Iron Reforged: Another Life For Maiden Classics

There’s that tired old saying about not judging books by their covers, but you certainly can judge a band by its choice of cover songs, from the artists they pick, to the track they choose, to how they interpret it, how they make it their own, or how badly they fail in trying. The list of songs that a particular band or artist chooses to cover tells you quite a bit about their inspiration and their taste and, ultimately, their skill.

Of course, any band who tries to tackle an Iron Maiden tune has some pretty big balls to start with. Between Dickinson’s world-class voice and stratospheric melodies, you either have to have one hell of a singer or you have to approach the vocals from a new angle. And that hurdle doesn’t take into account Maiden’s first-tier musicianship — at the minimum, you’re trying to best two of the greatest guitarists in the history of metal (three, if you’re picking a more recent tune), plus a supercharged rhythm section with directed by a bassist whose lines are often leads in themselves. And then even that doesn’t address the simple fact that Maiden’s sense of songcraft is so developed that each of their tunes is pretty much perfect as it is, so there’s little room for improvement and any reinvention is much more likely to fall flat than it is to fly on its way, like an eagle.

Covering a Maiden song is a tricky endeavor, and a tough one, but it’s not an impossible one, and of the dozens and dozens of bands who’ve tried, a handful of greats managed to pull it off. Here are some of our favorites. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]

OPETH ‒ REMEMBER TOMORROW

[A Call To Irons, 1998]

There might not be a more fitting Maiden song for Opeth to cover than “Remember Tomorrow.” The original has shades of hazy 70s prog rock, standing in contrast to the punkier attitude Paul Di’Anno gave much of the other early material. Opeth carries this old prog style even further in their take, largely due to Mikael Åkerfeldt’s warmer voice, and his keen sense of dynamics lend a lot to what was already a very pretty song. The differing ways he ends each of the three verses ‒ somewhat hesitant the first time, with soaring falsetto the second, and without even singing the final word the last ‒ adds even more emotion to an already very searching, ponderous song.

But it’s also different because Opeth in the late 90s was already well on their way to injecting plenty of prog rock into their extreme metal; this was basically the My Arms, Your Hearse era of the band. Although the cover isn’t as lush as that album, it’s still both hazier and denser than the original, likely due to the nearly two decades of metal guitar sound development between the two versions, but also because that’s where Opeth was heading.

The only thing kinda disappointing about Opeth’s version is that it might have been even better had they covered it once their career took a much bigger turn for the 70s. Their gorgeous takes on “Bridge of Sighs” and “Soldier of Fortune” are even more nuanced and beautiful. But perhaps it’s fitting that they took on a song from Iron Maiden’s nascent period when they themselves were still discovering their full power. It’s a peek into the type of music that inspired Opeth to be what they would eventually be—a legend-in-the-making paying tribute to what was then also a legend-in-the-making, you might say. [ZACH DUVALL]

ARCH ENEMY ‒ ACES HIGH

[Made In Tribute: A Tribute To The Best Band In A Whole Goddamn World!, 1997]

Long fascinated by Iron Maiden but slow to get on the wagon, I found myself at The Number of the Beast, a smattering of hits, skepticism from the Blaze Bayley years, and not knowing where to go. I had recently been turned on to Arch Enemy when a friend played me this track from a Swedish tribute album. “Woah! What is THIS?!” I asked. He laughed and replied, “It’s an Iron Maiden cover, dude!” I probably deserved that. Long story short, I soon owned both the tribute album and Powerslave.

Arch Enemy’s take is faithful to the original, straightforward with no noticeable musical liberties taken. The only uniqueness comes from their differing musical styles, which creates a pretty solid bridge to cross for someone who had spent a lot of time looking forward but not as much looking back. So when I heard the original, it clicked right away. Arch Enemy hadn’t just made a good cover, they covered a good song. After that, my trepidation turned to excitement: what additional greatness awaited in the back catalogue?

