When considering discography rankings for legacy bands such as Iron Maiden with careers that stretch across multiple decades, it’s important to understand that said rankings are and will always be fluid and extremely situational. Consider the following conversation to illustrate the point:
Intensely discerning Iron Maiden fan #1: “Hey, insightful associate, what are your top three Iron Maiden albums?”
Exceedingly perceptive Iron Maiden fan #2: “You mean right now, or all-time?”
Iron Maiden freaks love going on deep binges that often end up opening previously unheeded doors, resulting in stretches where third and fourth-place albums suddenly make jumps, or where one-time fully neglected records end up consuming the lion-share of their listening experience… Fluidity.
At the same time, the boon of becoming a bonafide Maiden freak often has such a profound effect on a person for such a long period of time, one can’t help but ultimately champion whichever album first introduced the individual to the game… Situational.
This “fluid and situational favorites” component is a wonderful thing, and it’s crucial for maintaining serious durability over a great many years. What happens to set Iron Maiden apart, though—and honestly puts them in a class of their very own—is their career-long commitment to (and relentless flair for) entertainment. This is what all but guarantees packed arenas, no matter the circumstances or which era of the band that happens to be referenced. Main point: The Iron Maiden collective has always worked their asses off to push things to the next level. Consequently, they hope to slay you with their records, and they aspire to outright blow up heads when fans spend hard-earned cash to witness that music delivered from the stage. Whatta band, that Iron Maiden.
How this all relates to a list like this is probably fairly obvious. Below you will find a ranking of Iron Maiden’s full-length discography as voted on by the staff of Last Rites in the year of our Lord 2021. If the list differs greatly from yours, we fully understand your frustration; ask us to rank the records again in six months and it could very well change. Or maybe it won’t. Does that seem like we’re copping a plea before we even dive in? Eh, guilty as charged. But it’s also testament to the sheer strength of Iron Maiden’s grit and determination over the course of a 45-year career. In the end, the only thing that appears to endure as a very steady constant when it comes to a band like Iron Maiden is how their music and their presence in our lives seems to have a limitless power to bring us together in fellowship and revelry. For that, we will forever remain extremely grateful.[CAPTAIN]
16. VIRTUAL XI
Released March 23, 1998
Someone’s gotta bring up the rear, right? In every band’s catalog, no matter how great the band or the albums they’ve spawned, by default, one of them is the worst one.
With Iron Maiden, it’s a pretty easy choice, actually. By the time Virtual XI limped out, metal had been declared dead for the better part of a decade. Once the standard bearers of true heavy metal brilliance, Maiden had lost their voice and two of their primary songwriters in the span of eight years. They’d survived the switch from Bruce to Blaze with The X Factor, but they hadn’t thrived, bouncing back from the shorter, more direct songwriting of No Prayer and Fear Of The Dark with an increased reliance upon Steve Harris’ progressive leanings. But the fact of the matter remained: Iron Maiden circa 1998 was not firing on all cylinders, and for proof of that, look no further than the bloated Virtual XI. Sure, there are some moments that are better than the rest (see the inverse of the points in paragraph one above), like “Futureal,” for example, or “The Clansman,” which would find second life on stage once Bruce returned in just a few long years, but all that proves is that Maiden is too good to truly fail. Contrast that with the almost 80s pop keys in “The Angel And The Gambler” — which is the only part of that song that isn’t Maiden-by-numbers, and it’s an unwelcome part — or with the utterly dreadful “Como Estais Amigos,” and there’s way more on hand that fizzles than catches fire. In the end, this mess is not Bayley’s fault, nor is it Harris’, or really anyone’s — sometimes things just don’t work, and Virtual XI almost entirely doesn’t work.
The good news is that, from the bottom, there’s only one way to go… [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
15. NO PRAYER FOR THE DYING
Released October 1, 1990
Maiden fans are generally pretty tough on No Prayer for the Dying. Moreover, I was pretty tough on No Prayer for the Dying when it first came out a mind-boggling 31 years ago. It’s an understandable position, though, considering the fact that fans were suddenly expected to dump the wonderfully intricate and sophisticated style Maiden conquered with 1988’s progressive tour de force Seventh Son of a Seventh Son in favor of a much more stripped and straightforward album that threw songs such as “Holy Smoke,” “Hooks in You” and “Bring Your Daughter… to the Slaughter” into laps. Gone was the cherished guitar work of Adrian Smith, replaced with the first entry from (the largely underrated) Janick Gers, and with Smith went the warm and adventurous epics, the perfectly balanced production, and the first-class album cover artwork—not the most predictable move from a band that was clearly firing on every cylinder available from the studio and the stage prior to 1990.
