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Rank and File

Rank And File: Iron Maiden

Know what absolutely blows my mind? The fact that in one year, it will be forty years since the first Iron Maiden record came out. It’s even weirder to think that Brave New World is gonna be twenty years old since in my head it’s still a “newer album.” Save for the earlier years, they’ve given a pretty sizable amount of time between releases. While this did a lot for some and didn’t do much for others, there’s no denying that the opinions people have are all over the place. This is especially true because at no point do any two albums sound the exact same, and there’s at least something unique with every record.

Given what we know about Iron Maiden, there are a few that fall flat, but thankfully none of them are outright awful. That’s not atypical of a band that takes their time with releases, but I’ll admit that there are a few that I have vastly different opinions than most. Because of this, I’ve decided to look at every record closely, see how they stack up against one another, and of course, rank them.

16) The X Factor (1995)

It’s not that the songs on The X Factor are bad. It’s not that there weren’t good ideas. Most importantly, it’s not that there isn’t an abundant amount of talent. What the issue is that the band managed to make nothing from something. There is enough substance to this for it to have an identity of its own. It’s comprised entirely of heavy riffs that would transition the band from the stripped-down formula of hard rockers that Fear Of The Dark brought us to the progressive and emotional tunes that fill Brave New World. This is like a bad Seinfeld episode, such as “The Parking Garage.” There was a lot of potential and it just didn’t deliver. Admittedly The X Factor needed to happen to help make the transition, but mostly it’s entirely too long (70 minutes) and greatly fails to keep my interest.

Final Grade: D

15) Virtual XI (1998)

This would have actually worked if the frontman was somebody that isn’t Blaze Bayley. Although he fit the sadder mood of The X Factor (whether I like the album or not), he mixes with the music on Virtual XI like oil and water. Essentially, this was an attempt at throwing back to the ‘80s Iron Maiden albums, but it wound up being more awkward than anything. It also went against the transitional state that was beginning to show with the previous disc. Oh, and although songs like “The Angel And The Gambler” are loaded with hooks, there’s still way too much repetition here. At least the overall length isn’t stupidly long.

Final Grade: D+

14) A Matter Of Life And Death (2006)

This one almost had me. A Matter Of Life And Death starts out super strong, as “Different World” and “These Colours Don’t Run” are some of the highest offerings that Steve Harris and co. brought to the table. Unfortunately, the rest of it wouldn’t really follow through. This trend is broken by another favorite known as “For The Greater Good Of God,” however. The soothing clean guitars and soft vocals breaking into heavy melody and a beefy chorus keep it going for the entire nine-minute duration.  But beyond this, it’s way too long and it tries too hard to do what worked well on the two albums that came before it.

Final Grade: C-

13) The Final Frontier (2010)

There is a bit of a soft spot in me for this one, because The Final Frontier was the first Iron Maiden record to come out while I was actually into the band. Basically, I can split the songs into two halves; the ones that are amazing, and the ones that hold no real value. Tracks like “Coming Home” and “When The Wild Wind Blows” are so good that they’d crack my top 10 post-’90s Maiden songs. For every great song though, there’s also a boring one that I find myself sitting through. The two together make for an album that is sturdy in structure but contains just a little too much void-fill.

Final Grade: C

12) Killers (1981)

(Hot take 1/3): If you’ve stopped taking me seriously because of this placement, then you may as well stop reading here because it’s only gonna get worse for those who can’t handle unpopular opinions. Killers isn’t by any measures a bad album. It is also not overrated. I don’t rank this low because I think it makes me special. I just can’t seem to find in it what everyone who praises it finds, and it’s been 10+ years since the first time I listened, and I like the others better. That said, this does have a few killer (haha) tracks that I can’t get enough of. “Wrathchild” and “Murders In The Rue Morgue” are bangers from start to finish. A lot of other tracks have really strong hooks for moments but don’t sit as well with me for the duration of the song. The debut record was punk meets NWOBHM to the core, and here there were signs of the direction Iron Maiden were headed that didn’t mesh nearly as well with Paul Di’Anno as the self-titled effort would. Again, not a bad record, just doesn’t hold up to the others.

