Fire Up The Big Riggs: Iron Maiden’s Greatest Album Art

Oh, hello there! Welcome to Iron Maiden Week!

Some guy having a meltdown amidst wild flowers

Wait, what? Isn’t, like, every week at Last Rites effectively Iron Maiden week? Well, yes… Yes, it is. But that steady servility is largely relegated to ongoings behind closed doors at LR HQ, and this week we get to be freaks out in the open amidst all the birds and the bees and the wild flowers and the Bigfoot scat and the loosely buried radioactive alien corpses and, yeah, just generally out here in front of the whole world, so we’re extra enthusiastic. Plus, there’s a little event entitled Senjutsu dropping this coming Friday, which was clearly the impetus for this 5-day celebration. However, unlike our two other week-long dedications to a single band—Judas Priest week back in 2018 to coincide with the release of Firepower, and our love-fest with Opeth back in ’19—we will be walking into Maiden’s seventeenth full-length on the very same level playing field as all of you, because we remain underground underdawgs whose celebrity (*cough*) does not grant us promotional considerations from the almighty music group known as Warner (who are probably at least 10% responsible for the above-mentioned loosely buried aliens. Shhhhhhhh!)

So, yes, we don’t have any sort of inside scoop on the new Iron Maiden, and we will not have a review for Senjutsu leading up to its release this coming Friday. What we WILL have, however, is a stack of other fun lists that…obviously kicks off today, and we will reserve Friday for a possible NEW excursion that involves creating a very temporary weekend Discord server that’s Last Rites-centric and open to whomstever might enjoy spending Friday (Sept 3rd) gathered enmasse to discuss all things Senjutsu / Iron Maiden…which is probably what Eddie would most want us to do anyway. No clue if the Discord server side of the plans will really work, because that obviously requires, 1) interest, 2) “digital community app” platform aptitude, and 3) some level of civility, but we’ll give ‘er a go. Expect to see some sort of link / invite this Friday on the homepage, through FB, and on Twitter, and we hope to see as many of the old-school Metal Review forum folks lurking about as possible.

Right, enough with the intro’ing! Let’s shift the attention to our very first day of Iron Maiden week! Take ‘er away, Rydawg. [CAPTAIN]

A wife had a baby, but it was born with only a head and no body. ‘Don’t worry,’ says the doctor. ‘Bring him back in five years time, and we’ll probably have a body for him’. So five years go by, and there’s Eddie the ‘Ead, as his parents have called him, sitting on the mantelpiece, when in walks his dad. ‘Son,’ he says, ‘today’s a very special day. It’s your fifth birthday, and we’ve got a very special surprise for you.’ ‘Oh no,’ says Eddie. ‘Not another fucking hat!” – Dave Murray

Poor chap has no idea what he’s going to go through in the next 41 years.

Not to put words in the ol’ bloke’s mouth, but if Eddie were sick of wearing new hats by his fifth birthday it certainly seems as though he’s come ‘round to the idea. Sure, by the time Iron Maiden was released, Motörhead already had their thing with Snaggletooth, and Priest were beginning a long, symbolic journey with their trident. Yet, no one expanded on the mascot idea in the way that Iron Maiden did. Satan had their little reaper fella, Riot had their nature-defying furry seal creature in all sorts of scenarios, but no one did it as cohesively or elaborately as Maiden. While it’s omitted from the following list, Derek Riggs’ iconic Iron Maiden holds a particular reverence. The expression on young Eddie’s face, both fearful and fear-inducing, has a certain naivety to it, at least in retrospect. Eddie has no clue the worlds the music of Iron Maiden is about to take him through; from backstreet, blue-collar Killers, through the biblical realms of hell to sanitariums, ancient Egypt, cyperpunk dystopias, world wars, 3-D rendered disasterpieces, and beyond.

It’s a lot of hats to wear, but ol’ Ed The ‘Ead has taken it in stride. Through countless albums, singles, EPs, flyers, T-shirts, and all sorts of assorted merchandising, Eddie has remained a steadfast centerpiece of the band. Hell, he’s almost as essential a member of Iron Maiden as Steve Harris and Dave Murrary. Eddie and the worlds of history, fantasy, and reality that he’s placed in are interwoven with the band–it’s almost impossible to separate the music from the visual art in a multimedia tour-de-force that no one else in heavy metal has ever been able to replicate with such consistency and longevity. What follows is not only an appreciation for the visual aspect of the band, but our favorite snapshots of Eddie throughout his journey in the ever-expanding universe of the one and only Iron Maiden. [RYAN  TYSINGER]

10. PIECE OF MIND

Enjoy more of the full art here.