Something interesting happens as you endure multiple decades as a resolute fan, though: interminable fondness for high-water mark albums eventually morphs into a form of photographic memory, thus sparking interest in previously overlooked / maligned albums simply for the sake of strangeness and a need for unfamiliar territory. Then we’re suddenly parsing highlights from the records we spent years neglecting as second-rate, and dark horses begin gaining unexpected footholds and advancing in the ranks. Sure, No Prayer ain’t about to vault itself into Maiden’s top ten, but the trajectory makes more sense post factum with the awareness that Iron Maiden has always enjoyed evolving forward and backward, and there’s really a lot of good happening on this record. In fact, for me personally, the only song I continue to skip is the bonafide lump that is “The Assassin”—everything else has become engaging fresh territory. [CAPTAIN]
14. FEAR OF THE DARK
Released May 11, 1992
I’m not going to waste this space with a hot take that Fear of the Dark is an unheralded masterpiece that should be considered among Iron Maiden’s greats; it’s not and that would be nonsense. It would, however, be equally nonsensical to outright dismiss this album.
Like No Prayer for the Dying, this 1992 release is a version of Iron Maiden stripped down to its origins of straight up rock and classic heavy metal without the bells, whistles, and grandiosity they’re most known for. What it lacks in pomp and circumstance, it makes up for with FUN. There’s a silly moment in “From Here to Eternity” that exemplifies this well: Dickinson says, “gentleman start your engines” and the guitars make a motor sound before ripping into a killer lead. This is an album born of levity more fitting as a soundtrack to swigging cheap beers in a small-town bar than packing a stadium and pumping fists.
Sure “Wasting Love” is a waste of time, but I can overlook that for the metal bite of “Be Quick of Be Dead” or the killer opening riff and verses with ZZ Top swagger in “Fear is the Key.” Being afraid of the dark is wise for self-preservation, but you need not fear this album unless having fun is your greatest nightmare. [SPENCER HOTZ]
13. THE X FACTOR
Released October 2, 1995
Even though No Prayer and Fear showed notable cracks in Iron Maiden’s quality control department, the first album with Blaze Bayley after Bruce Dickinson’s departure was always going to be a jarring transition. Our heroes managed to turn even that tension into an advantage, though, because one of the reasons that The X Factor works is that Maiden’s songwriting takes an almost impenetrably dark turn that suits Bayley’s range and delivery remarkably well. It’s a dense, overlong album, but in its chiming tones, determined plod, and rich atmosphere, it shows a band 20 years into their career stretching out in ways few would have predicted.
My personal history here skews my perspective, but The X Factor was my first Maiden album. In fact, outside of maybe having heard “Run to the Hills” on the radio, The X Factor was my first experience with Maiden. (Shout out to squinting for hours at the tiny print in the BMG Music Club mail-order catalog and then waiting interminable weeks for that blessing of a CD package in the mailbox.) Whatever idea I may have had about Maiden at the time, sitting down with the 11-minute opener (and one of the true pinnacles and harbingers of Maiden’s latter-day epic songwriting) “Sign of the Cross” blew my mind clear across the room.
That time-and-place fondness aside, though, reality does intrude. The X Factor paints almost entirely in shades of black, grey, and rippling dark blue. The band at times sounds like they’re struggling to summon the energy to reach a song’s finish line. Of the two singles, “Man on the Edge” is significantly stronger and more energetic, but neither it nor “Lord of the Flies” is quite excellent. “2 A.M.” is mostly a non-starter potato of a song, and “Blood on the World’s Hands” finds Steve Harris in a much too self-indulgent mood.
