suite, the song being a personal favourite of mine. Fun speedy little riff, Bruce going mad over a sing-songy and insanely catchy melody. Seriously, I sung the chorus to this over and over for nearly a week and a half without tiring of it. People around me though...

Ah, "Powerslave" how I love thee, a title-track worthy of carrying that banner. Intriguing lyric, nice moody atmosphere and then boom! that chorus hits you, a sort of song within a song, and it's even better than the rest of the brilliant track and then that godly solo break...almost an "Aces High" killer is "Powerslave". This track's that good.

Now, "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is the start of the well that Maiden would perhaps draw from too often over the years, but damn if it isn't a good template. You can almost sense the band wondering how they can do more epic songs than "Hallowed be thy Name". Apparently the answer that occurred to them is 'make it long...REALLY long', and boy did they ever. Still, the track does trundle along solidly, Bruce at his most thespian telling the tale of a man wearing an Albatross (cue Monty Python) around his neck, something that you'd think would be rather uncomfortable considering his size. Gotta love those riffs though, even if not that much really happens, and that up-tempo section is so worthy I can almost forget the silly spoken sections and drawn out "ambient" bits.

So, we have an awesome opening, and a fine close with a truly leaden middle. I would have ranked it higher, but coming off of PoM this is a disappointment. A really big disappointment.

Stand-Outs: “Back in the Village”, “Aces High”, “2 Minutes to Midnight”