As it turned out, quite a lot. Thanks, Arch Enemy, for kicking down and shoving me through the door I had spent far too long staring at blankly. [DAVE PIRTLE]

SEBASTIAN BACH ‒ CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED

[A Tribute To The Beast, Vol 2, 2003]

If you’re going to cover a Maiden song, you’d damned well better have a great singer (or don’t try to out-sing Bruce, at the very least). And of course, Sebastian Bach is nothing is not an absolute beast of a singer, so it’s no surprise that he sings the ever-living $%*& out of this Maiden classic.

Taken from the bonus disc of one of the who-knows-how-many tribute albums foisted upon the marketplace during the late 1990s and early 2000s, this one plays it safe with the backing track. I’m not certain who the musicians are, only that they’re almost assuredly not anyone in Skid Row (despite this cover being labeled as such in some corners of the internet), as by this point, Bas had long since departed that New Jersey outfit on less-than-amicable terms. Atop an underwhelming production and the straight-ahead no-surprises rendering of the instrumentation, Sebastian wails and soars and snarls, showcasing that almost-inhuman marriage of range and power that characterizes his voice and also that of Bruce Dickinson. At times, Bas pulls down Bruce’s phrasing and tone, but mostly he sticks to that high and clear wailing scream that only he can really pull off, and somehow his performance shows exactly how good a singer both he and Bruce truly are, because if a singer as goddamned great as Sebastian has to use every bit of his range and power to twist this melody around, then the guy who sang it the first time must be equally damned great, right?

Right. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]

JORN ‒ THE FINAL FRONTIER

[Heavy Rock Radio, 2016]

Jorn Lande’s cover of “The Final Frontier” is surprising for a number of reasons. First, if Jorn covers anything vaguely metallic, it’s from the Dio/Sabbath world. And second, it’s a cut from The Final Frontier, Maiden’s 15th album—not Powerslave, Somewhere in Time, or Seventh Son, but instead a comparatively modern Maiden.

Perhaps, given the nature of the song, I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Its mid-tempo, bluesy hard rock groove makes it perfectly suited for the David Coverdale-like tone of Jorn’s voice. Because the song itself is rather simple, highlighting the singer more than the instrumentation, it’s almost better suited to Jorn than to Bruce at this point, high notes and all.

A solid, if somewhat uninspired opener to a fairly awesome and progressive album, “The Final Frontier” is not among its highlights. And the song works better within the context of the album, as it creates the feel of the beginning of a concept album without said album actually being a concept album. Yet it stands on its own, in both the original and the cover, because the two vocalists give it their distinctive touch.

If you’re at all familiar with Jorn, you won’t be surprised by his predictably smooth take. Not that the original is particularly gritty, but there’s a slight but noticeable AOR sheen that differentiates the two and will sound familiar to anyone with a passing interest in Mr. Lande’s work. Because the song otherwise sounds the same—structure intact, similar instrumentation—its primary characteristic is Jorn’s voice, as it should be. And while I am still not sure how many stations are playing anything Maiden’s released in the past 30 odd years, I am grateful that DJ Jorn has a more open mind. [CHRIS C]

ANAAL NATHRAKH ‒ POWERSLAVE

[The Whole of the Law deluxe editions, 2016]

There are almost certainly as many reasons to record a cover song as there are cover songs, but a key choice is always how faithfully a cover will hew to the original. Plenty of bands play their covers straight, and in so doing highlight or pay homage to a key influence. Others take the original and twist it beyond recognition; in such cases, the covering band aims at the malleability of musical DNA in order to engage the originator in some kind of oblique conversation.

Sometimes, though, a band just wants to burn the fucking house down.

Enter Anaal Nathrakh’s rampaging cover of “Powerslave,” released as a bonus track on the deluxe version of 2016’s The Whole of the Law. Although Maiden’s triumphant, galloping heavy metal is about as far from Nathrakh’s blackened industrial chaos as possible, Nathrakh plays this cover in such a way as to flirt with both of the poles mentioned above. That is, although the sonics are drastically different, Nathrakh takes on this perfect, impeccable, iconic song with essential reverence; the structure is unchanged, the chorus soars, and even though it is peppered with mechanized blastbeats, the tempo is fairly true to the original. And yet, although the song is easily recognizable, it also becomes almost totally alien as Mick Kenney’s instrumentation progresses within each verse from straight-ahead blast to brutal slam to broken-glass staccato.

