Iron Maiden(EMI - 1980)
This strong debut from one of the most influential and primary NWOBHM bands helped set the groundwork for the harder metal genres that surfaced in the early 80's. Already boasting their own unique sound, Maiden merged serious hard-rock with new hard-hitting fast riffing styles and added their own melodic lines and guitar harmonics. Steve Harris's compositions here are simply brilliant, showing tight control with plenty of dynamics, and even some complexity and progression. The contagious songs flow, uplift or gallop throughout the whole album. The long and epic Phantom of the Opera provides a glance at their more 'progressive' songwriting abilities. Add to this a couple of superb slower tracks and the brilliant ripping instrumental 'Transylvania', all contributing greatly to the dynamics. Their signature twin guitar attack is only briefly experienced here, appearing much more in the next album when Adrian Smith would join. Vocals are handled by the dynamic and very enjoyable Paul Di'Anno, who lets loose with contagious gusto and inspired vocal variations. A vastly underrated classic.
Killers(EMI - 1981)
A livelier and harder sound, with more of the galloping compositions, and Adrian Smith joins the band to lend a hand at the guitars (Stratton leaves). Otherwise this is pretty much similar to the debut, except it's more consistent and focused. Superb twin-guitar work, more great vocals by Di'Anno (who would leave after this release), great guitar solos, and more tight classic compositions by Harris. As with many Maiden albums, the bass stands out and contributes its own melodic or rhythmic counterpoint to the songs. Standouts: The euphoric Purgatory, the Rush-like progressive rocker Prodigal Son, and Genghis Khan - another brilliant instrumental. A classic with nary a weak track and with a magic feel to it that was never equalled in later releases.
The Number of the Beast(EMI - 1982)
Enter Bruce Dickinson with his highly trademarked, wild, operatic vocals and a slightly different approach to composition by Harris. With these vocals, which Maiden is usually associated with, came a new invigorating sound. Bruce is unrestrained in his delivery like no other and creates a very strong presence on stage as well. Included are new elements and arrangements in the music, epic structures and melodies that buildup more this time, amazingly strong guitar and bass lines, and the now ubiquitous and irresistable galloping sound. Standouts: The epic 7 minute Hallowed be Thy Name, the superb and popular title track, and the tongue in cheek 22 Acacia Avenua - a continuation of the Charlotte the Harlot theme from the debut. This album invariably put Maiden on the heavy metal map and collected a lot of publicity also due to its 'Satanic' title track. A true classic and probably the most popular Maiden album, but slightly overrated in my opinion - Maiden has even better.
Piece of Mind(EMI - 1983)
My first Maiden album and still among my favorites together with Killers, Powerslave and Seventh Son. Take the previous album, add a lot more experience and maturity to the composition, and you'll basically have this amazing release. The previous drummer (Burr) left at this time to be replaced by Nicko McBrain. The composition is now shared among a few members, which thankfully resulted in streamlined and tight masterpieces. Settling down now with this classic lineup, the members deliver solid performances all around and plenty of magnificent song structures and instant classics. Iron Maiden at the peak of their abilities.
Powerslave(EMI - 1984)
Iron Maiden songs are not usually known for 'progressive' and complex songwriting, but the fact that they often are is usually overlooked due to the songs being so accessible. The many changes and arrangements come through smoothly with tight flow and control, always delivering catchy riffs and solos with a contagious rhythm. The only element that I found hard to get into at first was Bruce's wild operatic vocals, but this soon grew on me until I wouldn't have Maiden any other way. Nowhere is this exemplified better than on this release, containing one fourteen minute engrossing epic and and at least 3 other long brilliant tracks and one instrumental. The rest is typical hit and run material - Maiden hasn't produced a weak song yet! The lineup stayed the same and will do so for the next 3 albums or so. A masterpiece.
