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"Powerslave" was the album that catapulted Iron Maiden from their status as "one of the leading hard rock acts" of the world to the very top position that only very few bands in the rock world ever managed to reach. It was a showcase of the band's no-compromise policy, the presentation of which ranged from the unashamedly self-confident album cover to the musical delict of "Two Minutes To Midnight", a song that could just have been a chartbreaking single, had it not been six minutes long. But certainly, the most spectacular piece on the album is the thirteen-minute long "Rime Of The Ancient Mariner", a tour de force that cuts virtually all aspects of Steve Harris' songwriting abilities and to this day stands out as one of the very best -and very longest- songs in Heavy Metal history.
Sadly, one can almost sense the musical stagnation that this album threatened to become a starting point of. Songs like "Back In The Village" or the sub-par instrumental "Losfer Words (Big 'Orra)", a piece of superficial catchiness, sound uninspired and forgettable. "The Duellists", despite being fully loaded with powerful emotion, is painfully flabby.
Nevertheless, these three songs out of eight do not manage to overshadow the album as a whole. The album opener, "Aces High", is a furious song that absolutely rips live and sets the highest expectations for the rest of the album. Besinging the glorious victory of the RAF in the Battle Of Britain, it does complete justice to these heroes of the free world. The aforementioned "Two Minutes To Midnight" then creates a groove that can only make me think of smoky, mid-eighties Hard Rock discos. The lyrics may well be the angriest and most cutting in the band's entire history- at least until "Virus", over a decade later. It is the lyrical misinterpretation of songs like this or "The Trooper" that earned Maiden the completely unfounded reputation of being an aggressive, stereotype Metal band, while precisely these lyrics could serve to prove the exact opposite. Intelligent, critical and perhaps ahead of their time, they scream for an activation of the brain in a way only musicians like Bob Dylan ever did before.
The already mentioned "Losfer Words (Big 'Orra)" complements the procession of the album well, but would not be noticeably missing if left out. The same can definitely not be said of "Flash Of The Blade", a wonderful rocker with a really hooking riff.
The album drops a peg with "The Duellists" (why two songs about swordfighting right after another anyway?) and "Back In The Village", both songs somehow lacking and leaving me with the impression that they were included as fillers, a very strange (and hopefully unfounded) accusation to Maiden.
Everything is forgotten, however, once the majestic "Powerslave" kicks in, the most dramatic and (no pun intended) powerful song of the album. It brings ancient Egypt back to life and gives the whole album a very well needed point of orientation. This is where all the threads run to and where the whole energy that somehow seemed a bit contained in the previous tracks virtually explodes. Also, the instrumental section in the middle may be one of the best in Maiden's career.
The album ends at the highest possible note with the epic "Rime Of The Ancient Mariner", a song based on the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem of the same name and a masterpiece in its own right. Just like being a summary to Coleridge's work, it is almost like a summary of Maiden's work up to that point, and possibly even a perfect introduction to the band for any new fan.
The album is far from being Maiden's best, and it is not even among my top five. It spawned four absolute classic tracks and one that is also very good, but having three below average tracks is too much to be considered outstanding among the band's back catalogue. "Powerslave" is almost like a slave to its own power, exploding at the one moment but showing its mileage at the other. It is nevertheless absolutely essential listening to any fan of Maiden or mid-eighties metal, with approximately three quarters of an hour spent exploring the depths of a bygone era. And when putting the disk back into its case, any listener will likely once again be struck by the awe-inspiring painting of Eddie, who is depicted as a statue of himself, guarding his own tomb and an album that is so very, very close to being absolutely great.