The Beast by the Numbers
Iron Maiden has long been one of heavy metal’s most impressive bands. The group, which released its debut self-titled album in 1980, has made an indelible mark on the genre. The band originally surfaced from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene in the late 70s and became its most notable offspring.
Propelled by the readily identifiable bass playing of principle songwriter Steve Harris, along with the unique duel lead attack of guitarists Dave Murray, and most often, Adrian Smith, Iron Maiden has released some of metal’s essential masterpieces.
In recent years there has been speculation about how much longer the band will continue, and each studio album is treated as perhaps the last fans will hear from the sextet. For much of the band’s historic legacy, vocalist Bruce Dickinson has fronted the band, and been one of the most notable voices in metal. Drummer Nicko McBrain has also been along for much of the journey, replacing Clive Burr in 1982. In recent years, third guitarist Janick Gers has joined the party.
Below is our look, along with the help of many readers who voted, at all 15 of Iron Maiden’s studio albums, and how they fair and compare to one another. The final rankings are as follows:
1. Piece of Mind (1983)
While most fans, in particular the casual ones, would consider the next album on this list as Iron Maiden’s best, serious fans have a stronger pull to the band’s follow-up album. Piece of Mind was the first to feature drummer Nicko McBrain and contained mammoth hits like “The Trooper”, “Die with Your Boots On” and “Where Eagles Dare”. Best song: “Still Life”.
2. The Number of the Beast (1982)
This is the album that broke Maiden to the masses on the strength of heavy MTV rotation with hits like “Run to the Hills” and the title track. This would be the first album with Dickinson on vocals and the last for drummer Clive Burr. The album featured other classic tracks like “Prisoner”, “Invaders” and “22 Acacia Avenue”. Best Song: “Hallowed Be Thy Name”.
3. Iron Maiden (1980)
The band’s epic debut featured original vocalist Paul Di’Anno and guitarist Dennis Stratton complimenting Murray. Di’Anno’s voice was more raw and gave the band something of a punk embellishment. If there is a draw back here it would be the production quality, and it would be wonderful to hear the band re-record this classic with Dickinson. Many Maiden purists consider this the quintessential Maiden record. The album is ripe with classic gems like the title cut, “Sanctuary”, “Charlotte the Harlot”, and “Running Free”. Best song: “Prowler”.
4. Powerslave (1984)
Is arguably more of a ‘beast” than number two on our list. With hits like “Aces High” and “Two Minutes to Midnight”, one simply can’t go wrong. Then there is the epic near 14 minute “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, the title track, and the brilliant “Flash of the Blade”. Best song: “Two Minutes to Midnight”.
5. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)
The band went even further into progressive territory with its seventh studio effort. Brilliant songs like “The Clairvoyant”, “Can I Play With Madness”, and “Infinite Dreams”. This is a ripper of an epic album and continued to prove the band’s then growing legacy. Best song: “The Evil That Men Do”.
6. Killers (1981)
There exists a strong contingent of early Maiden devotees who consider this the better of the two Di’Anno era records. The album features a blistering compliment of power and raw energy. “Prodigal Son”, “Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “Drifter”, as well as the instrumental “Ghengis Khan” make this record a most own, but “Wrathchild” is among the band’s greatest recorded efforts. Best Song: “Wrathchild”.
7. Somewhere in Time (1986)
This album was something of a departure for the band. It was the first use of guitar synthesizers by the band. It also marked a real breakout for guitarist Smith who penned both of the album’s hits “Wasted Years” and “Stranger in a Strange Land”. Dickinson’s offerings were rejected by the band, and he had no songwriting credits on the record. Other strong tracks included “Caught Somewhere in Time” and “Heaven Can Wait”. Best song: “Wasted Years”.
8. Brave New World (2000)
The album that marked the return of Dickinson, and the start of Maiden’s six-man line-up which remains to this day. Perhaps more artistic than Maiden of old, even a little slower over all, but a very impressive work. From the divine opener “Wicker Man” to the title track, to mid-temp thrashers like “The Nomad” and “Mercenary”, to the addictive “Ghost Ship Navigator”, this reminded fans why they are among metal royalty. Best song: “Blood Brothers”.
9. A Matter of Life and Death (2006)
While one can hear a bit of wear and tear on Dickinson’s vocals here, he’s as energetic as ever. A maturing of the band sound is noticeable here, and as always there are the intriguing lyrics. Songs like “Brighter than a Thousand Suns”, “Lord of Light”, “These Colours Don’t Run” and “Different World” stand as signposts pointing toward classic Maiden. Best song: “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg”.
10. The Final Frontier (2010)
Maiden’s newest effort and one of their most controversial among fans. There are some brilliant moments here, but many fans felt let down, still others considered it a return to Maiden mastery. The first single, “El Dorado” swept fans back to the height of the band’s career. However, the album gets off to a sluggish start with the overdone and underwhelming “Satellite 15… The Final Frontier” and tracks like “Coming Home” and the excessively long “Isle of Avalon” weigh this effort down. Other strong tracks include; “Mother Of Mercy” and “The Talisman.” Best song: “The Alchemist”.
11. Fear of the Dark (1992)
Another hit or miss album. The title track is a master-beast of Maiden glory. Other songs like “Be Quick or Be Dead” and “From Here To Eternity” are weighty listens, but the album is steeped in weaker tracks that do not fulfill the epic promise. Best song: “Afraid to Shoot Strangers”.
12. Dance of Death (2003)
One of those Maiden albums that are either beloved or discarded. The album starts strong but finishes in a string of filler tracks that do not do the band justice. The good songs cannot elevate the entire album enough to rank it higher, though certain fans consider this one of the band’s better works. Stronger tracks include “Wildest Dreams”, “Montségur”, and the title track. Best song: “Paschendale”.
13. No Prayer for the Dying (1990)
This album marked the temporary departure of Smith and the introduction of Gers. Smith was not happy with the band’s direction, nor was Dickinson, and the sense of discontent and lack of accord seeps through into the music. “Tailgunner” gets it off to a decent start, and “Holy Smoke” keeps the hope alive, but that’s pretty much it for this dismal effort. You can tell how a band feels about an album by how much of it they play live… Poor production quality as well. Best song: “Holy Smoke” and “Bring Your Daughter… To The Slaughter”.
14. The X Factor (1995)
The introduction of Blaze Bayley: Fizzle, Pop, Sputter. The album’s failure is certainly not Bayley’s fault. Clearly the band was in disarray. Smith and Dickinson gone, a metal genre in mourning over its many losses in the face of grunge. The power riff is gone in favor of a broodier feel. Still it’s a decent album, but it doesn’t feel like Maiden. Quality tracks include; “Blood on the World’s Hand”, “Lord of the Flies” and “Man on the Edge”. Best song: “Sign of the Cross”.
15. Virtual XI (1998)
One would be hard pressed to fan any fan that doesn’t at least have this in their bottom three on this list. The second album with vocalist Blaze Bayley, Harris struggles in the writing here. While “Futureal” and “The Clansman” solid Maiden tunes, “Angel and the Gambler” is practically embarrassing at almost 10 minutes long and only four minutes of viable worth. A fairly lifeless record overall. Best song: “Como Estais Amigos”.
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