1980 is considered the year that the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (nwobhm) began. Spawning such luminaries as Def Leppard, Saxon, Diamond Head, Praying Mantis, Samson and the mighty Iron Maiden among many others. Some stayed the course, some drifted off. Some, like Def Leppard, became huge then sank a to a consistent level of success and remained there, they no longer rule the charts but they are not playing pubs either. Then, there is Iron Maiden. Through all the ups and downs their career has remained on a steady upward trajectory for over 30 years, selling 100 million albums in the process.
Today Iron Maiden are a machine, they tour regularly playing to hundreds of thousands of people the world over and release block buster albums every few years, the latest being The Book Of Souls. However listening to their later albums with their musical intricacies and poetic lyrics, it’s easy to forget they started out as a rough edged loud metal band with punk leanings.
The debut album, Iron Maiden, just happened to be the first Maiden album I myself ever heard. It was a Saul/Paul road to Damascus sort of thing for me. I was 15 or 16 at the time and listened mainly to The Rolling Stones (still love ‘em), with a little Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall thrown in and whatever other new stuff drifted through my transom at the time.
Being an avid collector of all albums bearing the name “The Rolling Stones” (of which there were many if you include compilations, and who doesn’t?), I used to frequent a small record store in my home town called Sounds. One day probably around 1981 upon wandering through the door I came face to face with this picture. I was captivated. I had books full of this type of horror art, but had never seen such a picture (I now know as Eddie), on an album. Rolling Stones remember. Now of course I am certain such things existed but at that time it was something, really something for me to see. Naturally, I had to have it.
“I’m not sure you will like this, it’s not your usual thing”, said the regular guy who served me in those days. “I’ll try anything once”, I told him, especially with that cover art I thought to myself. I got it home and played it, and almost instantly, well by the third song “Running Free” I was just stunned. No one ever told me this type of stuff existed! Life changed overnight. (Had another one of those revelations in ‘84 but thats for another story).
This was raw, this was primal, this shit was ALIVE! It dripped energy and attitude. To this day I am not sure a debut album more stamps it’s authority, or screams a statement of intent better than this one.
Hell, even in the title song (embedded above), Iron Maiden singer Paul Dianno growls “Oh well, wherever, wherever you are are, Iron Maidens gunna get you, no matter how far”. It showed none of the dexterity of later works, none of the poetry, depth or (lets be frank), intelligence of Maidens later works, but God dam what a punch it packs.
The undoubted centerpiece of this scrappy, raw opus is Phantom Of The Opera. A 7 minute plus epic that was a precursor of what was to come later. It had musical time changes, long instrumental passages and a stone cold fury like none these ears had ever heard before. Paul Dianno had a gravelly voice, like the voice of a million Cigarettes and a million Whiskys. Like Nazareth’s Dan McCafferty on speed.
Listening to the guitar solos on songs like Remember Tomorrow and Phantom Of The Opera, it feels like your are soaring and diving, flying like a bird of prey, a trait they still employ on occasion to this day.
The drumming is thunderous, especially on Running Free, which was the first song on the album to grab me around the neck and say PAY ATTENTION! Running Free also sports a neat little musical interlude where each instrumentalist gets a solo, something Sweet did on Rock ‘n Roll disgrace.
Iron Maiden went on to far greater success in later years, far bigger selling albums, far more accolades and at least technically far better albums with an infinitely better singer in Bruce Dickinson, but this one is more special than most. At least to me.