Sunday, February 1, 2015

Iron Maiden - "Iron Maiden" (LP Review)

Although Budgie is typically credited with inventing the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), perhaps the most well-known and successful example is Iron Maiden, whose self-titled 1980 debut LP is the subject of today's post.

I really liked Iron Maiden growing up although perhaps not as much as Robert Gordick, my friend & neighbor who was a super fan.  But I always held a minority opinion: I prefer the vocals of Paul Di'Anno to that of Bruce Dickinson.  Di'Anno only appears on the first two LPs (this one and 1981's "Killers") while Dickinson is far more well-known and appears on the classic line up (which, more or less, has been reformed & active since 1999).  I don't dislike Dickinson, and I'll be the first to admit that Dickinson is technically a much better singer, but I just prefer the gravelly, growling punk style of Di'Anno.  While I have most of the classic-Dickinson LPs on tape somewhere (recorded from Robert Gordick's collection), I only felt compelled to buy the first two LPs on CD later in life.  When I was in HS, I preferred "Killers", but over time I've come to prefer "Iron Maiden".  Today, I still enjoy both LPs, even without a hint of irony or nostalgia.

What makes this LP so enjoyable to me is the range of songs & the tight production (this is the only LP in their early years to not feature super-producer Martin Birch).  "Killers" has an arguably heavier sound, but it is a bit muddy where "Iron Maiden" is pretty crisp.  Bassist & primary song writer Steve Harris (he & guitarist Dave Murray are the only ones to appear on all Iron Maiden LPs) is clearly the centerpiece here, effectively playing bass as a lead instrument (esp. on "Phantom of the Opera").  "Strange World" is a standout while being barely a metal song (without being a sappy ballad), and "Remember Tomorrow" is a rich and complex song as well.

Di'Anno was kicked out of Iron Maiden in 1981 for substance abuse problems, something I'm not sure he ever really got past.  He sang in a lot of bands afterwards but with little critical impact.  Of course, post-Di'Anno Iron Maiden went on to become one of the world's most successful and long-lived bands, with the kind of loyal fan base that other artists envy.  Iron Maiden probably would never have achieved their success had they stayed with the unstable Di'Anno, but I still think the first two LPs are their best.

Standout songs (contemporary live versions): "Prowler", "Remember Tomorrow", "Running Free", "Phantom of the Opera", "Transylvania", "Strange World", "Iron Maiden"

Full LP (use these for studio versions): original 1980 tracklistremastered 1998 version with bonus tracks

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 10/10.  While Iron Maiden did not get big in the US until "The Number of the Beast", this is probably the first really big NWOBHM LP.  While the classic "Iron Maiden Sound" wasn't fully developed yet, you can hear it emerging on this LP. 

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