Despite these flaws, Factor is substantially more strength than folly. “Sign of the Cross” is an easy pick for the best of the Bayley years (and for a shortlist of best post-1988 Maiden tunes). “Look for the Truth” has a flavor that’s rather close of Dance of Death’s “No More Lies,” “Fortunes of War” takes too long to get where it’s going but ultimately brings it home powerfully, “The Unbeliever” is a true unheralded gem of a closer, and “The Edge of Darkness” is just flat-out awesome, featuring by far the album’s most fiery guitar work (in both the solo and dual-harmony section). The X Factor is no Killers, Powerslave, or Seventh Son, but because of how resolutely it refuses to even try to be, it carves out a compellingly resonant space of its own. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
12. THE BOOK OF SOULS
Released September 4, 2015
When news hit that Iron Maiden was releasing a 90-minute double album, reactions understandably ranged from “Yay an hour and a half of new Maiden!” to “Oh there’s gonna be some serious filler on that,” and ultimately both were justified. The Book of Souls is far too long, but the odd thing is that it’s mostly the short- or medium-length tracks that stretch it beyond a logical runtime. “When the River Runs Deep” and the well-meaning but utterly hamfisted “Tears of a Clown” (about the late, great Robin Williams) are two of the most forgettable songs the band penned since their late 90s nadir, while others barely rise above replacement level. Even the single “Speed of Light,” while fun, can’t compete with other reunion-era hits such as “The Wicker Man” or “Rainmaker.”
The real meat of the record, then, is mostly comprised of the long tunes, with a couple ‒ the downright incredible and soaring “The Red and the Black” and Bruce-penned, piano-driven “Empire of the Clouds” ‒ being among the longest songs the band has ever penned (the latter is the longest at over 18 minutes). Further, epic opener “If Eternity Should Fail” is one of the best lead tracks of the re-Bruce era, while “Shadows of the Valley” and the suspenseful title track are both stunning examples of how good this band still was 35 years into their career.
Take away the aforementioned stinkers and middling material and suddenly you’ve got a killer Maiden album that hovers around an hour in length. Some trimming likely would have been reflected in our rankings, because the highs on The Book of Souls reach the stratosphere.[ZACH DUVALL]
11. A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH
Released August 25, 2006
War! (Uh!) What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!
Except inspiring this mid-tier Iron Maiden record, apparently. (See also: inspiring Bolt Thrower, Hail Of Bullets, God Dethroned’s Passiondale, and about, oh, 20,000 more… But I digress.)
Released in 2006, A Matter Of Life And Death was the third in the re-Bruce era, and up to that point, it was the longest Iron Maiden record, although it didn’t hold that distinction for long. And if there’s any word that best sums up A Matter Of Life And Death, it’s probably that one, “long.” Only one of its ten tracks is shorter than five minutes, “Different World” — which continues tradition of fun, high-energy opening numbers (re-)established in 2000 with “The Wicker Man” — although the folksy “The Pilgrim” is admittedly only a few seconds over the five-minute mark. Still, most of AMOLAD is of epic length, born of the prog-tinted songwriting that has come to dominate post-millennium Maiden records. The results are mixed, although when AMOLAD is good, it’s quite good — for example, “For The Greater Good Of God,” which subverts the traditional downtempo verse / uptempo chorus model to excellent results, or “These Colours Don’t Run,” a defiant battle track inspired by the band’s tiff with Sharon Osborne, or “The Longest Day,” which is obviously about the last day of the school year. (Editor’s note: It’s not.)
Of course, some of it is just too damned much: Lead single “The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg” sports some fun, grungy, slinky riffs but, overall, can’t support its full seven-plus minutes, and “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” has a similar concern, a mostly strong song that leaves you wanting less. A Matter Of Life And Death is not as pressing as its title would indicate. It certainly does not show Maiden at their most inspired, but it’s a bit of a dark horse in their catalog. It’s far from a unlistenable record, just not at all in the top tier. Proceed with a bit of caution, but know there’s glory to be found if you try. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
10. DANCE OF DEATH
Released September 2, 2003
The fact that Brave New World reunited Iron Maiden with both Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith was cause for great celebration; the fact that the album is one of the most masterful musical reunions ever was a gift and a triumph. Once that honeymoon feeling faded, though, the next album was the truer test of Maiden’s long-term vision. With Dance of Death, Maiden consolidated many of the strengths of their still-newfound triple guitar arsenal while striking outward and progressing (in the real sense of the word) in several new directions.
