The Hand That Threatens Doom!!
After getting Bruce Dickinson’s new autobiography signed by goddamn man himself yesterday, it was only natural that I’d be pumping out some Maiden for the next few days! Now, why not turn that into sweet, sweet content for y’all to ignore?
Anyone who’s anyone who knows anyone in metal knows who Iron Maiden are and why they’re such a big friggin’ deal. Coming out of the NWOBHM movement in the 80s, Maiden have undisputedly cemented themselves as one of the greatest metal bands ever, with the dueling guitars of Adrian Smith and Dave Murray, the galloping basslines of creative force Steve Harris (‘Arris if you’re going phonetically) and lead singer Bruce Dickinson’s operatic vocals being the stuff of legend. Their first five albums in particular are what myths are made of, with Powerslave coming in at no. 5, being my personal second favourite offering, behind 1982’s The Number of the Beast.
The album kicks off with second single Aces High. A frequent opener for Maiden live shows, it’s easy to picture a crowd getting pumped by this white-knuckle ride, with Nicko’s frantic drumming style being built upon from Piece Of Mind. Though he isn’t my favourite Maiden drummer (Burr for life baybeh), McBrain really injects the adrenaline into this track, fitting of its dogfighting subject matter. As well as this, we have Maiden staples like Steve ‘Arris’ intricate and riling bass being coupled with the very 80s and very cool riffage, with Dickinson’s charismatic vocal stylings drilling through the instrumentation like a diamond cutter.
Following that is lead single and probably my second favourite Maiden song, 2 Minutes To Midnight. The apocalyptic lyrics and their striking delivery cement this as one of Dickinson’s best performances. Tackling the still-relevant threat of war and tensions nuclear weapons can incite, and featuring some sickening imagery, it’s easy to see how comparisons have been drawn between this and Sabbath’s War Pigs, another anti-war anthem, and another legendary track . This urgency is also reflected in layered and dramatic guitar riffs, featuring a spectacular instrumental breakdown. Matching the speed in Harris’ fingers, the drums here are, once again, truly astonishing, showing some of McBrain’s best tom work ever.
Allowing the listener (and, in my case, desperate sing-a-long-er), some room to breathe, we have the aptly named Losfer Words (Big ‘orra), a vastly entertaining instrumental track featuring some excellent, fundamentally Maiden guitar parts, with shredding galore and a hell of a riffed core. With that rambler’s bass and cymbal-heavy drumming, it’s Maiden concentrate.
Opening on some very Kashmir-esque guitar harmonics, reminiscent of Page and Van Halen, Flash Of The Blade is an example of how excellent the band are at battle songs. The bass and guitar riffage here build up tension which is relieved by the deafening screams of the chorus and the shreddalicious solo. If any song on Powerslave captures the essence of adventure as well as this one does, I’m yet to hear it.
In a very similar thematic vein we have The Duellists, named if not for it’s subject matter, then for it’s truly astonishing guitar work. With a 3:30 instrumental break, we are treated to the pun-intended-but-it’s-a-really-bloody-easy-pun-to-make duelling guitars of Murray and Smith. With mirroring solos, harmonic and riffing for the ages, this truly is guitarist’s delight. The rest of the band ain’t slouching either, however, with McBrain and ‘Arris both keeping their ends of the rhythm section throughout the song, and each respectfully diverging from the spine to jazz that shit up.
Probably the most forgettable on the track listing, Back In The Village, while it retains all the hallmarks of a Maiden song, lacks a highlighted focal point in an album full of them, such as the guitars on The Duellists or the vocals of 2 Minutes to Midnight. Nevertheless, it remains a fun and fast dealing of heavy metal and better than most of what else is out there.
With it’s sandy lead guitar riff, offbeat cymbal crashes and character-driven vocals, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a song embody it’s artwork as accurately and uncannily as I have title track Powerslave. Boasting maybe the strongest riff on the album, and one of the band’s best, the atmosphere created by the guitars here is truly awesome, with the themes of power and godliness being filtered wonderfully into the instrumentation. We’ve also got the mandatory solo, which is also on the better end in the context of the album, and the bass’ galloping grooves being more prominent than ever.
Finally, we have one of the grandest, most majestic songs ever put to disc to close out the album, the 13-minute epic Rime Of The Ancient Mariner is pure Maiden. Borrowing heavily from the 1798 Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem of the same name, the lyrics tell of nautical legend, performed with appropriate grandeur and, though I far from know all of the words to this one, will always have me belting along the opening line. A song of multiple moods and movements, this truly showcases the songwriting prowess of Harris, who, while his basswork undeniably follows a certain formula, is one of the most technically impressive songwriters in the genre. If I could ever name a song as a cinematic experience, it would most likely be this.
The album as a whole is, though only 50 minutes, a real grand experience. With a multitude of 6 minute+ tracks, the more progressive side of Maiden, which would be explore more fully on albums like Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, is on full display, as are their many fascinating lyrical influences, taking inspiration from war, Ancient Egypt and nautical poems to name but a few. Longtime producer Martin Birch returns once again with another pretty flawless job of mixing and capturing that magnificent atmosphere. If I could flaw it, I’d say that, with Maiden’s pretty infallible musical style, the album lacks a certain variety. Saying that though, if you’re listening to Maiden, you want wicked guitars, fast rhythms and spectacular vocals — Powerslave delivers on all of these.
To conclude, Maiden’s fifth effort could so easily be their best, if they didn’t release Beast two years prior. While Clive Burr’s absence is still missed, Nicko McBrain, by this point, had very easily filled his ridiculously massive drumkit, delivering performances that more than matches up with the rest of the band. Harris’ songwriting flourishes here, as does the riffage. However, as is the case with most Maiden releases, it’s the vocals of Bruce Dickinson that truly make this stand out for me. It truly is one of the great albums of heavy metal.
BEST TRACKS: 2 Minutes To Midnight, Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, Powerslave, Aces High
WORST TRACKS: There ain’t none, homeboy!
Lots of hugs, kisses and lacerations