Few hard rockers will argue that Iron Maiden is one of the quintessential metal bands of all time. From the melodic dual harmony guitars of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith (and occasionally Janick Gers), the ethereal vocals of renaissance man Bruce Dickinson, the steady beat of Nicko McBrain and the wizardry from the world’s greatest bassist Steve Harris, Iron Maiden sets the standard for heavy metal in the modern age.
When talking about greatness, how can one begin to determine which albums rank supreme from a catalog with very few weaknesses? A few friends and I sat in my home bar, over a few tasty craft brews, and decided to create the ultimate list of Maiden classics, in order from worst to first. Do you agree? If not, let’s hear what you think!! Up the Irons!
16. X Factor
The album has neither vocalist extraordinaire Bruce Dickinson nor his brilliant songwriting and vocal phrasing. Blaze Bayley simply wasn’t cut out to handle vocal duties in this band. Not his fault, but when you replace a legend, you better deliver and, unfortunately, Mr. Bayley did not. Best tracks: Sign of the Cross.
15. Virtual XI
See response to #16. Best tracks: The Clansman.
14. No Prayer For The Dying
As great as the chemistry was between the classic Maiden lineup, there was a time when friction prevailed and the band effectively mailed in the effort. The high point of this low period culminated in the very disappointing No Prayer For The Dying. The album also marked the debut of guitarist Janick Gers into the fold. It can be argued that it’s actually Maiden’s worst album, but even a bad album with Bruce Dickinson is better than a decent album with Blaze Bayley. Best tracks: Hooks In You, Holy Smoke.
13. Iron Maiden
This New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) band stormed onto the scene with this interesting, energy-filled release. Nothing sounded like this previously. With two dominant guitarists and a bassist that dominated both of them, this album pummeled the listener from start to finish with new sounds and an original style. Drummer Clive Burr is exceptional and creative, the driving force behind a lot of the band’s energy. The vocalist of the time, Paul DiAnno, was a punk rocker trying – and mostly failing – to sing metal. The band had limited prospects until they’d eventually find the vocalist (Dickinson) that would lead them to superstardom. Many great tracks exist on this record, but pre-Martin Birch producing, the sound quality is somewhere between poor and awful. Best tracks: Prowler, Iron Maiden.
12. Dance of Death
When it comes to Maiden (especially as you’ll see in #12-#1), it’s a matter of good, better and best, with few exceptions. Dance of Death would be many band’s greatest work, but most bands aren’t Iron Maiden. The band delivered some winners here, even if Kevin Shirley’s production fell flat compared to earlier works from Martin Birch. Best tracks: Age of Innocence, Paschendale, Rainmaker, Wildest Dreams.
Maiden’s second album was a huge improvement, sound quality-wise, over their debut, and contained some of the bands early classic tracks. Paul DiAnno showed improvement, and the songs took on more structure than the loosely formulated debut. Still, no Bruce, no top 10. Best tracks: Killers, Wrathchild.
10. The Final Frontier
Rumored to be the band’s final album (it wasn’t), Final Frontier delivered energy and a sense of urgency that had been missing from previous releases. Bruce Dickinson sang with passion and the songs delivered throughout the album. High energy album and very memorable. Best tracks: The Talisman, Coming Home, El Dorado, Final Frontier.
9. Fear of the Dark
The decline of classic Iron Maiden can be found throughout this somewhat confusing album. A good part of this album can be considered filler (Chains of Misery, Childhood’s End, Weekend Warrior) and it was clear that Dickinson’s heart was elsewhere. However, there are still flashes of brilliance, including the album’s best tracks: Wasting Love, Judas Be My Guide and all-time classic, Fear of the Dark.