Dance of Death is darker in tone (both musically and lyrically) than Brave New World, but for the most part remains lighter on its feet than A Matter of Life and Death or Book of Souls. Even more important, though, is the fact that Dance is an almost wildly diverse album, moving from sturdy fist-pumpers to twisting epics to acoustic yearning (on the earnest, “My Way”-leaning closer, “Journeyman”). Still, while each of the more workmanlike rockers (“Wildest Dreams,” “Rainmaker,” “New Frontier”) has killer elements, taken together they feel a bit padded, and “Age of Innocence” (despite its warm, AOR-leaning chorus) is the most skippable.
Dance’s biggest successes, though, are its biggest surprises. The title track starts off in a similar vein to “Fear of the Dark,” but blossoms into a much more theatrical and engrossing journey. At the opposite pole is the gloriously punchy and anthemic “No More Lies,” which almost preposterously lifts some of the hardcore attitude of the Di’Anno years but remains a thoroughly melodic, modern Maiden song. Elsewhere, the opening to “Gates of Tomorrow” feels like a mulligan for the opening of The X Factor’s “Lord of the Flies,” but it’s faster, brighter, and all-around fantastic, featuring a fantastically propulsive chorus.
But of course, the album’s most colossal triumph is “Paschendale,” an elegiac remembrance of the brutal trench warfare on the Western Front in the first World War. The orchestral programming from occasional collaborator Jeff Bova is a beautifully understated complement to one of the most powerful compositions of Iron Maiden’s entire career. Every single element here works in perfect synchrony – the harrowing, evocative lyrics, the stuttering rhythmic thrust of the verses, Dickinson’s keening vocals, the delicate guitar choreography of the quietly-gathering-storm midsection, the beautifully searching solos, and the indelibly moving crescendo when Bruce wails “Blood is falling like the rain.” It is a song so brilliant that it almost overwhelms even now, and its narrative is so stirring that it almost makes superfluous Maiden’s many other songs about war.
Dance of Death was the first new Maiden album I preordered and anticipated as a fully-minted fan, and it took me even deeper than I suspected it would. Almost twenty years later, and I’m still finding surprises tucked away in the corners. Goddamn, what a hell of a band. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
9. THE FINAL FRONTIER
Released August 13, 2010
Here are a couple of facts about The Final Frontier:
- It’s the second best Iron Maiden album of the reformation years (so far).
- It sounds even better today than it did when it was released in 2010.
Continuing their shift towards longer, more elaborate compositions, Iron Maiden nailed the formula here. A Matter of Life and Death felt like a long album, but a rewarding one if you committed to it. The Final Frontier is actually a longer album, yet one that feels much shorter. That’s the power of good songwriting, and The Final Frontier has it in spades.
Listen to the title track; you feel like you’re right there with the protagonist as he monologues his own demise. “Mother of Mercy” puts you on a body-littered battlefield as a dying soldier prays for death, while “Coming Home” actually delivers you to said death. Come to think of it, there is a lot of death here. I suppose that is the ultimate journey, the true final frontier, if you will. The tone shifts to redemption on “The Man Who Would Be King”, and I’ll put “When the Wild Wind Blows” up against any other epic from their catalog and take my chances. And hey, let’s not forget the band won their first and only Grammy for “El Dorado”. That has to count for something, right? [DAVE PIRTLE]
8. BRAVE NEW WORLD
Released May 29, 2000
There are many Brave New World-like albums. Exodus’ Tempo of the Damned. Overkill’s Ironbound. More recently, Flotsam and Jetsam’s The End of Chaos and Judas Priest’s Firepower. A once arguably-lost or uninspired band is now found—all to varying degrees, of course. Yet Brave New World is more than that, because of where it sits with many who, like me, first discovered the wonder and merriment of Maiden with the admittedly repetitive (but no less awesome) cry of, “Your time will come!”
I am absolutely sure that Brave New World has quite a different meaning to those who had the history and context to think of it as the rightful return of one Bruce Dickinson. For someone whose first and second tastes of Maiden were Live After Death and Brave New World, however, the latter was simply a shining example of why Bruce is so awesome. These tunes were an integral part of the soundtrack of one of my last high school summers. “Blood Brothers,” “The Wicker Man,” and “Dream of Mirrors” made my “lot associate” job at Home Depot almost bearable. And when my portable, supposedly shock-resistant CD player scratched the first few seconds of “Blood Brothers,” I bought another copy the next day.
