As of writing, last week, a music announcement was made that caused a stir in not just the Heavy Metal community, but also the music general as a whole: Iron Maiden announced that their 16th studio album, The Book of Souls, is imminent.
Within hours, this became the hottest piece of music news of the week. Now, on the surface, this may just seem like another album announcement, and you’d be forgiven for thinking so if you’re not a Maiden fan. But look at other bands and, in particular, other metal bands. People approach the announcements of studio albums from Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Metallica and so forth with skepticism and even outright suspicion. And given all those bands’ track records in the past decade, it really isn’t unjustified. Even the reaction to Pink Floyd releasing their first studio album in 20 years was met with apprehension. But the prospect of a new album from British gods of Metal was met with near-universal enthusiasm, and not just for the fact that it’s from Maiden; it’s their first album since 2010’s The Final Frontier, their first double album, and also the first album of theirs with a track that exceeds 13 minutes in length- that song being the 18-minute album closer “The Empire of the Clouds“. Hell, even the album’s artwork was insanely positively recieved.
So why is this such a big deal? Well, let’s put it in the simplest terms possible: Because Maiden fucking rules.
Iron Maiden have been the undisputed kings of Heavy Metal for a long time. Since the band’s 1980 self-titled debut, They’ve sold 90 million records, they’ve played thousands of live shows to fans all over the world in arenas and football stadiums, and their music continues to recruit new fans with every passing day. Hell, they’ve even managed to bring in fans who were raised on Maiden since childhood. And I myself am someone who got into them at a young age; I was 14 years old, in a video store and Aces High begins playing. I ask who the band is, and it’s Iron Maiden. That same night I go home and download Powerslave…. and since then I’ve bought all their albums and DVDs to date, have seen them live 14 times and joined the fan club, been all over the world to see them live, and even run a few Iron Maiden fan pages on Facebook. They’ve been a huge part of my life, and that’s not about to change any time soon.
There are many reasons I absolutely love them. Just listen to a song of theirs alone and immediately there’s many things to like: Dual guitar harmonies, solos and different styled from two (if you’re listening to their 80s/90s stuff) or three (if you’re listening to their post-1999 stuff) guitarists, fiery bass lines played by the tough fingers of Steve Harris, Bruce Dickinson’s soaring vocals, Nicko’s driving drumbeats, lyrics about history/the occult/works of fiction, etc. Now imagine a whole album of this type of music, and even songs that last over 8 minutes from them. Even with the changes in lineup, Maiden have managed to stick to these trademarks- while their style is relatively the same, they’ve changed their sound while still sounding like Maiden numerous times. But furthermore, Maiden are just plain unpretentious and honest with how they approach their music. In fact, I’d even go so far Maiden are the band I’ve heard that are the most honest with their style of music- they’ve never radically reinvented themselves, but they’ve never really been the kind of band that needs to. Yet at the same time, while their music is undeniably stylish, there’s equal amounts of actual substance. Actual riffs are played instead of mindless chugging, the band make their 1970s progressive rock influences obvious, the guitarists bear their differing styles (one is more classical influenced, one is more blues influenced, and the other being more rough and unpolished) yet the result manages to come out as cohesive as ever. And even further, I’d say Maiden alone stands as a perfect justification for people’s love of Heavy Metal, and proof that Metal is music in its purest form.
Just a brief history of them to start with before we get complex here. They formed on Christmas Day in 1975, but after several lineup changes and gigs played at pubs and clubs, they finally released their eponymous debut album in 1980. The mascot on the album cover, Eddie, has been on every album cover since then and has been seen in many other forms. Their first album featured current members Steve Harris- the founding member, and Dave Murray, but featured guitarist Dennis Stratton (who was fired after the first album), Paul Di’Anno on vocals (who was with the band until 1982’s Killers) and the late Clive Burr on drums (who left after 1982’s The Number of the Beast). On Killers, Adrian Smith replaced Dennis Stratton, and on what is often considered to be their landmark album The Number of the Beast, vocalist Bruce Dickinson came in. It was on 1983’s Piece of Mind when current drummer Nicko McBrain joined, and from 1983 to 1988, the classic lineup released four albums: the aforementioned Piece of Mind, 1984’s Powerslave, 1986’s Somewhere in Time and 1988’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. In 1990, Adrian Smith left due to creative differences, and Janick Gers, who played on Dickinson’s 1989 solo debut Tattooed Millionaire, came in. This lineup recorded two albums: 1990’s No Prayer for the Dying and 1992’s Fear of the Dark. Bruce left in 1993 following a European farewell tour and a show at London’s Pinewood Studios, and in 1995, Bayley Cook, known by his stage name Blaze Bayley, replaced him for two albums: 1995’s The X Factor and 1998’s Virtual XI. Then in 1999, Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith rejoined, Janick Gers stayed while Blaze left, and this current lineup, known by most as the “Reunion lineup”, have to date, recorded and released four albums: 2000’s Brave New World, 2003’s Dance of Death, 2006’s A Matter of Life and Death, and 2010’s The Final Frontier, with The Book of Souls due out this year and a tour expected next year.
So, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s break down exactly why Maiden are so great.
Maiden’s musical sections are most well known for their harmonized guitars, and Steve’s bass style that usually is either gallopping like in “The Trooper”, or prog-influenced like in “Invaders”. Their three guitarists are known for having different styles.
Dave Murray is my absolute favourite guitarist in the group, and my favourite guitarist ever, in fact. Dave is known for sporting a playing style that is heavily influenced by classical; he is often dubbed the “king of the legato” for this reason. His solos are always the most “busy”, and that takes its influence from early classical music. He also greatly improvises when playing live, as a result of making his solos in a way in which they can work however they’re played. Here’s probably my favourite solo of his, from “Sign of The Cross” from 1995’s The X Factor:
Crazy stuff, eh?
Adrian Smith, however, is known for a more bluesy style of playing. Many have said his style of playing sounds as if he’s “picking notes” out of the air, and and his style is a lot cleaner than Jan and Dave’s. In fact, in contrast to their rather energetic stage presences and playing styles, Murray has a calm, more relaxed demeanor in terms of both. His solos are generally a lot more bluesy and melodic- the perfect example of this is in the solo of “The Wicker Man“.
Janick Gers is often considered by many as “the weak link“, but I don’t consider him weak at all. This is mostly because he has a MUCH rougher playing style than either of them, and is generally less consistent. He seems to be most interested in spontaniety, which is why his playing is often so aggressive. This adds a healthy dose of rawness to their sound, and as of the post-reunion albums, Janick’s rawer and more aggressive style has added a perfect balance, making the band’s sound so that it doesn’t sound too polished or clean.
Why I love this so much is because it shows just how much creativity there is on display. Normally in any other band this would come off as messy, but in Maiden’s case, as far as songwriting and keeping the song together goes, they’re on the same page. In fact, they tailor the songs so that all their different styles can fit within the feel of the song. Now, here’s the middle section of 2010’s “El Dorado“, which has a solo from all of them.
Steve Harris, however, is the band’s backbone. He is self-taught, and he is the biggest boss with regards to musical compositions. He is usually known for his gallop that is apparent in songs like “The Trooper” and most recently “The Talisman”, but apart from his gallop, his bass style is most often influenced by 1970s progressive rock. He cited Geddy Lee as one of his biggest influences, and while this may not be outright obvious, you can hear shades of it in tunes like “Isle of Avalon” or “2 Minutes to Midnight.”
And then there’s Nicko McBrain, the drummer. His drumming is certainly very unique- he is in no shape or form simple, but he doesn’t get overly complex either- but it fills up the space, and Nicko routinely demonstrates how skilled he is, without turning the song into a pissing contest like Mike Portnoy and a lot of other drummers in the genre would. But even more impressive is his footwork; He can do with one foot what others require two feet to do. So that “double bass” in the chorus of The Wicker Man? it’s done with one foot. The reason he prefers not to use double bass is because he considers it “underdrummish”. I’m not sure I agree there, but it is awesome to see him make the effort! And it works too!
A lot of people have outright admitted to me that they don’t listen to Maiden for the lyrics, and if you ask me, that’s a shame. All 6 members of Maiden have demonstrated excellent songwriting skill, and their lyrics are both poetic and direct. Much of the lyrics are actually really intelligent, and while it really is easy to overlook them with the excellent musical skill on display, they definitely do deserve attention.
Most of their lyrics are based off of history or fictional works. In the most famous example, “The Trooper” is based off the charge of the light brigade. Alexander The Great is an actual history lesson based on its titular subject. Save for one slight historical inaccuracy, the lyrics are true to history. “Aces High” and its sequel “Tailgunner” are about aerial combat during WWII. To many, these are the most memorable subjects by the band, because of how well they manage to capture the time period through the music, Bruce’s vocals and the sincerity of the lyrics. To most, “Paschendale” is the best example of Maiden managing to create such a chaotic, war-time atmosphere, about the battle of Passchendaele.