I had shrieking, lobotomized Eddie on my wall when I was in early high school, between Unleashed in the East and Ride the Lightning (and yes, secretly, each of these hid a sexy little surprise for anybody savvy enough to lift a corner and sneak a peek). I stared at that poster a lot as a young teenager, thinking about poor Eddie and even relating to him in his sorry predicament; in a sense, Eddie was me!

It’s a very simple cover at first blush, particularly up against so much of Derek Riggs’ other work for Iron Maiden. Simple yet deep. I wondered what (or who) had gotten to Eddie. Padded walls, straight jacket and chains, sure, but that’s not a common kind of crazy in Eddie’s dying star eyes. There’s a terrible desperation in his madness that Riggs just nails as Eddie strains against his shackles, pushing, tearing, snarling at… me!

My copy of Piece of Mind was a cassette tape, so the cover was small, but it folded out to the full gatefold art, revealing what I supposed had Eddie so very well pissed: a door ‒ his escape! ‒ tantalizingly near and impossible to reach. Freedom’s promise pours into those expanded panels as moonlit clouds in a wide open sky, cool and serene against the dry, jaundiced heat of Eddie’s prison.

Then in the corner, taunting, a floating glove (disembodied hand?) holding a chain and… the key to Eddie’s irons?! Alas, we know today that the hand was just a clever way for Riggs to leave his mark (his signature on a trinket attached to the chain), and the cover art generally was just Riggs’ amazing interpretation of some cool ideas that didn’t really mean anything in a big picture sense. But at the time I was convinced that Eddie’s plight mirrored my own. I was trapped too, god damn it, by the suffocating confines of barely understood Christianity and all the starchy rules of a country upbringing in small town traditional America. All I really wanted was escape and Iron Maiden gave me countless hours of it that I continue to treasure even after all this time. [LONE WATIE]

9. “STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND” SINGLE

Enjoy more of the full art here.

When asked to choose his favorite Iron Maiden album cover, Derek Riggs chose four. Among the four was “Stranger in a Strange Land.” It’s not hard to see why.

The strange, seemingly seedy land here appears not too distant from Ridley Scott’s vision of 2019 Los Angeles in Blade Runner. Strange creatures, both futuristic and not-so-futuristic-looking, appear to be engaged in a smorgasbord of sin. Or perhaps that’s the green creature’s Sunday best.

Ignoring for a second the very thing that grabs you—the Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name meets Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard Eddie—it’s the lighting that makes this art extraordinary. The beam of fluorescent light on the two ant-like robots and the hairy little guy in the helmet hanging out in the bar area. The stage-like light illuminating whatever it is the aforementioned green creature and the gun-toting robot are engaged in on the far right. And, of course, our Eddie, standing in the dark between the two, cigarette in mouth, lit lighter in hand. There’s smoke. There’s a little fire. The glint of beer and rocks glasses. The shiny helmet on the hairy little guy. And the yellow street light and neon signage just outside of this fine establishment.

Riggs’ command of lighting creates the atmosphere of risk and danger that makes this strange land strange and, ultimately, kind of cool. That feeling of isolation, of loneliness, that the song itself so effectively captures is depicted perfectly here in visual form. One is left wondering just what Eddie intends to do here. Once upon a time I thought it obvious that he was just two minutes shy of tossing that lighter over his shoulder. Whatever the case may be, this Eddie—this futuristic and not-so-futuristic-looking Eddie, this caught somewhere in time Eddie—is, without a doubt, one of my favorites. [CHRIS C]

8. SEVENTH SON OF A SEVENTH SON

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Most days, Seventh Son is my favorite Maiden album, but it was one of the early-run albums that took me the longest to track down and sink my teeth into. (In my unsophisticated and mostly pre-internet youth, I was at the mercy of whatever I might stumble across at a used CD shop.) Perhaps because of the relative lateness of when I acquired it, I already had a fairly well-formed idea of what Maiden covers looked like, and Seventh Son, while still fitting that mold, also felt wildly different.

