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EVERY IRON MAIDEN ALBUM RANKED WORST TO BEST

| 16 February 2024 | 1 Reply

EVERY IRON MAIDEN ALBUM RANKED WORST TO BEST
By Shane Pinnegar

Iron Maiden are touring Australia in September 2024, so it’s a perfect time to re-assess their back catalogue from WORST to BEST.

Just to be clear – we’re talking STUDIO albums here. Ain’t nobody got time to debate the comparative merits of Iron Maiden’s many live albums (13 according to Wikipedia, 10 listed on their official website – but Live After Death is hands down the undefeated heavyweight champion regardless, followed by Live At Donington, purely because I was there) and compilations (Wikipedia lists seven – their website lists only three).

The Studio albums are a dense enough task, with seventeen albums released over the past forty-four years – and they’ve never made a completely shit album, no matter what you may have heard, which only makes the job tougher.

You may disagree with the order of my choices – but I assure you that after very careful consideration, you just might be wrong.

17. No Prayer For The Dying (1990)

If we’re talking about a lack of inspiration, this is the Iron Maiden record I’ll hold up as Exhibit A.

Opener Tailgunner and single Holy Smoke are solid, but it’s ridiculous (and hilarious) that the band’s only UK number one is a reworked version of Dickinson’s throwaway solo effort Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter, originally written for the Nightmare On Elm Street 5 soundtrack. The Assassin and No Prayer For The Dying are okay, but the rest of the album struggles to be anything more than tired filler.

Adrian Smith had quit and been replaced by Janick Gers, and Steve Harris insisted they “get back to basics” by recording No Prayer For The Dying in his barn, but all this achieved was to get straw all over themselves and their equipment, and a lifeless, muddy mix. Thankfully the album title would not prove prophetic, and the band would return for far better – with Dickinson on board… for now.

16. The X-Factor (1995)

As I mentioned, Iron Maiden have never made a shit album – but common consensus is that Blayze Bayley’s brace of mid-nineties records were rubbish. Listening back to them last year inspired me to write this article – they both contain a bunch of gems, and if they suffer, it’s by comparison with Bruce Dickinson. Well, that and the same thing most rock and metal bands suffered from at the time – trying to darken their sound up to appear relevant to post-Grunge listeners.

Lord Of The Flies and Man On The Edge are classic Maiden songs. Sign Of The Cross is ball tearing, albeit at least twice as long as it needs to be, at eleven minutes. All three stayed in their live show after Dickinson returned to the fold.

The wannabe-darkness smothers The X Factor – for a band famous for their galloping bass lines and incandescent metal there’s simply too much drag, and not enough excitement to stretch all the way through. Blood On The World’s Hands and The Unbeliever work hard to turn the tide at the tail end, but it’s too little too late to make enough of a difference.

15. Virtual XI (1998)

If there’s any controversy in this list, it’s not down the back end: few would argue that after No Prayer…, Bayley’s albums should rank at the bottom, simply because Dickinson’s boots were too big for almost anyone to fill. The ‘classic’ Maiden vocalist, his role is not only singer, but also charismatic frontman and force of nature (pilot, Olympic fencer, brewer, author, etc etc etc), and Bayley didn’t have a hope of stacking up next to that (though, admirably, not through lack of trying).

The album starts with singles Futureal and The Angel & The Gambler, both strong songs, though Angel… is several minutes too long for little or no extra reward. But it’s on The Clansman and Como Estais Amigos that Bayley truly shows his worth, and these stand shoulder to shoulder with all but the band’s top tier best and warrant Virtual XI the higher place of Bayley’s two recordings.

14. Dance Of Death (2003)

Comparing classic 80’s Dickinson-era Maiden with new millenia prog-Maiden and punky Dianno-era Maiden is a thankless task akin to comparing a pet dog to a budgerigar and a tortoise. You can love them all, even though they don’t have much in common.

We’re not here to talk about album art (note to self – another topic for another time) but the cover to Dance Of Death is so shit as to taint the listening experience. Artist David Patchett even insisted his name be removed from the credits when band manager Rod Smallwood doctored his artwork, having someone add in a bunch of shop dummies or whatever they are – and then had the gall to demand that Patchett fix the ‘orrible looking thing whilst keeping the crappy new additions in! Rude. And rubbish.

The cover serves as a metaphor for the album content itself. As always, there are some moments of greatness, but it has too many average ideas thrown at it and after a while it all just sounds the same and drags on too long.

Still, the band’s only completely acoustic track, Journeyman, is more metal than most bands could hope to aspire to with a Marshall stack. Face In The Sand is pretty good, and singles Wildest Dreams, Rainmaker and No More Lies are all heavy hitters. Then there’s Paschendale – about the First World War battle – which is the true epic here. The title track, meanwhile, sees the band go full prog rock a la Genesis’s early days, but heavier, Dickinson unleashing his inner frustrated thespian. 

13. The Final Frontier (2010)

Each of Maiden’s 2000’s albums have been more theatric and proggy than those which came before, so again it’s a matter of personal opinion how they compare to earlier records of a very different hue.