We all have albums that we associate with certain times in our lives—some good times, and some not so good times. I feel fortunate that I have mostly positive associations with Brave New World. Getting my driver’s license. Praying to the gods that my barely functioning car would make it across the Marquam Bridge. Earning money for the first time. Spending that money on more Maiden. When I listen to Brave New World, I feel those things and I smile. Thank you, Iron Maiden. [CHRIS C]
7. PIECE OF MIND
Released May 16, 1983
Not only did 1983’s Piece of Mind solidify the band’s classic lineup with the recorded debut of Nicko McBrain on drums, but it is the album where Iron Maiden really laid the foundation for what the band would be going forward. While The Number of the Beast, the group’s first album with Bruce Dickinson, was a spectacular success, it still had some of traces of the rough and ready Di’Anno era. On Piece of Mind the group ventures far beyond the streets of East London, reaching further and flying higher than ever it had before. Bruce Dickinson plays no small part in this, not only as Harris and company learn to write songs that exploit his expansive vocal capabilities, but with songwriting contributions of his own.
Not every track on Piece of Mind is great. “Sun and Steel” and “Quest for Fire” are catchy, but pretty light weight affairs. Also, in trying to distill a work as complex as Frank Herbert’s Dune into seven minutes, Steve Harris probably bit off more than he could chew with “To Tame a Land.” It’s not a terrible tune, but as Iron Maiden epics go, it pales in comparison to the likes of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Paschendale.”
Nonetheless, Piece of Mind contains several all-time Maiden classics. “Where Eagles Dare” is a rousing, hard-hitting opening track that serves as fine introduction and showcase for Nicko, the Dickinson-penned “Revelations” remains one of the most powerful, beautiful, and unique songs in the Maiden catalog to this day, and Dickinson and Adrian Smith form a fruitful partnership with the strutting and soaring “Flight of Icarus.” Finally, Piece of Mind boasts what is perhaps the quintessential Iron Maiden song, four minutes and eleven seconds of infectious harmonies and galloping glory: “The Trooper.” [JEREMY MORSE]
6. IRON MAIDEN
Released April 14, 1980
Hot damn, what a debut!
Speedy licks, wicked leads, rollicking drums and Steve Harris’ inexplicable ability to make his bass as much of a driving force as any guitar are all on display in Iron Maiden’s first outing. The hints of what they would later achieve are here in simpler forms. “Running Free” and “Charlotte the Harlot” exhibited their ability to write an infectious chorus, even if the lyrics to the latter are pretty cringeworthy. The slow, somber opening, and ominous build to a heavy crescendo in “Remember Tomorrow” revealed their moodier side. “Prowler” flexed their pure rock fury chops. They even proved they could get a song stuck in your head without uttering a word in instrumental “Transylvania.”
Even more impressive, “Iron Maiden” remains a staple of their live set 41 years later. Paul Di’Anno’s more reserved style also makes me feel less ashamed of myself when I try to sing along, whereas my attempts to harmonize with Bruce are just offensive to anything with functioning ears.
This is Maiden at their simplest and most approachable, making it the perfect introductory album. With a more economical runtime than most of their discography, Iron Maiden is all killer and no filler that any music fan should be able to enjoy! [SPENCER HOTZ]
Released February 2, 1981
Not only did Iron Maiden dodge the sophomore slump, but Killers turned everything up just a bit more. Everything from songwriting and musicianship to the lineup change and album art elevated Maiden from hard rockin’ street pub band to something more imaginative. In an alternate universe, had Iron Maiden (tragically) been the band’s sole album it still would be regarded as a classic and a cut above the rest of the heavy metal bands in England at the time, but it’s on Killers where the band really found their magic–the addition of Adrian Smith sent a jolt of electricity to the heart of the Steve Harris/Dave Murray dynamic at the center of the band.
Which songs do I highlight? How do I pick in such limited space? “The Ides Of March” alone hints at a Bigger Maiden sound, and when “Wrathchild” kicks it, KIllers is already smoking Iron Maiden for breakfast. While the more complex songwriting of “Murders In The Rue Morgue” hints at the vast sound of the band to come in future albums, it’s still got that nitty-gritty street sound at its core. The lightning instrumental prowess of “Genghis Khan” is like an instrumental teasers of the level of things to come, with “Innocent Exile” again grounding things with its welded groove. While Di’Anno’s at the peak of his career here, the title track feels like it was written for Bruce before he even joined the band. It’s Maiden so ahead of Maiden that it wouldn’t be out of place on any of the three following albums! Even the ballad qualities of “Prodigal Son,” feel charged with that electricity. If “Killers” is the power of future Maiden, then the 70’s prog-rock qualities of “Son” represents their power over the past.