A huge piece of that difference is that Seventh Son has arguably the lightest overall color palette of any of Maiden’s albums. (Powerslave is the only one that really comes close.) Further, the lightness of the blues, yellows, and whites amplifies the relative sparseness of the image. So many of Derek Riggs’s other Maiden covers are dense compositions that cram as much fascinating and wickedly cool detail as possible into the frame, but this one just… breathes more. That spaciousness dovetails neatly with the sound of the album itself, from the guitar-synths to the unhurried songwriting to the bright and often pop-sheened choruses.

The mixture of outer space, aquatic, and landscape elements feels more than a little inspired by some of Roger Dean’s celebrated work for Yes (e.g., Fragile or Tales from Topographic Oceans), and overall represents one of the more fantastical tableaus in Maiden’s career. The apple resting against Eddie’s spine, the bizarrely suspended lightbulbs, the water that somehow has a sharp crack in the bottom left: all these details seem to hint at lyrical themes or hidden messages in the way that so many progressive metal groups of the 90s and beyond would continue to embrace.

But most important of all, of course, is that the Seventh Son art is just flat-out awesome. Eddie’s muscle and sinew appearance on the cover is almost an extension of the cyborg motif from Somewhere in Time, and the sleeve’s back cover offers a more restrained take on the Easter egg-packed SiT art. In fact, if you’re not looking closely, it’s easy to miss how the figures in the sculpted ice hint at Eddie’s appearance on (from left to right) Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind, and Live After Death. Packed with subtlety and depth, cool professionalism and passionate mysticism, Riggs’s art here is the perfect match for an album packed with exactly the same. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]

7. “ACES HIGH” SINGLE

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As anyone who’s suddenly found hockey through Gritty will likely confirm: Mascots work. Accordingly, I am not the least bit ashamed to admit that Eddie the Head played a significant role in my decision to jump into Iron Maiden those many, many moons ago. Point of fact: Throwing a largely zombified rager that adapts with aplomb to whatever maniacal situation he’s forced into in front of a bunch of wild youths just getting into metal was a genius move, and as an individual who first dipped into the endless well of Eddie’s frantic adventures through a chance encounter in the mid-80s, I was totally smitten by the mummified version tacked to everything related to Powerslave, especially the interpretation Derek Riggs offered up for the cover of the “Aces High” 7” that pitted Ed in the cockpit of a Supermarine Spitfire amidst a fiery airborne scrap during the Battle of Britain in 1940. At the time, my local record store offered a posterized version of the soaring escapade, which felt like a far-too-affordable cheat to the next level of metal fandom for a kid with a crap allowance. But there I stood, with what felt like a remarkable mystical scroll tucked under my arm, trying to determine if my parents would allow such a grim visage to hang on my bedroom wall. Much to my surprise, not only did my folks give Aces High the okay, they secured dear Edward the flying ace on poster board to better preserve him for the years to come. And lo and behold, it worked! I still own the very same poster today. Luv u, Eddie! BFFs to the end! [CAPTAIN]

6. SOMEWHERE IN TIME

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Full disclosure: the Somewhere in Time art is my favorite Derek Riggs art and one of my favorite album covers ever. The first time I saw it I was absolutely blown away. This wasn’t the street toughness of Killers, religious imagery of The Number of the Beast, or ancient history of Powerslave, this was THE WOOOOOOOOOORLD OF TOMORROW! It instantly shaped my impressions of the album, and the futuristic sheen of the music matched Cyborg Eddie perfectly.

Like many of Riggs’ works, the perspective lines work to lead your eyes to Eddie, but Somewhere In Time’s crisscrossing is frequently interrupted by the vertical lines of skyscrapers. Eddie being street level amongst all these towers of unknown heights stands in strong contrast to his gritty rooftop location on the Killers cover, and the many references to Maiden’s past ‒ the debut poster and graffiti on the right, neon Eye of Horus in the background, etc. ‒ add to the feeling that this isn’t just futuristic music, but an actual glimpse into the future of Eddie’s world. And the almost stoic look on Eddie face? He’s just a guy doing a job, man.

Also, and this can’t be overstated, it just looks insanely rad. The detail on Cyborg Eddie is bonkers, and the choice to go with yellow for much of his exoskeleton contrasts brilliantly with the red of the muscles, while matching much of the signage and the band logo up top (also the first time the logo was hollowed out on a studio albumto let more of the art come through). The detail in the background is equally rich, with signage showing not only how international this city is, but how intergalactic, while little elements like the ship and stores have enough going on to be their own pieces.

