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The Definition of ‘Sophomore Slump’ - 45%

Diesel 11, August 9th, 2018

Most people find that they have a band they love so much that they consider said band their all-time favorite. For me, that band is Iron Maiden, and I love almost everything they’ve ever released. However, even your favorite band sometimes does something you think... eh, really could’ve been better. Sometimes they release something that’s outright terrible. In other words, there’s always going to be a least favorite album from your favorite bands that just doesn’t stack up well against their other releases. And in Maiden’s case, the most typically criticized, disliked, and oftentimes outright loathed albums are the ones released in the ‘90s, particularly the two with Blaze Bayley on vocals. But I’m not one of the detractors; The X Factor and Virtual XI are two of my favorite albums ever and I love them to death. No, for my money the single worst Iron Maiden album, bar none, is their sophomore effort from 1981, Killers.

Now firstly, bad Maiden is still heads and tails over many other artists. All of Killers is still fairly good. I can get into it when I’m listening to it. But... then I listen to pretty much any other album and I enjoy them so much more. The problem with Killers is that most of the songs here sound like leftovers from another recording session that were rightfully cut. And I say most because, going by the 1998 remaster, there are 5 good songs, and 6 bad ones. This is an imbalance I have never been able to find in another Maiden album.

So let’s start with the positives - the five good songs. “The Ides of March” and “Wrathchild” are a perfect opening shot, “Murders in the Rue Morgue” is my favorite song from the Di’Anno albums, “Genghis Khan” is a fantastic instrumental, and “Killers” is an awesome, schizophrenic composition. I have no qualms with any of these. They’re all enjoyable songs that showcase the band’s songwriting prowess quite well even stacked against the rest of their discography. It’s just that... I’d rather listen to them outside of the album usually than with the other six songs. These five would’ve made for a nice EP, but instead they’re included alongside some songs that don’t showcase Maiden’s strengths, but rather their weaknesses.

One of those weaknesses is the fact that there is a shitload of repetition on this goddamn album. Sure, people criticize the repetition on the Blaze albums, but while “The Angel and the Gambler” does repeat its chorus far more than one would expect, there’s more to that song than “Don’t you think I’m a savior?” It actually tells an interesting story. The songs on this album can’t even do that. “Another Life” repeats itself thrice and each time we get no farther than the first. Shit, I memorized the lyrics on the first listen. “Innocent Exile” repeats the first verse twice and then does something different afterwords but... the song itself is even worse than “Another Life”. Simply put, I don’t need music that does the same thing over and over without anything else that’s interesting. At least “TAATG” has that. These don’t.

Meanwhile, the production on this album is... not nearly as good as so many people say it is. Most people say it’s a great step-up from the debut album, which had almost no production at all. But that’s where I disagree. I like the ‘bad’ production of Iron Maiden because it brought out the rawness of the record and did the songs’ styles justice (even if Steve doesn’t think so). Killers, however, has undeniably better production, but it doesn’t fit the material. Instead, it makes the entire record feel sleezy. I don’t like sleezy Maiden. They aren’t that kind of band, and these songs would sound far better with production more in the vein of the debut’s. Sure, it’s more listenable when you’re using headphones, but one shouldn’t sacrifice the songs just for that. Production needs to fit the material, and this stuff just doesn’t work.

On the other hand though, the material is about as bad as the production. Take “Prodigal Son”, for instance. This is actually a song with some pretty interesting ideas and some cool solos - and actually one of Paul’s best vocal moments on the entire album. But everything else falls flat. It’s stylistically similar to “Remember Tomorrow” and “Strange World” from the first album, and while it’s slightly better than that first song, it fails in comparison to the latter. There’s just nothing much worth noting from the song except that it’s the longest one on Killers - and I don’t really wish it was. Oh well.

Now while “Prodigal Son” has admittedly good Di’Anno singing, he isn’t perfect on this album. Also thanks to the production, his voice often comes off as sleezy as the guitars. And when he does those falsettos - god oh god! Please don’t, it isn’t pleasant. I know that some people enjoy those, and to them I say, you can have him, but I’ll stick with Blaze.

But when it comes to bad songs, two of these take the absolute cake - “Drifter” and “Purgatory”. Outside of a few downright horrendous non-album tracks, these are the worst songs Maiden have ever released. Both have stupid lyrics with stupid music backing them and stupid singing voicing them. “Purgatory” is one of the album’s most beloved songs, which I don’t get whatsoever. Those lyrics are absolutely terrible. “All my love’s inside of YOOOUUU!” What the fuck does that have to do with Purgatory?? And Drifter is just as bad. I don’t listen to Maiden for these silly love song type things; they’re usually shallow and completely shitty and when this band does it they come out horrendous. And meanwhile, there’s a section in “Drifter”’s instrumental that i consider the worst moment in Maiden’s discography. It sounds like goddamn circus music. What the fuck happened there? Eugh....

I know I’m really not in the majority with my views; many see the album as a classic Maiden release that they love and cherish and consider one of the band’s best. Well if you payed attention to this review, I have absolutely no clue why. To me, most of this album is sloppy b-side fodder-type songs that just don’t cut it for me. Maiden have almost always been a cut above the best with their songwriting, proving to be some of the most intelligent in the business. But you wouldn’t know that listening to this album. It’s really scraping the barrel when it comes to the content, and thank god the band picked up greatly with the following album, the classic Number of the Beast. But nonetheless, this assortment of tunes really could’ve benefited from better planning, writing, arrangement, singing, and different production. It’s just not up to par with the rest of their discography. At times it can be enjoyable, but by and large it’s just nothing special. In fact, the album has tainted my appreciation of the cover itself, go figure.

In short, this is an extremely overrated album and not nearly Maiden’s best. While some of the songs are quite good, most of them aren’t. The other fifteen albums by this band are much better than the tripe found here. But hey, you may like it far more than me. That’s cool. You listen to this one; I’ll stick with The X Factor.