8. 7th Son of a 7th Son
No Iron Maiden album gets more mixed reviews than 7th Son. For some, it’s the pinnacle, for others, it’s the start of the decline. The guitar synthesizers dominated this album, and they did not improve the classic Iron Maiden sound. With few exceptions, they were a distraction. On the flip side, the band was securely in their element by this time, gelling and crafting classic after classic, all finely weaved into music mastery by the great producer Martin Birch. Best tracks: Infinite Dreams, Only The Good Die Young, Can I Play With Madness.
7. A Matter of Live and Death
Capturing the magic the band once had prior to Dickinson’s departure, A Matter of Life and Death was throwback Maiden, filled with instantly memorable classics, high energy and promise for the future. The 3-guitar attack utilized each players’ talents and the songs benefited. Dickinson starred while Harris continued to cement his legacy as the world’s greatest bassist as well as one of metal’s best songwriters. The Longest Day is among Maiden’s greatest hits. Best tracks: The Longest Day, For The Greater Good of God, Different World, These Colors Don’t Run.
6. Brave New World
Brave New World marked the return of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith back into the band, and the results were instantaneous. The title track is based on the 1932 novel by Aldous Huxley about a futuristic world controlled by a totalitarian system that controls and manipulates society’s feelings and movements. (Feels a little close to home these days.) Kevin Shirley’s debut as producer failed to capture the classic Maiden sound of albums past. Best tracks: Blood Brothers, Out of the Silent Planet, Wicker Man, Ghost of the Navigator.
5. Somewhere in Time
When you have to create an album to follow up Number of the Beast, Peace of Mind and Powerslave, the challenge can be daunting. Maiden put forth their best effort and mostly delivered. Firing on all cylinders, Somewhere in Time, starts with the energetic Caught Somewhere in Time and keeps the listener riveted until the album’s conclusion. Best tracks: Alexander the Great, Wasted Years, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.
4. The Book of Souls
Maiden’s 16th studio work, The Book of Souls brought new beginnings to the band. While Dickinson was often credited as a co-writer, his epic 18-minute long, self-written Empire of the Clouds brought a whole new dimension to the band, including him playing piano for the first time in band’s history. Three of the album’s tracks exceed ten minutes in length, although interest never wanes on this instant classic. Known less for its hits and more for its anthems, Book of Souls is one of the band’s greatest efforts to date, all recorded while Dickinson overcame his battle with mouth cancer. Truly a renaissance man, without a doubt. Best tracks: If Eternity Should Fail, Tears of a Clown, Speed of Light, Empire.
3. Number of the Beast
This MTV-era album broke Iron Maiden from cult classic to mainstream sensation. Imagine it’s 1982, you turn on your TV and see videos of dude’s in leather and spikes, singing about the devil amidst videos of fire and killings. That’s metal and Maiden brought the metal to the mainstream. The album’s title track is as chilling as it is mesmerizing. Run to the Hills, with its eccentric drum stylings of the late Clive Burr, set the standard for what metal was supposed to sound like. Number contains Maiden’s all-time classic anthem, Hallowed be Thy Name. Best tracks: Hallowed, Children of the Damned, Run to the Hills, Number of the Beast, 22 Acacia Avenue.
The first two tracks of this album are as strong as any two tracks of any album of all time, except maybe the preceding Maiden album. At full capacity from the first note, Powerslave turns the volume up to ten and delivers riveting metal in your face throughout. Murray and Smith cement their legacy and the next wave of dual guitar virtuosos. Best tracks: Aces High, Two Minutes to Midnight, Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
I. Piece of Mind
Arguably, the greatest metal album of all time was released in 1983. Bruce Dickinson at his absolute best, Piece of Mind delivers the greatest metal album side with Where Eagles Dare, Revelations, Flight of Icarus and Die With Your Boots on. Then side two almost equals the greatness. The only weak spot being the album’s final track, To Tame a Land, Piece of Mind creates the prototype that bands have tried to achieve – yet never have succeeded – because no one can match the magic that Maiden delivered on this metal masterpiece. Best tracks: Revelations, Where Eagles Dare, The Trooper, Sun and Steel.