With six of the ten tracks clocking over 7 ¾ minutes long each, this is anything but an album of immediate pop songs – but it is one which rewards consistent listening. And not just having on in the background, but proper LISTENING.

El Dorado won the Grammy for best Metal performance (maybe they finally got something right) and Coming Home is a punchy tugger at the heartstrings. Starblind and The Man Who Would Be King are great latterday Maiden headbangers, while When The Wild Wind Blows is the sort of moving epic that the band – and especially Dickinson – do peerlessly.

12. Fear Of The Dark (1992)

The wheels hadn’t come off Classic Maiden at this point, but the cart was wobbling a little, especially after the lacklustre No Prayer For The Dying. The title track Fear Of The Dark remains a classic fan favourite and a singalong extraordinaire, Afraid To Shoot Strangers and Wasting Love are solid Maiden bangers – the latter almost a power ballad of sorts – while Be Quick Or Be Dead is another classic.

Judas Be My Guide is a hit that never was, though From Here To Eternity – which WAS a single – merely plods along after all too short a while. Weekend Warrior and Chains Of Misery are just out of place – they should have no place on an Iron Maiden album at all. Despite this, Martin Birch had kept a tight rein on the band through ten albums, and it was heartbreaking when he retired, making this his last record with the band. He would sadly pass ten years later, and I still wonder what those later proggier albums would have sounded like had he stuck around and reigned in their excesses. 

11. The Book Of Souls (2015)

Book Of Souls was lauded at the time – perhaps largely because of Dickinson’s 18-minute epic Empire Of The Clouds, where he goes full prog on a story about the British R101 airship, which crashed in 1930. It is undeniably a tour de force in the Rime Of The Ancient Mariner vein, and again, couldn’t be more different from earlier incarnations of the band.

The Red And The Black, If Eternity Should Fail and Tears Of A Clown are great Maiden songs, but the whole album suffers from the same thing all their latterday albums do: an insistence on loooooong songs with far too much mid-paced dragging of feet.

10. A Matter Of Life & Death (2006)

These Colours Don’t Run and Brighter Than A Thousand Suns lead the charge on Maiden’s fourteenth album, but elsewhere their dreaded mid-paced trot features all too often rather than their beloved gallop, and renders A Matter Of Life & Death sluggish by comparison with the band’s best.

The Longest Day and The Legacy are also highlights, whilst The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg was a frankly bizarre choice of first single without a strong enough melody or the pace to warrant its place. The band created a fake bio & website for the fictional titular character in an attempt to stir up interest, but with the story still not properly explained almost twenty years later it’s fair to say it wasn’t interesting enough to deserve further exploration.

9. Senjutsu (2021)

Another double album full of sprawling epics, Iron Maiden’s most recent offering, Senjutsu, highlights that the band have near-fully given themselves over to their modern prog rock persona, leaving the straight ahead rock and nascent heavy metal far behind.

Thankfully ten minutes shorter than predecessor Book of Souls (sometimes less really is more), Senjutsu features some great songs including the uncharacteristically concise Writing On The Wall (less than five minutes long!), the ambitious title track, and the hypnotic guitar interplay on the prog classic Death Of The Celts.

8. Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son (1988)

There’s a lot of love for Seventh Son of a Seventh Son out there – some would have it at #1 on this list – but not me. In truth, it left a sour taste in my mouth at the time which I’ve never fully recovered from. Listening to my original copy now I certainly don’t cringe like I did in 1988 – there’s a lot to enjoy here, not least Can I Play With Madness, The Evil That Men Do and The Clairvoyant, but its prog rock indulgence simply left me cold at the time. There are better albums to come that we haven’t discussed yet.

7. Brave New World (2000)

Brave New World heralded Dickinson and Adrian Smith’s return to the band after Bayley’s era, and as such they and the band had a lot to prove: those two albums hadn’t scaled the heights expected of Iron Maiden. Could the prodigal sons bring the magic back?

The short answer is YES! The title track, the emotional Blood Brothers, the excellent Wicker Man, Dream Of Mirrors, Ghost Of The Navigator and more are all heavy on the bombast – but it remains under control here, not yet given full reign as it would be on latter albums.

Brave New World showed that perhaps not only Dickinson was the secret ingredient that not only fuelled studio and live performances, but also inspired the rest of the band to greater heights, and he and Steve Harris have made efforts to get along better ever since, with the bassist and band leader recently ruling out any chance of replacing Bruce should he leave again for any reason.

6. Somewhere In Time (1986)

There’s not much separating any of the top six albums in this list, with Somewhere In Time making a claim to – sort of – be Maiden’s great lost pop record. For one thing, it contains one of their two catchiest singles – Wasted Years (the other being Can I Play With Madness, of course). There’s also the irresistible saccharine of Heaven Can Wait.

Sea of Madness, Stranger In A Strange Land and Alexander The Great all represent Maiden’s proggier side to great acclaim, and opener Caught Somewhere In Time is far more than just a handy tour title to use further down the road.