I ain’t picking a favorite song here, but hatchet to my head, I’d give it to “Purgatory.” While certainly not the song’s original context, the pleading of “Please, take me away, take me away, so far away,” reflects on that gate-opening concept: It’s begging for the escapism to the worlds of heavy metal that, at the time, were yet to be unlocked. Though those gates have been opened and we are still discovering this vast universe of heavy metal music, much of its discovery is to be credited with the blazing torch of the imagination in Iron Maiden that began to truly reveal itself by only their second studio album. [RYAN TYSINGER]
4. SOMEWHERE IN TIME
Released September 29, 1986
Everyone has that one album, the one that changed everything. Most of us have a handful of them, but when you boil it all down, one has to take the top spot.
Mine is Somewhere In Time.
I was 11 or 12 years old, and the album had been out for three years at that point; I’m always late to the party. My buddy had a worn-out cassette copy that he loaned me, knowing that I liked weird stuff and science fiction. (It’s another topic for another time, but how could anyone deny the sci-fi mastery of that album art?) I popped that beat-to-hell tape into my trusty yellow Sony Sport Walkman. And everything changed in a matter of minutes. Within a week, I’d bought my own copy, which I subsequently wore out. It was everything I wanted in music — I had been exploring progressive rock bands like Pink Floyd and Queen and Yes, and it had those elements. It was lofty, intricate, theatrical. I was familiar with the more melodic hard rock stuff on classic rock radio, and Maiden has melodies, huge hooks like “Wasted Years” and “Caught Somewhere In Time.” It was heavy, aggressive, an adrenaline charge, even as it was also thoughtful and composed and smart. It had comic-book science fiction appeal, and it had teenage energy, but it was so much more than all of that. It was everything, and with it, a brave new world opened up with so many directions to go, from the self-titled and Powerslave through the decades to Brave New World and The Final Frontier beyond, and Somewhere In Time sits somewhere in the middle.
It’s still my favorite Maiden album, and it always will be. Everything changed in a matter of minutes, and it’s never changing back. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
3. SEVENTH SON OF A SEVENTH SON
Released April 11, 1988
Despite always sounding like Iron Maiden, the band was in a constant evolutionary state throughout the 80s, and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son marked the point where the band fully indulged the progressive tendencies that were really there from the beginning at various moments (plus the point where they decided it was okay to include a lot of keyboards). As the band’s first full concept album (based on an Orson Scott Card novel), it raised their already high bar for fantasy and sci-fi storytelling, massive scope, and overall ambition. And every second of its 44 minutes is incredible.
The gargantuan, epic-beyond-epic title track is enough to show the level at which Iron Maiden was operating in 1988, but it’s the diversity of everything else that pushes the album to masterpiece status. “Moonchild” introduces the story with a soaring and shimmering chorus melody before “Infinite Dreams” immediately pulled back on the intensity and “Can I Play With Madness” allowed things to be ultimately catchy (and unabashedly fun). “The Evil That Men Do” and “The Clairvoyant” somewhat mirror each other as the record’s dual peaks of intensity, the former the ending of the A-side (plus having the audacity to use the line “living on a razor’s edge” as part of a particularly suspenseful pre-chorus) and the latter the true climax of the album. If you can find a more commanding chorus, like, anywhere than that of “The Clairvoyant,” then you’ve got keener and more experienced ears than I. There’s nothing like it, and it allows the ensuing “Only the Good Die Young” to serve as more of a resolution to the story. Again: masterpiece.
Seventh Son was also the final album in Maiden’s impeccable run to begin their career, which makes it the finale of the greatest winning streak in heavy metal history. [ZACH DUVALL]
2. THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST
Released March 22, 1982
I’m not positive, but I’d guess that a lot of the folks (that is, We) who consider The Number of the Beast to be Iron Maiden’s best work grew up with the album. Yeah, the ol’ time-and-place phenomenon. This is a record with real historical and cultural significance for many a Gen-Xer, from its time in the white hot spotlight of the Satanic Panic that included literal bonfires made from Iron Maiden LPs and cassettes to its prominence on an upstart MTV including videos of the title track and especially the unimaginably popular “Run to the Hills.” (The truth is, all that Satanic Panic was ironically responsible for drawing so many to MTV where Maiden got their hooks in deep. Great work, conservative Christians! Here’s your honorary gold platter of shit.)
