British metal legends Iron Maiden have never been more popular. Chartering their own ‘Ed Force One’ jumbo on yet another world-conquering jaunt in support of latest album ‘The Book Of Souls’, the six-piece touch down in the U.K. this weekend for a headlining slot at this years’ Download Festival. With a three decade plus career, there’s a wealth of Maiden material out there. Here we count down ten of the be(a)st Iron Maiden studio albums.
Just as the 1990 ushered in a new decade, so too did it signal change in the Iron Maiden camp. Out went long-standing guitarist and key song writer Adrian Smith, and in came ex-Gillan six-stringer Janick Gers. The band’s much lamented ‘classic’ period may have been over, but ‘No Prayer For The Dying’ still featured some cracking songs. The opening ‘Tailgunner’ had the gusto, while the reflective title track and the driving ‘Public Enema Number One’ - misjudged title not withstanding - are under-rated gems. Though hardly their finest hour, the album even produced a U.K. number one single in the Cliff Richard-slaying ‘Bring Your Daughter… To The Slaughter’. Its production might have been woeful with Bruce Dickinson himself saying: “It was a shit-sounding record”, but ‘No Prayer For The Dying’ is a better album than it is remembered for.
A decade after their expansion featuring a three guitarist line up of Gers, Smith and the long serving Dave Murray, Maiden’s most enduring line-up was still in place. On their fourth album as a sextet, the band produced what many felt was their strongest yet. Sonically a worthy follow-up to 1988’s ‘Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’, The Final Frontier also gave the band their most daring opener. Setting a claustrophobic mood with the lost-in-space notion of ‘Satellite 15’, the song morphed into the title track in epic fashion. Lead single ‘El Dorado’ meanwhile took shots at the financial global crisis, while ‘Coming Home’ proved that twenty-five years after the release of their debut, they still knew what really mattered.
Following 1998’s tired ‘Virtual XI’, it was clear that Iron Maiden needed shaking up. Blaze Bayley’s tenure with the group may have been well meaning, but there was really only one singer for Iron Maiden. Announcing their ‘rejuvenation’ in 1999, fans got more than they bargained for, when it was revealed that not only Bruce Dickinson, but Adrian Smith would be returning to the fold. With five becoming six, lead-off single ‘The Wicker Man’ exploded with optimism, and with good reason. With each of the members contributing to the song writing; Gers with 'Dream Of Mirrors', Murray's 'The Nomad' and band leader Steve Harris' title track, everyone's game it seems was raised, making 'Brave New World' all the stronger for it. The result was the finest Maiden album in over a decade, setting the band well on the road to reclaiming their place at metal’s top table.
The one that kicked it all off, Steve Harris may bemoan its rough and ready Will Malone production, however with admirers among the likes of Metallica’s James Hetfield, Slayer’s Kerry King and Anthrax’s Scott Ian, ‘Iron Maiden’ ranks as one of their finest ever releases. With singer Paul Di’Anno’s edgy East End, street urchin persona, the band had a charismatic frontman who made the likes of the menacing ‘Prowler’, the lustful ‘Charlotte The Harlot’, and album centrepiece ‘Phanton Of The Opera’ come alive. In the eponymous title track meanwhile, they had an anthem, and a nifty accompaniment to mascot Eddie’s appearance at live performances.
With Harris finally getting his first choice of producer in celebrated Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Rainbow know-twiddler Martin Birch, and the addition of Adrian Smith to the line-up, ‘Killers’, Maiden's second album, was a massive leap forward for the band, both sonically and stylistically. From the scene-setting instrumental ‘The Ides Of March’ to the early live favourite ‘Drifter’, ‘Killers’ boasted a more diverse set of songs than its predecessor. Though they had one foot on the gas, the semi-acoustic ‘Prodigal Son’ showed that there was more to Maiden than simply brash NWOBHM machoism. The album’s stunning Derek Riggs illustrated artwork meanwhile gave them one of their most striking and enduring images.
‘Somewhere in Time’ is something of the black sheep of the Maiden catalogue. Beloved by a hard core of fans, yet much less so by the band, it’s perhaps understandable given its difficult gestation. Burned out from the preceding exhaustive ‘World Slavery Tour’, Bruce Dickinson didn’t contribute a single song to the album’s nine tracks. However, Steve Harris and Adrian Smith more than made up for the shortfall. With Smith providing the singles ‘Wasted Years’ and ‘Stranger In A Strange Land’, as well as the melodious ‘Sea Of Madness’, the band may have headed for commercial pastures new. Harris’ frenetic title track and hardcore fan favourite ‘Alexander The Great’ meanwhile bookended the set.
On their fifth album in as many years, and with a line-up in place that would see out the decade, Iron Maiden were by 1984, on a roll. Recorded in the Bahamas, at Compass Point studios, ‘Powerslave’ showcased a band in particularly ferocious form. In ‘Aces High’ and ‘2 Minutes To Midnight’ they had a perfect 1-2 opener that they have to this day never bettered. The ethereal title track, written by Dickinson meanwhile, was an Egyptian-inspired masterpiece. Not to be outdone, Harris conjured ‘Rime Of The Ancient Mariner; a thirteen minute epic based on the lengthy Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem of the same name, that pointed the way towards his future expansive song-writing direction. At the absolute peak of their powers, as a unit, Iron Maiden would never sound more focused or in sync again.
One of Steve Harris’ favourite Iron Maiden albums, 1983’s ‘Piece Of Mind’ was also the first to feature drummer Nicko McBrain. It’s easy to see why Harris holds the album in such high esteem; from the opening barrage of ‘Where Eagles Dare’, to the neo-classical closer ‘To Tame a Land’, it boasted some of the bassist’s most innovative compositions to date. Meanwhile, as Bruce Dickinson's second album with the band, it also was the first to feature writing contributions from the singer, seeing him turn in lead single ‘Flight of Icarus’ with guitarist Adrian Smith, as well as the biblical ‘Revelations’. If that’s not enough to convince, it’s also got ‘The Trooper’ on it.
1988 was a golden year for Iron Maiden. Scoring their second U.K. number one album, as well as no less than three top 10 singles in 'Can I Play With Madness', 'The Evil That Men Do', and 'The Clairvoyant', the band capped it all off by headlining the biggest ever ‘Monsters Of Rock’ Festival, at Castle Donington. Playing to an estimated 107,000 people that day, the triumphant homecoming ranks among their greatest achievements. Bowing out on a high, ‘Seventh Son’ was to be guitarist Adrian Smith’s final album with the band for over a decade. Still, what a way to go - a quick look at the track listing reveals some of the band's most enduring material, with the above named all jostling for space with the likes of the monumental title track and fan favourite 'Infinite Dreams'. It may have been the end of an era, but the story wasn't over yet.
“I am not a number, I am a free man!” might be the cry that opens ‘The Prisoner’, but Maiden’s third release was all about digits. From charting with their first ever U.K. top 10 single in ‘Run To The Hills’, to the title track’s “six six six” refrain, ‘The Number Of The Beast’ was a triumph in numbers. The album might have courted controversy with its provocative artwork and subject matter, but that didn’t stop its success, and the seamless transition of singers; from Paul Di’Anno to Bruce Dickinson saw the band making their first real waves in the U.S.A., as well as scoring their first U.K. number one album. With a track listing that is virtually faultless, staples such as the dramatic ‘Children Of The Damned’, the further tales of Charlott the Harlot in ’22 Acacia Avenue’, and the haunting ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ still rank among the band’s best ever work.