Live After Death(EMI - 1985)
Recorded during an extremely gruelling tour, the sound quality, track listing and deliveries on this live release easily make this into a best-of compilation as well as a superb live album. While ranking with the best, it does not have as much new interesting elements and variations over the original recordings as in Testament's Fillmore album, but it definitely captures the increased energy and fun ambience of the live setting without lowering the sound quality. Bruce and the whole crew are all in top form and the mixing doesn't drown out anyone. Recommended.
Somewhere in Time(EMI - 1986)
Having variated enough with their original instruments, Maiden wisely choose to experiment a tad with synthesizers here. They do this subtly, enriching the music without losing their original sound and fanbase. However, a couple of dull tracks do appear on this release, starting their slow downhill trend. This is still a great album though, with the thundering Caught Somewhere in Time, the classic Wasted Years, the superb Sea of Madness and the catchy Heaven Can Wait. Present is the great guitar work as always, and Bruce wails and rips his way into the intestines of the songs, making them very much his. But this is only a moderately recommended album due to a couple of weak songs and some stale rehashed material scattered throughout the album.
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son(EMI - 1988)
A concept album that passes itself off as a normal release due to the independent nature of the songs. The compositions are epic in scope and sound though, making this into a favorite for many fans and considered by many as the last piece of brilliance from the Maiden golden years. Maturity and complex development grace the songs, enhanced by the trademarked galloping sound and dynamic, energetic deliveries. The synths are barely noticable most of the time yet they add a lot to the music and are used well. Can I Play with Madness and The Evil that Men Do are the catchy hits of the album, all the rest being songs of the more complex sort, with the title track out-shining almost everything they have written so far in terms of operatic, epic, yet controlled structure and a very gripping development. Another classic.
No Prayer for the Dying(EMI - 1990)
Exit Adrian Smith, enter Janick Gers on guitar. But that isn't the only change unfortunately. Growing tired of the increasing complexity in the compositions or perhaps missing the hit-and-run material and fun of their earlier days, all Maiden members take turns with the song writing on this one and try to have some fun with it. The results range from the truly fun and catchy to the sloppy or lackluster. Examples of the former include the catchy Tailgunner, the energetic title track, the epic keyboard-laden Mother Russia, and the dark The Assassin. Weak tracks include the dull Holy Smoke single, the bawdy Hooks in You, and the really silly Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter. The rest are all mediocre or moderately fun. What really saves this album though, is the great solo guitar work by Murray as always - a true virtuoso. In short, a definite step down for Maiden but still a worthwhile purchase.
Fear of the Dark(EMI - 1992)
Bursting into probably their most slam-bang, unadulterated, galloping fun single yet (Be Quick or be Dead), Fear of the Dark is nothing if not promising. The second track sustains the fun level with a delicious hard-rocking attitude and an awesome guitar solo. Afraid to Shoot Strangers shifts into a dark and moody gear, building up slowly and bringing quite a new sound to the Maiden repertoire. But then things start to fall apart again. The sound is new and quite refreshing and therefore a step up from the previous album, but it grows stagnant and uninteresting all too often - even repeating itself in mood throughout the middle of the album. Standouts after the first two tracks are the strangely Led-Zeppelin influenced but failed 'Fear is the Key', the ballad 'Wasting Love', and the epic final track which became a staple at live concerts: 'Fear of the Dark'.
A Real Live One(EMI - 1993)
An energetic live album released as a kind of update to Live After Death, with only recent hits included. The trouble lies with the sound quality though, it being flat and sounding more like a quality bootleg than an official release. Not being a fan of live albums, I can't find any special reason to recommend this one, but dedicated fans should find this a worthwhile slab of energy and a concentrated collection of Maiden's latter greats (and do check out the surprising French from Bruce on the third track - an entertaining crowd pleaser).
A Real Dead One(EMI - 1993)
The counterpart to A Real Live One. This live release includes only Maiden golden oldies performed during the same period as the Live One. The problem with the muddy sound seems even more accented on this one however, and the songs lose a lot of their original energy as well as the open-space lively sound of the live settings. Nothing to recommend here.