Here’s the thing, though: it works gorgeously. Coupling the Eastern scale modality of Dickinson’s composition with the brutality of Nathrakh’s approach means that it almost sounds like something Nile might have written circa Black Seeds or Darkened Shrines, and Dave Hunt’s elastic vocals careen from hideous snarl to overdriven wail and back again. The midsong solo break is perhaps the most shocking of all, given how wonderfully Kenney captures the same plaintive sense of Maiden’s original, but when they kick back into whirling dervish mode to bring it all home, there’s a real feeling that Nathrakh has channeled perfectly the menace and desperation that seep from every note of the original.

And frankly, I don’t care who you are and what kind of heavy metal you play: “In my last hour, I’m a slave to the power of death” is a perfect line, a perfect sentiment, and a perfect laboratory for running every ounce of your own unhinged energy through in an effort to chase the masters, even (and maybe especially) if you know you’ll never catch them. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]

CRADLE OF FILTH ‒ HALLOWED BE THY NAME

[Lovecraft & Witch Hearts, 2002]

“Hallowed Be Thy Name” receiving a gothic makeover was nothing short of destiny. The slow somber intro beset by tolling bells, lyrics questioning god and talking about being hung, and the classical flow of the song’s progression all reek of blackened drama. And who better to put a layer of corpse paint, blood-red lipstick, and leather-clad theatrics on this trip to the gallows pole than Cradle of Filth?

As with any good cover, Iron Maiden’s fellow Brits absolutely nail the song while putting enough Cradle character into it to make it their own. Right off the bat, you’ll notice the sound of the bell is more prominent, keys have replaced the haunting guitars and they’ve added some wind effects to make the song feel even colder. The opening passage sees Dani Filth primarily utilizing a layered spoken-word format until hitting a pivotal line where he starts to howl. The keys do an excellent job of slowly building behind him to make the moment all the more impactful.

Unsurprisingly, the main riff of the song is sped up but also gets some extra twiddly parts and a nice dive bomb added in. Bruce Dickinson and Dani Filth’s voices couldn’t be further apart in style, but they are both incredibly unique and powerful. Filth offers a great array of tempo, pitch, layers and punctuating sounds that are a force to be reckoned with.

The extra speed, use of keyboards, added sound effects, personal spin on the guitar leads, operatic female vocals toward the end, and Filth’s eccentric vocals all make this an undeniably fantastic Iron Maiden cover. [SPENCER HOTZ]

STONED ‒ THE TROOPER

[Music for the Morons, 1995]

Sweden indisputably holds a certain monopoly on melodicism in music. From the hook-laden pop of Abba to the almost candy-coated epic metal of Heavy Load or the catchy aggression of hardcore from Raised Fist or the more artsy interpretation by Refused, or perhaps surprisingly accessible evil of Dissection–hell, even their ska-infused skatepunk scene of the 90’s spearheaded by acts like Millencolin managed to feel genuine in their infectiousness. It never feels like any of these bands are selling their soul to pop trends, moreso that the melodies flow naturally and honestly.

And speaking of skate punk, while Millencolin spearheaded the Swedish efforts to the genre, plenty of unsung bands were putting out equally catchy and energetic material. Pridebowl and Adhesive were bringing it with the likes of Pennywise and NOFX, which brings us to Stoned. Their 1995 debut, Music For The Morons, is a study in late Gen-X stoner dropout skate culture. So what does this have to do with Iron Maiden? Well, four tracks into the album we’re hit with a cover of “The Trooper.” It’s a cover that connected with my adolescent, punk mind that rejected metal as overly flashy. “Give me three chords and something to be angry about,” was my mentality at the time, but hearing that Maiden staple in a context I could digest opened my mind. Hell, there’s a reason you see Sum 41’s Dave Baksh in an Iron Maiden tee in most of their videos. So many of those more melodic punk bands of the 90’s were kids that grew up on Maiden, Priest, and Metallica (literally every Kill ‘Em All tune is a 90’s punk tune if shifted to a major key), and Stoned were obviously no exception.