Final Grade: C+

11) Dance Of Death (2003)

Let’s set aside the album artwork that everyone loves to talk about, and talk about the thing that matters, which nobody talks about; the music. Dance Of Death is like The Final Frontier but better. “Rainmaker” and “Journeyman” drop some of the most majestic melodies the band has done for their time. “Wildest Dreams” and “No More Lies” tie in some great complexity and everything being topped off with synths allows it to break the surface. Janick Gers’s emotional pieces work very well with the older templates of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. A bit long, and there are definitely some draggers here that I have to sit through, but overall it’s pretty good.

Final Grade: B-

10) The Book Of Souls (2015)

This one is pretty much hit or miss for most. Book Of Souls is one of those records where you’ve gotta be in the right mood for it. If you are, then it’s tremendous; if not, it’s a disaster. The most progressive and epic album Iron Maiden have ever done, this one is packed with really long tracks that do a stellar job of holding the focus from cover to cover. Songs like “The Red And The Black” and the title track rely on beefy chord progressions that wind up turning into proggy licks and buildups that break into solos. On the other hand, ditties like “Speed Of Light,” “Death Or Glory,” and “Tears Of A Clown” are fun packed adventures with accessible means. And I can’t talk about this without mentioning “Empire Of The Clouds,” a piano lead epic that encapsulates everything on this disc into one eighteen minute masterpiece. Though there are some tracks that this could do without, I was very impressed. I’ll never listen without remembering when it came out; I had to run to the mall on release day and get it between classes, and rush back to make it in time.

Final Grade: B

9) Somewhere In Time (1986)

The ranking of this could be interchanged with The Book Of Souls depending on my mood. Somewhere In Time was a shark-jumping effort that really doesn’t have any bad songs, but pretty much abandons what little NWOBHM the band had left. “Wasted Years” and “Caught Somewhere In Time” incorporate really strong harmonies as well as adding synth to make it sit well with the instrumentation. Other favorites of mine like “The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner” and “Stranger In A Strange Land” rely on guitar passages that shift moods and display superior melody. Of course, I can’t forget the extremely powerful “Deja Vu,” with its energy being higher than any of the others. Not a bad song to be found, just doesn’t have as many mind-blowing tracks as other efforts

Final Grade: B+

8) Seventh Son Of A Seventh (1988)

It actually took me a while to get into this one, but Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son was the first original pressing I ever owned. This concept album does a stellar job at staying consistent and keeping it thorough while also having a lot of songs that stand out. It’s also the most synth-heavy record, shown immediately in opener “Moonchild.” Surprisingly, some of these rely on catchy choruses such as the fun banger “Can I Play With Madness” or the harmony-laced closer “Only The Good Die Young.” But, it wouldn’t be complete without complex, borderline progressive tracks like the title track. Lot’s to take away from this disc that only further pressed the ideas that leaked through on Somewhere In Time.

Final Grade: B+

7) No Prayer For The Dying (1990)

(Hot take 2/3): You know, I get it. No Prayer For The Dying was very different from anything the band has ever done, and the tactics were simplified to a far greater degree. Does that really mean the songs are bad, though? This disc serves the purpose of pumping out catchy tunes based more on classic rock that honed in on Bruce’s vocal style that would last the decade, and into his solo career. Tracks like “Run Silent Run Deep,” the title track, and record opener “Tailgunner” bring on softer licks that are hooky to the extreme. Others like “Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter” and “Holy Smoke” are on the sinister edge and take a far more abrasive delivery. This may not be the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Maiden, but it doesn’t make it flat out bad.

Final Grade: B+

6) The Number Of The Beast (1982)

Here lies the record that got me into Iron Maiden in the first place. The special thing about The Number Of The Beast is that it was the only Bruce Dickinson album that truly displayed NWOBHM roots, and it was everything that Killers should have been. “Children Of The Damned” and “Total Eclipse” rely on buildups that are quick to bring on the attitudes similar to Saxon and the likes. Others would elaborate and stretch this out, like my personal favorite “Hallowed Be The Name.” Of course, the relentless title track and “Run To The Hills” broke things down to a straightforward riff onslaught, while a favorite of mine “The Prisoner” keeps it as melodic as possible. The heavy use of major keys while using solid chord progressions and vocal harmony is where the real magic lies. If “Invaders” didn’t exist, this would be damn near perfect.

