Top 5 (favorite albums series) #2: Iron Maiden

The Number Of The Beast

I’ve been doing a lot of Top5s ever since I started this blog more than a year ago, and I never did one about my favorite albums of all time.

However, doing a Top5 about my favorite albums would be too trivial and I’m not a big fan of triviality. Therefore, I decided to do a series of Top 5 lists with my favorite albums from my favorite bands.  And there’s one more rule: live albums are out. There will only be studio albums.

And let’s make one thing clear: this is MY PERSONAL OPPINION. It doesn’t mean these albums are the most important, most influential or most innovative.

After The Beatles who, as I said before, are not from this dimension, the most obvious choice to continue my Top 5 (favorite albums series) is Iron Maiden. Simply because they are my all-time favorite band comprised of people from THIS dimension.

Here we go:

#5: Piece of Mind

Fueled by the coming of Nicko McBrain replacing Clive Burr on drums, Maiden recorded the first of their albums with its classic line-up: Bruce Dickinson (vocals), Dave Murray and Adrian Smith (guitars), Steve Harris (bass) and the aforementioned Nicko. And Nicko shows what he’s bringing to the band right at the beginning with the unmatchable drum intro of the brilliant “Where Eagles Dare”. It is followed by two bonafide Heavy Metal classics: “Revelations” and “Flight of Icarus”. And then the only mistake the classic Maiden line-up ever made: the boring “Die with Your Boots On”. I can’t stand those endless “If you’re gonna die”. However, given the talent in display this was just a minor setback as the album continues with the perennial “The Trooper”, the criminally underrated “Still Life”, the historically inaccurate but great “Quest for Fire”, the wonderful “Sun and Steel” (one of the best Maiden choruses EVER) and “To Tame a Land”, beginning a Maiden tradition of finishing albums with an epic.

#4: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son

The last album with the classical line-up is also one of the best Maiden albums ever. Following a concept loosely based on the Seventh Son character of Orson Scott Card’s novel, the album deepens Maiden relationship with the synthesized guitars with great effect. Although beginning with the half-assed “Moonchild”, everything returns to normal with probably a Top 3 Maiden song: “Infinite Dreams” (criminally left out of the set-list on the last Maiden England tour. There’s no justification for that, no matter how hard they try). Maiden attempts successfully a brush with Hard Rock in “Can I Play with Madness” and there comes another perennial classic: “The Evil That Men Do”. The epic title-track follows (this time not ending the album) and another criminally underrated song: the wonderful “The Prophecy”. Steve’s bass is the introduction to the classic “The Clairvoyant” (this is magnificent bass intro, very different than what he did on the horrible intros of The X Factor). The album closes with another fairly unknown gem, “Only the Good Die Young”, one of the very few partnerships between only Harris and Dickinson.

#3: Somewhere in Time

Probably a lot of people had butterflies on their stomach when it was announced that Maiden would start using synthesized guitars. Well, they didn’t have to, because what came up out of that was a masterpiece. There’s absolutely no filler on the album. Every song is brilliant. One particular though: there are no Bruce songs on the album. However, this didn’t seem to disturb Steve and Adrian who wrote perfect songs for the album. There are people who feel sorry for Bruce, but hey how can you argue with Steve with a tracklist like this? Beginning with a one-two punch of “Caught Somewhere in Time” and “Wasted Years” followed by another one of the best Maiden choruses ever in “Sea of Madness”, SIT is one of those albums that you can’t skip a single song. Next is the wonderful “Heaven Can Wait” (later even better live that in studio, as it’s true with the vast majority of Maiden songs), “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”, “Stranger in a Strange Land” and the brilliant “Deja-Vu”. To wrap things up, another masterpiece, and now historically accurate: “Alexander the Great”. Wonderful, epic, perfect. I dare any Maiden fan to say that he didn’t listen to it before a history test about Hellenism and Greece to study and get inspired. This song is proof (if any was needed) of how genius Steve Harris is. If all of that wasn’t enough, there’s also the cover art, full of Maiden history references in a Blade Runner kind of setting.

#2: Powerslave

This album was responsible for taking Maiden in one of their most grueling tours. It almost broke up the band but it gave birth to the greatest live album ever, Live After Death, which single-handedly changed my life completely. But going back to Powerslave, this is probably the culmination of the “raw” Maiden; that is, no synthesizers. At least the way I see it, after Powerslave some change was needed. They couldn’t keep going with the formula they discovered; they needed something new, that’s why synthesizers were brought. It doesn’t get any better than this. “Aces High” and “Two Minutes to Midnight” are instant classics, also helped due to the fact that they are also the first two songs on Live After Death. Another one of those wonderful overlooked gems is here: “Flash of the Blade” (probably one of my favorite Maiden songs EVER). “The Duellists”, “Back in the Village” and the title-track keep the pace of a remarkable album. However, Mr. Harris saved the best for last: “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. Not only the greatest Maiden song ever, the greatest Metal song ever and probably one of the best songs ever written. A 13 minute epic that seemed to pass by in only 2, I can’t actually find the words to describe it. And how about those inserts from the original Samuel Taylor Coleridge eponymous poem on which the song is based? So, you must be asking: with all these qualities, why is it at number 2? Because Maiden committed a cardinal sin recording an instrumental track. It’s not that Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra) isn’t good – it’s actually great, but a band with a singer like Bruce Dickinson should be forbidden of recording something without vocals.

#1: The Number of the Beast

Okay, this album has an unfair advantage of being the first Maiden album I ever heard; therefore he has the “first impact effect”. However, even in hindsight I have no doubts appointing it as my favorite Maiden album. Actually, excepting Beatles and Paul McCartney solo albums this is my favorite album of all time. It opens with one of those songs that I can’t believe the band never played live: “Invaders”. A somehow gory account of the Viking invasions in England, the impact of Bruce’s voice the first time I heard it is immeasurable. And that’s something rather important about this album: it marks Bruce’s debut with Maiden catapulting the band from a great NWOBHM outfit to one of the most important in music’s (not only Metal or Rock) history. “Invaders” is followed by the haunting “Children of the Damned” and another masterpiece, “The Prisoner” (Adrian Smith’s solo on this track is probably the best Iron Maiden solo EVER). Next is “22 Acacia Avenue” and its killer riff telling the story of a decadent whorehouse where Charlotte, the Harlot (a character from an eponymous song on Maiden’s first album) lives. And then we come to the point where the album ceases to be great to become a landmark in the history of popular music. How can you argue with an album with both “The Number of the Beast” and “Run to the Hills” one following another? Two immortal Metal hits, two of the greatest chorus ever written. It’s not a coincidence that my e-mail address bears a 666 on it. Next song is “Gangland” which is great but given the overall quality of the album, one could argue is filler or even that “Run to the Hills” B-side, “Total Eclipse” could replace it. The last song is another one that went on to become a classic. “Hallowed be thy Name” chronicles the hardships of a man condemned to die in the gallows, with great guitar phrasings and amazing vocal performance.

Be sure to check out my book “Straight And Lethal” winner of the NABE Pinnacle Awards 2014 Fall edition.

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