As these rankings reveal, Iron Maiden has covers that are more beloved, but as an artist, Derek Riggs was probably never better than on Somewhere In Time. [ZACH DUVALL]

5. THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST

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Heavy metal has been intertwined with the devil ever since Ozzy Osbourne sang “Satan’s sitting there, he’s smiling” on the title track of Black Sabbath’s 1970 debut. The 80s saw that connection strengthen further with the advent of the Satanic Panic. While that concern of connection between music and Satanic ritual abuse was more of an American thing, there’s no denying that the striking image of our good pal Eddie controlling a Betty Boop-style devil had many a teen across the globe enthralled by the chance to squirrel away a taboo item and keep an exciting secret from their parents.

For those already converted as fans, the escalation across their first three albums had to be similarly striking. The Eddie of the debut seemed a bit powerless and likely a victim of a shrinking head curse, but their sophomore effort saw him gain maniacal strength turning into a terrifying ax-wielding sociopath. How could they top that? Well, Derek Riggs apparently thought giving Eddie the power to control the devil was a logical next step and it worked in making one of the band’s most iconic covers. The artwork was originally intended for the single release of “Purgatory” in 1981, but it was decided the piece was just too damn compelling not to use on a full-length.

It seemed a fitting realization that aligned with the band’s moves at the time. Just as Eddie was learning to wield fire and magic, so too was Iron Maiden. The Number of the Beast showed even more galloping power, infectious melodies and a massive jump in singing quality with earworm hooks thanks to the addition of Bruce Dickinson.

While some bands aimed to be less overt about connections to devilry or leveled their songs at praising Satan, Iron Maiden basically said, “You’re afraid of him? Well, he works for us!” And work he did, because that iconic cover adorns one of their greatest albums to date. [SPENCER HOTZ]

4. “THE TROOPER” SINGLE

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Between all the t-shirts, concert backdrops, patches, posters, flags, and likely tattoos (plus the actual single release), the artwork for “The Trooper” is one of the most iconic images in heavy metal history. Repeat: it’s a single. Such is the power of Derek Riggs’ work and the song it represents, which is itself on the short list of serious Signature Iron Maiden Song contenders. If you discovered Maiden after the 80s, there’s a solid chance you saw this image before you heard the song.

For good reason. From both a compositional and content standpoint, it’s one of Riggs’ biggest winners. The entire page is set up to direct your eyes to the center, from the way the flag spear parallel’s Eddie’s right arm and the ground to how the saber, cannon, and plooms of “acrid smoke” cut across and intersect those lines. And what is in the middle of the page? Redcoat Eddie, coming towards the viewer with murder in his eyes, blood on his saber, and tattered flag in his hand. Is he running quickly at you? Lumbering with menace? Unclear. Either way, the message is simple: you are next, and soon you’ll join the corpses Eddie passes without a caring glance. (Eddie’s right boot being slightly off the bottom of the page also has a message: it’s too late.)

But like the song itself, the artwork isn’t just some “rah rah go England” bit of patriotism, but includes messages about the horrors of war. That grim reaper in the background might not be as gloomy as a soldier that “lay forgotten and alone,” but it’s a reminder that no matter how much glory you might think is in that first charge of battle, all that awaits is death. [ZACH DUVALL]

3. POWERSLAVE

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When it came time to buy my second Iron Maiden album, “2 Minutes to Midnight” and “Aces High” played heavily in my decision, but the striking Egyptian-themed artwork solidified it. The creation process was described as “a nightmare” by artist Derrek Riggs, who took the initial cue from a picture of five guys dragging a pharaoh’s head and turned it into a sprawling mash-up of elements across multiple pieces of paper. The nightmare ‒ trying to recreate his “sketch” into a single work of art while dealing with equipment issues working in the Bahamas ‒ is detailed in his book “Run For Cover”.

At front and center of a giant pyramid of course was Eddie in pharaoh headdress, flanked on both sides by statues of sphinx and jackals. The top of the pyramid is aglow and crackling with power. If you look closely, you can even see where it all started: a casket being carried up the steps. In an epilogue of sorts, the back art takes us inside the tomb, where the spirit of Anubis stands guard over Eddie’s sarcophagus.

The detail is extraordinary, from the painted Eyes of Horus to the genuine hieroglyphics adorning the exterior and interior, and you quickly find yourself lost in the splendor as you ponder the audio treasures that await you within, knowing in your heart that there’s no way this album will be anything less than amazing. [DAVE PIRTLE]

2. LIVE AFTER DEATH

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No metal band was flying higher in 1985 than Iron Maiden. By that point, Bruce and his fellow dental floss salesmen were in the midst of a tour that involved an absurd 331 day / 187 show stretch that resulted in one of the finest (if not the finest) live heavy metal albums ever recorded: Live After Death.