Final Grade: A-

5) Fear Of The Dark (1992)

(Hot take 3/3): With No Prayer For The Dying, I at least see where people are turned off. Fear Of The Dark, on the other hand, is a classic from top to bottom and does everything that it needed. The longer, lick driven tracks with shifts in tone like “Afraid To Shoot Strangers” and the title track itself are crushing. Killer bangers like “Be Quick Or Be Dead” or “Judas Be My Guide” are all over the place, while the first one is a total blitzkrieg and the latter cakes on melodic bridges that I can’t get enough of. Lastly, the ones that serve no purpose beyond accessible fun like “From Here To Eternity” or “Weekend Warrior” make their marks as well. The intricacy, the hooks, the fun, and the abrasion is all there, and I’ll love it ‘til the day I die.

Final Grade: A-

4) Iron Maiden (1980)

Truly, Iron Maiden and Angel Witch are the two records that I use to pin down what NWOBHM was all about. Both records would be an inspiration for thrash metal, as this is where the punk attitudes and ‘70s metal riffs would merge perfectly and come out flawlessly. Fast, aggressive songs like “Prowler” or the title track would bring on gritty attitudes all the while keeping the heavy. On the flip side, longer intricate tunes like “Phantom Of The Opera” would hone in on crazy guitar noodles and beefy riffs, topped by clean and concise singing. Also, “Transylvania” is one of the greatest instrumental songs ever written. There isn’t a bad moment on this album, and I view it as far superior to Killers.

Final Grade: A

3) Brave New World (2000)

Right up there with Heaven And Hell, Brave New World would serve as one of the greatest comeback albums ever made, following a run of records that didn’t fare too well with the fans. Not only is this the return of Dickinson on vocals, but it’s where Iron Maiden would solidify and stick to the ideas presented on The X Factor but a lot better. Bearing Smith, Gers, and Murray on guitars, there was now time and energy for longer, more intricate tunes that would carry catchy and memorable hooks along with proggy elements. “The Thin Line Between Love And Hate,” “Dream Of Mirrors,” and “Out Of The Silent Planet” would focus in on this the most, alongside tunes like the title track or “The Wicker Man.” These would mix the new melodies with more straightforward tactics. And of course, this has one of the most beautiful ballads ever written, the epic “Blood Brothers.” Everything about this is absolutely mind-blowing.

Final Grade: A

2) Powerslave (1984)

Widely looked at as Iron Maiden’s greatest effort, Powerslave would take a raw approach to the rhythm sections under an advanced one for the leads. It’s also where they would first experiment with super long epics with one of their finest tunes known as “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner.” Their ability to keep the attention for the entire run-time is absolutely stellar. “Back In The Village” and the title track would work as a nice power duo, with speed metal riffs taking charge of the former and the latter being built on firm but slower, more menacing riffs. The vocal effects here and minor-toned bridges create all the atmosphere you need. “Losfer Words” is a solid example of how lead guitars can replace vocals to retain a beefy flow, making for one of the band’s best instrumentals alongside “Transylvania.” Also worth mentioning that this has “Flash Of The Blade” which is my personal second favorite Iron Maiden track ever made.

Final Grade: A

1) Piece Of Mind (1983)

And so we’ve arrived to the record that would establish what is known as the “classic” lineup, with guitarist Adrian Smith and drummer Nicko McBrain making their first appearances. Not only do I believe the songs on Piece Of Mind to be the best crafted, but it’s where the band would also begin to incorporate their greatest lyrical skills. My favorite Iron Maiden tune “Revelations” delivers soft and soothing licks, heavy riffs, poetic greatness, and killer solos all packed into one tune with smooth-as-butter transitions. “Where Eagles Dare” and “Still Life” would display these same aspects while focusing more on individual ideas rather blending them together. Classics like “Die With Your Boots On” and “Flight Of Icarus” would tamper with catchy choruses and harmonic feels that simply can’t be ignored. With that, you’ll also find songs that strictly stick to catchiness like “Sun And Steel” that get to the point rather fast and still carry a lot of weight. Best of all, I still love every minute of “The Trooper” as much as I did the first time I ever heard it, proving that a world-famous track that’s overplayed still loses no luster. I can’t say the same about “2 Minutes To Midnight,” which is why this record always tops Powerslave by just a small hair in my book. There are musically flawless albums that still have moments I could do without, and then there are flawless albums that don’t have a single moment I dislike, and Piece Of Mind is the latter.

Final Grade: A+

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