“Whistles, shouts and more gun fire
Lifeless bodies hang on barbed wire
Battlefield nothing but a bloody tomb
Be reunited with my dead friends soon
Many soldiers eighteen years
Drown in mud, no more tears
Surely a war no-one can win
Killing time about to begin”
As far as fiction goes, there’s plenty. “Number of the Beast” was inspired by a nightmare Steve Harris had after watching Damien: The Omen II. “The Fallen Angel” is based off of the 1990s horror film Fallen with Denzel Washington. “Where Eagles Dare” is based on the same movie with Clint Eastwood. And “When the Wild Wind Blows” is based on a 1980s graphic novel called “When the Wind Blows”, about an elderly couple preparing for a nuclear bombing. Except in the book, the couple does get bombed, gets exposed to fallout and dies. In the song, the couple commits suicide by poisioning, mistaking an earthquake for a fallout. The song itself is worth mentioning on its own. Its descriptions of the preparation are vivd and create a palpable tension:
“He carries everything into the shelter, not a fuss
Getting ready when the moment comes
He has enough supplies to last them for a year or two
Good to have because you never know
They tell us nothing that we don’t already know about
They tell us nothing that is real at all
They only fill us with the stuff that they want
Did you know, did you know?”
At the end of the song is when we find out just what happened to them:
“When they found them, had their arms wrapped around each other
The tins of poison laying nearby their clothes
The day they both mistook an earthquake for the fall out,
Just another when the wild wind blows…”
And then there’s songs they wrote about personal subjects and current events. “Blood Brothers” was written about the death of Steve Harris’ father. “Wasting Love” was written by Bruce Dickinson about how lonely loveless sex is. And in his only composition to the band, Nicko McBrain wrote “New Frontier” about the danger of playing God. It’s hard to believe this was his only compostion to the band, because his lyrics are absolutely stellar.
“Never ending, forever searching
Chasing dreams, the dreams of my heart
Always seeking, always asking
Questions right from the start
Out beyond the new frontier
Playing god without mercy, without fear
Create a beast, made a man without a soul
Is it worth the risk, a war of god and man?”
Sure, as I mentioned before, he’s not the only singer Maiden have had. In fact, Blaze Bayley did a fine job taking over for him in the mid-90s, and his dark, brooding and even at times gothic voice. Paul Di’Anno was decent, with his characteristic raspy voice that had pepperings of clean high notes where necessary. But none are a match for the one and only Paul Bruce Dickinson. This man has rightfully been hailed as “The Voice of Iron Maiden”. It’s not hard to see why; when he stepped up to the plate in 1982, many considered him a major upgrade from Paul Di’Anno. Hell, some even have admitted with how well Bruce held everyone’s attention, they forgot Di’Anno even sang for the band. He is notorious for having a theatrical, operatic voice with one hell of a range and extreme power in his voice. That being said, there’s a noticeable difference in his 1980s voice and his post-1994 voice. In the 1980s, he had a lighter voice and was able to hit the notes in the studio near-effortlessly, but live, he had struggles. Even still, even when he struggled, he had the power to knock everyone flat with his delivery.
Throughout his solo career and beginning with the post-1999 albums, Bruce’s voice deepened, resulting in what many consider a much stronger and more powerful, controlled delivery. He can hit notes now that he couldn’t back in the 1980s. His voice isn’t as overly riddled with vibrato now, and he even includes some healthy doses of rasp where necessary. In fact, in 2008, when a video leaked out online of the band’s first concert that year, where Bruce managed to nail every single note of “Aces High“, he blew minds everywhere. And hell, even in the 2010s, he managed to nail it. Maybe not as much, as the man is 56 years old, but he still sounded absolutely amazing. However, in 2010, The Final Frontier was released, an album which contains, to date, Bruce’s vest ever vocal performance. Words fail to describe it, so here’s the song performed live.
He, in addition, has the single best stage presence of any singer. Running about the stage and jumping about like a hyperactive 12 year old. And he still does this, well into his 50s!!! He keeps in shape, obviously, and movement is also good for keeping your vocal cords in shape, but he takes this and embraces it, and turns it into something thrilling to watch.