Having said that, as a kid just beginning to secure a foothold in the genre, I actually had little interest in live albums—something that frankly remains true today. (Love to see bands play / don’t really leap at the chance to hear that coming from the speakers in my living room.) Seeing that explosive cover for Live After Death staring up at me from the record bin changed all of that, though. Please keep in mind, yet again, that this was an age where people really didn’t have much of a clue what bands had up their sleeves until the day a record was released, so imagine being a kid in the midst of a budding Iron Maiden obsession and walking away from any sort of object that sported Eddie ripping his way out of a grave whole having his head struck by lightning. GO AHEAD AND TRY TO IMAGINE THAT, FANCYPANTS. Yeah, not gonna happen. And yes, literally everything about the Derek Riggs’ cover artwork for this record is incredible: all the glowing energy begging Eddie to spring to literal life; the extraordinary attention to detail given to every element; and, as was tradition from time to time, the Easter eggs popping up, particularly scattered amongst the gravestones on the flipside.

All told, Derek Riggs was a master at providing listeners something to really study while a record was playing, and with Live After Death he gets an extra 1000 bonus points for creating the most “please let me own a van with this airbrushed all over it” moment in Iron Maiden’s career. [CAPTAIN]

1. KILLERS

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This may surprise you, but I have never designed an actual album cover for a real live heavy metal band. I also rarely drive steamboats. There’s a lot of things you don’t know about me…

But I would imagine, based on the approximately 37 seconds of thought I’ve given it, that the ideal situation for an album cover artist would be not only to create a piece of art that defines the music within, but to do that and to also create one so striking and so ‒ for lack of a less Bill-and-Ted term ‒ excellent (wheedly wheedly air guitar) that it becomes iconic.

Derek Riggs created about a dozen of those works, and of all of them, perhaps none is more iconic than the cover of Iron Maiden’s second album, Killers. Spinning off from the self-titled album’s introductory portrait of Eddie, Killers takes everyone’s favorite zombie mascot to a new level. Here he’s more maniacal, more mischievous, more metal (note the long hair now, not the punky mohawk from before). Like the album it adorns, the painting is gritty and street-level, dark and dangerous, but it’s also cartoonish, equal parts real-world toughness and horror-comic fantasy. The bloody axe, the hands of the (presumably) dying victim pulling down on the shirt, the gleam in Eddie’s eye, the facial expression that isn’t quite (and yet isn’t quite NOT) a smile… The Killers artwork is custom-made for t-shirts and posters, and unsurprisingly, it’s adorned who-knows-how-many of both in the 40 years since we first saw it. It’s arguably the most iconic of all of Maiden’s art, with possibly only the lightning-bolt frenzy of Live After Death to rival it. Every metal band wishes they had an Eddie, and here’s the most killer Eddie of them all. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]

HOW WE VOTED

Oh, hello there. The list is over but you’re still here! Care to take a peek behind the curtains and see how we voted as individuals? While most of us stayed focused on the 80s and the classic Derek Riggs art, there were some weird picks across the team, as you’ll see below. Please feel free to share your favorite Iron Maiden art in the comments, any personal stories behind your relationships to the covers, and above all else, shame us for our picks…

Especially anyone that somehow omitted the Somewhere In Time cover. Seriously, HOW?

Posted by Last Rites

GENERALLY IMPRESSED WITH RIFFS

  1. In the mid-1980s I got kicked out of college. It was my senior year, last semester. Four years down the drain. It was stressful as hell. Live After Death helped me cope with the situation, especially “Die with your boots on”, which is how I imagined I was going out (of college). I cranked that record every day and stared at that cover. That is the cover with the most personal connection for me. All their covers are awesome though…except for “Dance of Death”, which I dislike. My favorite cover is “Powerslave”–it is simply EPIC, like the music inside. And, I just now noticed that on the left-hand wall, in the background, are circling albatrosses arranged like a clock, and the top-most one’s wings are spread like a clock hand, at about 2 minutes to midnight! Does anyone else see this? I never noticed this before. How awesome is that cover?

    PS-Eddie is actually breaking out of his restraints on “Piece of Mind”. The chain links are starting to break, and the straight jacket is ripping. He is NOT trapped anymore.

    Reply

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