5. Iron Maiden (1980)

The band’s 1980 debut, fronted by Paul DiAnno, was a game changer not only for the band, it gave a face (well, six faces, if you include mascot and perpetual cover star Eddie) to the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement, with Maiden firmly at the front of that ever-more-crowded pack.

This is a stunningly confident and assured debut: immaculately recorded, but full of raw energy and punky punch. Three quarters of the songs here are instant Maiden classics: Prowler, Remember Tomorrow, the irresistible Running Free and phenomenal Phantom Of The Opera – their first true prog song – on side one, Charlotte The Harlot and the blazing self-titled Iron Maiden on side two. Only the instrumental Transylvania and ballad Strange World rate as okay rather than great, and only a flat mix and a naive rawness stop this album moving higher up the list.

4. Piece Of Mind (1983)

Following on from the mega-selling (still their mega-est selling, in fact) album Number Of The Beast was not going to be easy, but Maiden were up to the task with the classic Piece Of Mind. It’s a darker record – Still life, Revelations and the Dune-inspired To Tame A Land are all brooding but no less exciting for it. The Trooper remains amongst their most recognisable and favourite tunes for good reason, whilst the irrepressible Die With Your Boots On and Flight Of Icarus helped define classic modern metal.

Piece Of Mind was Nicko McBrain’s first record as drummer, replacing Clive Burr, and he brought energy and precision to the engine room, brightening up the likes of Sun & Steel and Where Eagles Dare. Not even the slightly clunky Quest For Fire can take away from this classic record.

3. The Number Of The Beast (1982)

Maiden went from being leaders of the underground metal movement with DiAnno to world beaters with Number of The Beast, largely off the back of singles Run To The Hills and the title track. Both instantly memorable and hyper-catchy, they came at the perfect time – post soft rock and disco and in the midst of new wave and new romanticism, rock fans were ready for something new and LOUD.

Bruce Dickinson had replaced the unreliable DiAnno, coming from Samson, and his vocals and songwriter were game changers. Again, practically every song is a classic – Invaders, Children Of The Damned, The Prisoner and Charlotte The Harlot-sequel 22 Acacia Avenue make up side one; the aforementioned singles, Gangland (granted, a good song but not a great one), and the mighty Hallowed Be Thy Name side two.

With impeccable timing Iron Maiden became a stadium band off the back of Number Of The Beast, and even two albums without their good luck charm in the 90’s couldn’t detract from that. This album is quite rightly a favourite of anyone who loves 80’s metal, and on another day may have taken out either of the two higher spots on this list.

2. Powerslave (1984)

Number Of The Beast may have been the album which allowed the band to cross over to the mainstream (or thereabouts), but Powerslave IS the better album, and not only because of its bigger budget and bigger ideals.

There’s the incredible glossy, ultra-detailed cover (which many, including this writer, spent many hours poring over, trying to decipher every tiny cryptic reference in the pre-internet world), a stunning production from Martin Birch, and even better, a collection of superb songs.

Aces High, Two Minutes To Midnight, Flash Of A Blade and Back In The Village are amazing. World beaters and world destroyers each one that any true metal fan will know off by heart. The title track is an epic story in a seven minute-and-change song, a true classic. Rime of The Ancient Mariner put Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem to music in a way that redefined the word ‘epic’ and showed Maiden’s true prog rock colours proudly. It remained their longest song for over thirty years.

Powerslave is a magnificent record, and as an added bonus, its supporting tour yielded the equally magnificent and jaw-dropping Live After Death live album, the best of their many in concert records.

1. Killers (1981)

Some may argue the point, but Killers is every bit as classic and essential as any other album in Maiden’s catalogue, thereby qualifying for the number one spot.

The band were HOT after their debut record and initial international touring. A little cash and a lot of attention inflated their swagger and their cojones, and that confidence is unrivalled here. To put it another way: future albums had to live up to all which came before. Here, anything was possible and they were young, hungry and energised enough to take it all.

That confidence is evidenced by the album opening with instrumental The Ides Of March. Who opens your potentially ‘make or break’ album with an instrumental? Iron Maiden do, that’s who – and what an instrumental it is! Wrathchild, Murders In The Rue Morgue and the title track are the equal of any metal song ever. Another Life, the instrumental (another one!) Genghis Khan, Innocent Exile and Purgatory show the faster, almost punkish side of the band. Meanwhile, Prodigal Son is the almost-obligatory ballad.

DiAnno was already a self-indulgent handful after their first album, and the success of Killers made him even more so, leaving the band with no option but to dismiss him, opening the door for Dickinson. There’s no way DiAnno could have made Number Of The Beast, just as there’s no way he could have coped with proper mainstream fame, and maybe it’s for the best – for everyone – that he left them on such an incredible high note.

They had declared on their debut that Iron Maiden were comin’ to getcha. Killers is simply an incendiary album from start to finish, an emphatic statement that Iron Maiden really WERE comin’, no matter how far.

 

 

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