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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Iron Maiden

Powerslave

Review by Rick Damigella

Just over a year after their previous album, Iron Maiden released what would become in the opinion of many fans, their defining album. Powerslave, like its predecessor, was recorded at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, the Bahamas with Martin “Headmaster” Birch at the helm for the fourth straight record. This fifth album from Maiden saw the first time the same line up from the previous release was playing together again. This, combined with Powerslave being the third release with Bruce Dickinson, must have made for some of the most cohesive writing and recording sessions the band had ever experienced. This was the band’s fifth release in as many years. The subsequent World Slavery Tour stretched for 13 months into 1985, where the band, quite literally, toured the world. While Piece of Mind contained the first of the “Maiden epics” in the form of “To Tame a Land,” this album took the concept of an epic length heavy metal song into a heretofore unknown realm. When the album was released, the cheekiness of the decision to kill their mascot Eddie, this time in the role of a dead Egyptian pharaoh, was surprising to fans at the time and led to speculation as to whether or not Eddie the ‘Ed would appear on the next album cover.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Aces High
The theme of war has been a Maiden subject matter staple from Piece of Mind all the way to 2006’s A Matter of Life and Death. On this ferocious album starter, the song is about the Battle of Britain, the first time a major battle was fought completely in the air. The furious pace of the intro makes one feel as if they really are running down the tarmac to jump in a Spitfire. The matching of the guitar riffs with Bruce Dickinson’s vocals throughout makes this one of the tightest songs the band will ever perform. Quite literally, every instrument, including the pipes of Dickinson, blends together into a tight formation which spells victory in the form of a classic song.
Two Minutes To Midnight
For many this was the first song heard from Powerslave when it was released as the lead single. The classic Maiden guitar sound is as present as ever with a wicked intro riff and some emotive soloing during an uncharacteristically slower bridge section. The subject matter of the horrors of war continues, only this time focusing on the potential end of the world and the setting of the Doomsday Clock to the titular “2 Minutes.” Indeed, when this album was released, the world was as close to a nuclear conflagration as it had been in many years with the US and Soviet Union still squaring off in the Cold War. Some 23 years later, the song is no less poignant in its warning of “to kill the unborn in the womb” in the current state of the world. The B-side to the single release featured a cover of British prog rock band Beckett’s song “Rainbow’s Gold.”
Losfer Words (Big 'Orra)
The last Maiden instrumental set down to disc as of '07 is also one of the band’s best. One might surmise from the title that the band couldn’t actually think of lyrics to go with it, but as you listen to the metallic assault of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith masterfully wielding their six-strings throughout and song writer Steve Harris’ bass plunking along to fill out the sound, you get the impression this was recorded intentionally as a musical workout for the band. If memory serves correctly, the song featured prominently as the music bed for a sequence of singer Bruce Dickinson in a fencing competition which I recall seeing back in ’84. Because of that, I consider this the beginning of Maiden’s “Fencing Trilogy” of songs from this album.
Flash of the Blade
Speaking of fencing… It was around this time that Bruce Dickinson got into the sport of fencing and also penned this number all about sword fighting as a way of life. In many ways this is a more English take on the area explored on Piece of Mind’s “Sun and Steel.” Some fantastic musicianship is present throughout the number including dual fret board assaults from Murray and Smith in the bridge. The lead guitar which intros the song and holds the piece together is a unique departure from the usual power chord riffs Maiden is best known for.
The Duelists
The last section of the Fencing Trilogy is a Steve Harris written number featuring some fantastic palm muted power chords from the guitars in the song’s main refrain. Dickinson’s voice is as strong here as it ever was, considering he sings much of the song in the upper reaches of his vocal range. The fast picked guitar and bass run with a competing solo at the mid point is yet another fine example of what Maiden do best as musicians. Dickinson would later riff on the song title as the name of his own fencing equipment company, The Duelist.
Back In The Village
Some wicked finger riffing opens this number in a manner similar to the previous tracks. Harris’ bass guitar is as in your face as the guitars on this one, making it a treat for fans of the four string. Whereas Piece of Mind featured some slower moments in a pair of songs, by this point in Powerslave, the band has barely slowed down enough to catch their breath, making for a relentless head banging listen.
Powerslave
The next of the “Maiden epics” is the title track of the album and the first such named song since the title cut of The Number of the Beast. 1984 was a banner year for Egyptian themed heavy metal as Dio had just released a similarly themed album with The Last in Line a couple months before Powerslave. Maiden’s tale of the demise of an Egyptian pharaoh who questions why he must die and become a slave to the power of Death. The song features Middle Eastern inspired guitar riffing that reminds one of “To Tame a Land” but sounds unique in its own right. Once again, Steve Harris’ bass is treated like a lead instrument and Nicko McBrain holds things together masterfully as the song shifts from mid-tempo metal to blazing fast during the solos.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
I am going on record right now and saying this was the moment in Iron Maiden’s metal career that helped define the new progressive direction the band is taking on its three 21st century releases. Back in 1984, the music press and fans alike were blown away at the idea of a song running over 13 minutes in length, let alone that the band intended to play it in its entirety during the World Slavery Tour. The song was progressive metal before such a term existed. Far from a simple repetitive riff throughout (something which Maiden never really did anyway) the song shifts in tone, feeling and speed from start to finish and features some of the most masterful playing the band have put to disc before or since. The lyrics are based around the poem of the same name by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from which the phrase “water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink” comes from. Granted a good portion of the middle of the song is a slow Horse Latitudes affair with full sections of the poem being read, it kicks ferociously back in with Harris’ lead bass reminding the listener they are indeed listening to a Maiden album. This is easily one of the finest examples of the power of music to be more than just simple repetitive chords. For further listening, check out Rush’s A Farewell to Kings song “Xanadu,” which is based on “Kubla Kahn,” Coleridge’s other best known poem.
 
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