Live at Donington '92(EMI - 1993)
Yet another live one, perhaps to correct the previous unworthy releases. In any case they went all out here and had it broadcasted and recorded on video as well. The energy this time is abundant, and Bruce is even a tad too wild and out of breath at times. The production quality is at a level that you would expect from Maiden, with good mixing that doesn't drown out anyone and a slightly emphasized bass. With such a huge selection of classics to choose from, they can't really go wrong, and the collection of tracks on this release is no disappointment, only slightly favoring the later recordings. A wild concert that doesn't always come through well on CD but does have its good points.
The X Factor(CMC International - 1995)
Bruce leaves the band at this point, claiming that Maiden has reached the end of the line, and wanting to pursue his solo project and musical ideas of his own in any case. Now, as if the band weren't in trouble already even before Bruce left, they go and hire a very limited vocalist to replace the dynamic Bruce. Blaze Bayley (Wolfsbane) joins with a strong impressionable voice but a total lack of flair and an extremely limited range to boot. They may have been able to get away with it if the music was composed well and more suited to his vocal style, but unfortunately, there is no such luck. Other than the first dark and heavy 11-minute track that has many moments of effective moodiness and grip, and the energetic single 'Man on the Edge', the rest of the album plods along in an uninspired and wooden way with only a few bright moments. Murray saves this from being a total waste of time with his fluid guitar solos, but even this is overshadowed by deadpan, unfocused and even recycled music and rigid vocals. Something vital was definitely lost somewhere down the line and they obviously can't get it back.
Virtual XI(EMI - 1998)
With this album, Maiden continue their slow downhill trend since No Praying For The Dying and put out a slab of complete and utter garbage. The one point in their favor here is that they are seriously trying slightly new arrangements and sounds instead of repeating the same song for the 100th time, but it looks like they only know how to do one thing well and they've done it enough. A couple of the tracks are more rock than metal and many of them have annoyingly repetitive or really silly untalented sections that I find myself cringing under (a word of advise - never write 10 minute tracks if you have nothing to fill them with). As with the X Factor, there are some good guitar solos and instrumental sections, but overall the songwriting is weak and extremely repetitive, and the vocals either put me to sleep or have me running to the fast-forward button. Blaze's vocals, although more confident and comfortable here, are still mostly the same as in the previous album: nice quality but limited in range and lackluster in delivery. Don't even get close to this one.
Brave New World(Columbia - 2000)
Surrounded with an energetic buzz of excitement over the news of Bruce and Adrian (a third guitar!) coming back to the band and the powerful effort put into saving the band from a horrible death by everyone involved (including the fans), this album will be difficult to judge without some biased expectations. But lets see what we have here as we listen to the album for the umpteenth time: A solid energetic single carefully designed to please fans and doing a pretty impressive job, a multipartite track that pulls in a few directions without being really great or bad, two uninspiring and repetitive tracks straight out of the last two horrible albums (only with Bruce at the helm), a frustrating song that loses its wonderful energy thanks to an annoyingly weak chorus, a lengthy composition with 6 minutes of plodding material that finally builds up to 3 minutes of great stuff after it's too late, two superb tracks containing their best material in over a decade (one galloping hit and a 10 minute epic straight from the Powerslave days), some solo Bruce material that is only acceptable at best, and finally, a listenable long track with some good moments. Disappointingly, the third guitar wasn't used as a separate instrument and it can't even be heard unless you listen very carefully during some strains. Bruce is in fine form, and the production is very warm and full. This helped the bass stand out well but slightly muddied the guitar solos. The verdict? The weak songs aren't so bad so that they ruin the album but it is the amount of weak material that gets in the way. The real incriminating point though, is the thought that I could be listening to their earlier much better albums instead of this. The four good tracks (especially the awesome 'The Nomad') are tempting but I have the feeling that I won't be spinning this one in my CD player in the future. At least it gives me hope for the next album though. Try it out for yourself if you are hungry for Maiden, but be wary.