However, the main reason he’s my hero, and another thing to love about this band, is what he does outside the band too. He’s also well known for being a commercial airline pilot. Aviation has been something he’s been interested in for a long time. He pulled off two tours of transporting the band, the crew, some fans and up to 12 tons of stage equipment in a Boeing 757. This was the subject of the 2009 documentary Flight 666– where the Somewhere Back in Time tour took place in 2008. He launched his own airline this year, and also flies war planes. Additionally, he led a reenactment of a WWII aerial dogfight at Sonisphere Festival last year, in Knebworth, England. He also regularly demonstrates at airshows and on off days on tour, will even visit aviation companies in different cities to try a few planes! He also leads a radio rock show every Friday in England, hosts documentaries, writes novels, and gives public lectures at business expos. And even cooler, he launched Iron Maiden’s famous Trooper Beer in 2013!!!
This year, in an announcement that shocked the world, it was revealed that he was diagnosed in late 2014 with tongue cancer. Thankfully, it was diagnosed in its very early stages, and managed to complete a 7 week chemotherapy and radiology treatment course, not requiring any surgeries. Though it was clear to most that he’d end up kicking the cancer’s ass, he was given two months before he had to go in for an MRI scan to determine whether or not all was good to go. Fortunately, in May, he was given an all clear! And despite this rather terrible start to the year, he’s bounced back in a grand fashion. He purchased a Boeing 757 and launched his own airline. He’s done multiple airshows since, and this year, a new album will be out too. And also just this week, he visited Nordoff Robbins’ Music Therapy building and entertained some disabled children. Seriously. Just look at the picture below and try not going “awwww” out loud.
THE LIVE SHOWS
Ah, the moment I’ve been waiting for! As of this writing, I have seen the band 14 times. I saw them for the first time in 2008 after waiting for a long time to see them come here to Edmonton, and it blew every piece of my 16 year old mind. Since then, I have seen them on every tour. But it was in 2012 when I decided, having joined the fanclub early that year, that I wanted to take full advantage of my membership and see them all over Europe. This included Paris, multiple shows in Germany, and two festivals in England, both landmark concerts for them.
They are known for their theatrical shows that includes backdrops, pyros, Eddies, and amazing stage presence. Their shows are, simply put, one of the best things you’ll ever see. Hell, if you’re not a Maiden fan, seeing a show of theirs will. The band put nothing but sheer dedication into their stage shows, and it’s evident. There’s simply not enough words to describe how immense they are, so I’ll leave you a few videos.
Here’s “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”. Bruce Dickinson donning a cloak with a scribe Eddie and pyrotechnics, fog, and a Phantom of the Opera! (do forgive the slightly out of sync video)
“Iron Maiden“, with a gigantic Eddie appearing from behind the stage.
They also have a walk-on Eddie, as seen in this performance of “The Evil That Men Do“.
But strip away the effects and you still have one extremely intense performance. Like depicted in their 2008 performance of “Wasted Years“.
And their new songs? Immense as ever, as shown in the below performance of “When the Wild Wind Blows.”
THE FAN CLUB
Last, but not least.
It’s expensive to join the fan club, but worth EVERY FUCKING PENNY. So, let’s look at the perks. Discounts in the store, magazines from the band, pre-sales, and First to the Barrier, where if you win, you get first crack at the front row at your Maiden show, that is, if you have floor tickets! But even more than that, you get to meet fans from all over the fucking world! I have made friends with people from all corners of the globe thanks to the fan club, and they’ve kept in my heart ever since. And I even saw Maiden unite two people in love and marriage- a heartwarming sight for all. Even better, this also leads to FC meets before gigs. Fans gather in pubs and bars, socialize, and spend quality time with each other. It’s a borderline religious experience. Here’s some pictures from past meets and barrier runs, and gigs I’ve experienced.
Frankfurt 2013, before the second of 2 sold out Maiden gigs
Overall, Iron Maiden always will be a huge part of my life. Their music has inspired me in so many ways. Sure, lots of bands have came and went throughout the years in my life, but if any band will stay with you with every passing day, it’s Maiden. So, Maiden, bring on the 92 minutes of heavy metal goodness that is coming our way. Bring on the epic stage performances. Bring on more T shirts to overfill my already overflowing dressers. Bring on the new Eddie artwork. Keep giving Bruce more excuses to fly these awesome planes for us. Keep on doing what you’re doing. Keep making albums. Keep doing things that keep bringing in more and more fans.
Simply put, nobody does it like MAIDEN.