So this is where it all begins. Iron Maiden’s legendary debut from a time when everyone thought Motörhead, Black Flag, and Tom Petty were all punk, and “metal” was that crap that a long-dead Deep Purple, an out-of-ideas Black Sabbath, and a not-yet-broken-through Judas Priest played. 1979 saw Iron Maiden’s first official recording, The Soundhouse Tapes, and in 1980, after a series of revolving door guitarists, saw Maiden enter the studio to record a proper album with absentee producer Wil Malone.
Sure, the production is fairly poor for a major label release, even by 1980 and shoestring budget standards of the day. But that doesn’t stop Steve Harris’ songwriting from cutting through loud and clear. From raucous rockers like “Charlotte The Harlot” and “Running Free,” to moody power ballads “Remember Tomorrow” and “Strange World,” to the epic “Phantom Of The Opera,” the riffs, harmonies, and galloping bass lines never relent. Paul di’Anno delivers vocals with a delivery that is half punk, half metal, and all balls. Clive Burr’s drums are a metal version of Ian Paice’s (Deep Purple) technical fills and jazzy beats (check out the drumming in “Phantom”), and the guitar tandem of Dave Murray and Dennis Stratton is the best the band had had up to this point.
It’s pretty obvious that Steve Harris had all of his ducks in a row when it came to finally getting Maiden out to the masses. There was more than enough material to record a full-length album, some B-sides (“Burning Ambition” from Running Free, “Invasion” from Women In Uniform), a non-album A-side (“Sanctuary,” although it was on the North American album, where the single wasn’t available), and still have leftovers for the followup, 1981′s Killers (“Wrathchild,” “Drifter,” and “Purgatory” [as “Floating”] were all part of the band’s setlist at varying points of the late 70s). As far as song choices go, they picked the best of what they had (“Wrathchild” was pretty tame before Adrian Smith joined the group and added in the 3457802352 guitar fills and turned up the tempo).
The album opens with “Prowler,” which is one of my least favorite Maiden songs, not just on this album, but from their entire catalog. The middle section is pretty cool, but like a few of the lesser Maiden tracks from the Paul di’Anno era, it’s only one verse repeated, a chorus, and midsection, with not much for guitar riffing. Personally, I would have kicked off the album with the debut single, “Running Free:” a far more raucous number with some great drumming and a killer harmony section, rather than a guitar solo (although before the album’s release, there were times where Dave Murray played a solo before the harmony bit), which just feels more “complete” as a song.
“Remember Tomorrow” is an amazing metal ballad, and is far better than its counterpart, “Strange World” (though the latter isn’t bad). It has that great soft/loud dynamic between the verse and “chorus,” and, of course, the solo section is killer(s) metal. “Transylvania” and “Charlotte The Harlot” are more great rockers: the former being a riff and harmony monster of an instrumental, and the latter being the only song Dave Murray has ever written unassisted, which is quite a shame, as it’s total riff-fest with a bit of humor.“Iron Maiden” is, unlike the live renditions, a bit of a letdown. It has a better riff set than “Prowler,” but has the same issue (one verse, chorus, middle, repeat verse and chorus). Quite a downer of a closer.
Saving the best for last, “Phantom Of The Opera” is everything that makes Maiden great. The guitar and bass riffs are highly technical, the harmony sections are amazing, and all 3 solos are incredible (including Dennis Stratton’s only memorable solo [the second solo after the harmony bits]). However, the best official recording of the song is the live version from the Women In Uniform single, which is worth tracking down just for “Phantom.” Here, the song is sped up, and conveys a lot more energy than on the album.
All three singles from the debut album are worth tracking down. “Burning Ambition” from Running Free, while a bit of “lighter fare” from Maiden, is the song that started the band! The Montrose cover, “I’ve Got The Fire,” was Maiden’s set opener from about ’77 into ’81 (before the release of Killers), so also worth getting. Women In Uniform is a bit of an oddball, since it’s Maiden’s only A-side cover. However, it has the proper studio recording of “Invasion” from The Soundhouse Tapes (why it’s not on the debut, I’ll never know), which is another great rocker with a great riff and a cool harmony part, and of course, the aforementioned live version of “Phantom” that owns everything in its path.
I’m not too big on either of the di’Anno albums, but this is the better of the two. Iron Maiden shows the transition from pub band to stadium monsters, but still has a few too many elements of the pub band phase that don’t quite stand the test of time. It’s certainly of historical value, but compared to the Bruce Dickinson albums, the signal-to-noise ratio isn’t as strong, and not quite as good as what other upstart NHOBHM bands were putting out at the time (most notably Angel Witch’s self-titled and Diamond Head’s Lightning To The Nations).
Kylie’s rating: 3.25 out of 5.