Judging by their original tunes, Stoned already had that Swedish gift of melodicism, yet chose to cover an Iron Maiden tune at a fairly crucial point in the flow of their debut. While it does strip down the song to fit with the aesthetic of a nineteen year-old dropout cruising on a miniramp, it never sacrifices the heart of the song: Yet at the same time, it feels like it’s sticking a youthful tongue out at Steve Harris’s very public disdain of punk. It’s both reverent to the music and snotty to the pretensiousness, and further deepens the bastard/cousin relationship between the evolutions of both punk rock and heavy metal. [RYAN TYSINGER]

SENTINEL BEAST ‒ PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

[Depths of Death, 1986]

There are a number of classic metal bands that feel untouchable in a way that makes cover songs by and large a relatively poor decision. But by all means, if you’re looking for a quick way to showcase your band’s shortcomings, feel free to offer up slipshod interpretations of works that are clearly several hundred miles outside of your competencies—how very fun and gallant of you, with apologies to King Diamond, Manilla Road, Judas Priest and about fifty other bands, including Iron Maiden.

BOOM, in comes an absolutely cracking cover of Maiden’s bonafide classic “Phantom of the Opera” by Sentinel Beast—one of Sacramento, CA’s best kept secrets that actually were not at all a secret (discovered by Kerry King and quickly landing on Metal Blade), but they definitely should have been a lot more active / much more appreciated during their 80s heyday.

Foremost, it’s prudent to note that Sentinel Beast were not only hugely influenced by the NWOBHM, they played precisely within that style during their demo days. By the time they released their lone full-length, though—1986’s phenomenal Depths of Death—they did what virtually every metal band did back then, which was take the aggression to the next level, resulting in the sort of trad / power / speed / thrash metal hybrid that additionally resulted in groups such as Flotsam and Jetsam, Metal Church, Heretic, Heathen et al to infinity. All of these bands somehow found a way to deliver incredibly intense chops right from the jump, with Sentinel Beast opting to put the skills of every single player to the test by closing out their debut with a showcase of Maiden’s first true venture into twisty-turny progressive metal complexity. Just one listen to their interpretation of “Phantom of the Opera” proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Sentinel Beast were indeed wildly talented beasts, and the only question remains… Has any other band ever come close to this level of Iron Maiden cover song proficiency? The answer to that question is NOPE. [CAPTAIN]

Posted by Last Rites

GENERALLY IMPRESSED WITH RIFFS

  1. That COF cover is my favorite cover of all time!

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    1. Have you heard the Solitude Aeturnus cover? One of the few times where the cover just may be better than the original, imo.

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      1. This one is an absolutely GREAT call. Totally forgot about the SA cover! Excellent catch!

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        1. Those vocals with the last “running low” bit and the way the solo comes screaming in at the end…

          *chefs kiss

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  2. No ABSU doing Transylvania or Angel Corpses’ take on Genghis Khan?!?

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  3. I really don’t vibe with that “Powerslave” cover by AN. Especially not when their cover of “Man at C&A” is ten times better.

    The best Maiden cover I ever saw/heard, however, was at an Anathema show. Their support band didn’t make it across the channel, so Danny stepped in to do an impromptu opening set all on his ow, playing a mix of his solo material, a few Anathema songs that the band weren’t going to be playing that night, and a handful of covers, one of which was a soulful rendition – just him, an acoustic guitar, and a loop pedal – of “Wasted Years”. Spellbinding stuff.

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    1. Whoa, never heard tale of Cavanagh covering “Wasted Years,” but lookie here:

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      1. Well that’s just goshdarn pretty that is.

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  4. Just throwing out some appreciation for Sentenced’s cover of The Trooper. Man, I miss Jarva-period Sentenced.

    Reply

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