Even if it was the mystique of the verboten or some analog predecessor to FOMO that convinced aspiring metalheads to take a chance on sneaking that album cover past their ‘rents, it was the utterly unique and fantastically powerful music within that kept the tape reels spinning. Even after the big hits, the deeper cuts like “Children of the Damned,” “The Prisoner,” and “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” now so well known, made their indelible marks with all the muscle and back alley grit of the first two Maiden albums, emblazoning them with the grandeur and flair of what was to follow; it was a perfect blend and balance, a perfectly executed transition. And, of course, Bruce’s fucking voice, arguably technically improved on later albums, was plainly never as primally strong as on The Number of the Beast. Go listen to the scream on the title track if you need a reminder. But you don’t even have to, because you already know which one I’m talking about. Fucking iconic.
Now, there’s fair argument that The Number of the Beast isn’t as objectively strong as the amazing albums following it. Iron Maiden’s songwriting and performance skills just kept getting better and better, after all; it makes sense. But when I see or hear people talking about The Number of the Beast as if its greatness is controversial, I just have to roll my eyes. Usually, the argument comes down to the notion that “Gangland,” sometimes “Invaders,” aren’t as great as the songs around them. Well, that’s true. Something else that’s true: that time I banged Suzy after school, it would have been rad as hell if “Animal (F**k Like a Beast)” had been playing on the radio instead of “One More Night,” but the fact that it wasn’t detracts absolutely zero from the epic greatness that was banging Suzy after school that day. A million bands the world over wish they’d made songs as bad as “Gangland” (whereas banging Suzy after school was apparently a relatively commonplace achievement).
In short, perfect or not, The Number of the Beast set the foundation for Iron Maiden’s lasting legacy, laying out the template and setting a new standard by which Heavy Metal greatness would be measured. [LONE WATIE]
Released September 3, 1984
Something that’s always managed to stand out with regard to Iron Maiden’s fifth record is its immediacy: The immediacy of Derek Riggs’ artwork and the way it thoroughly conveyed the enormousness of what was sealed within, all but demanding any and all roving eyes to pick the record up for a much closer examination; the immediacy of the record’s launch and the way the two charged openers exploded heads and promptly hurled listeners into the stratosphere; and of course the way the whole of the record—culminating with the insanely strong one-two punch of “Powerslave” and “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”—swiftly confirmed the truth that Iron Maiden hit a pivotal and exalted pinnacle relatively early in their career. The ensuing Powerslave tour was also one of the most immediately exciting things to happen in metal up to that point. These songs were incendiary from the stage, and witnessing literal fire explode from the eyes of a larger than life version of Eddie at the show’s zenith cemented the band and Powerslave in the hearts of many as a masterstroke from the greatest living metal band on the circuit. And hey, on a personal note, not only did this record inspire me to obsess over all things ancient Egypt—more so than any Social Studies class—it prompted me to write an essay on Samuel Taylor Coleridge for English class that I’m certain ended up being a Nobel Prize contender.
Powerslave may not be your personal favorite, but few would argue the truth that it marked a turning point for Iron Maiden that hurtled them into the next level of stardom—the sort of stardom that yielded a number of firsts for the young band, including becoming the first metal group ever to play behind the Iron Curtain, as well as performing before 350,000 maniacs in Brazil alongside arena gods Queen. Put simply, Powerslave was Iron Maiden’s Apollo 11, and it remains the most iconic record the band has ever released. [CAPTAIN]
HOW WE VOTED
As with the art votes, we wanted to show how each of us voted for the album rankings, in part because we’ve each picked over this collection of albums so many times that we’ve sometimes formed some quirky opinions, and also so you the reader can shame us for those quirky opinions. The final, tallied votes might not be particularly scandalous in any ways, but you’re probably going to find some interesting tidbits in the lists below. Please get in on the fun in the comments with your own rankings, funny little Maiden opinion quirks, and of course, the shaming.
Thanks for joining us this week for all the Iron Maiden celebrations. Up the irons forever.