As I sit typing this, Iron Maiden is currently embarking on their Legacy of the Beast tour. Legacy of the Beast is Iron Maiden’s mobile game. If you didn’t know, Iron Maiden rule the world. So because their Los Angeles show is coming up; what better time to write a review of all sixteen of their albums leading up to it. Their show is Saturday, September 14th at the Banc of California Stadium. So every work day (including one day with two), there will be a song-by-song Iron Maiden album review. If you missed yesterday, it was a review of Piece of Mind. Today is Powerslave.
Background on Powerslave
Iron Maiden had just embarked on their first headlining US tour. They played the World Piece Tour around the world and had a little break before reconvening for their next effort. What would that be? The answer would be the ancient Egyptian themed Powerslave. They would go to the same La Chalet Hotel in Jersey to rehearse and write the new album. Up next was the recording process in the Bahamas. The album released September 3rd, 1984 around the world. Powerslave is considered by many to be their finest album.
The masterful album art was done by Derek Riggs once again. It depicts Eddie atop an Egyptian pyramid as a pharaoh. This was when the art started getting more and more vivid and outlandish. Iron Maiden was taking over the world and so was Eddie. One historical period at a time.
As with Piece of Mind there are definitely some literary allusions on this album. It has everything you could want out of a Maiden album. This is one that they continually go back to live. The tour to support the album was one of the biggest in history. Titled, World Slavery Tour, it lasted 331 days and they played 189 shows in total. By the end of it the band would be ready for the first extended break in their career. But more about that later. Let’s get on with the show.
Track 1: Aces High
Iron Maiden really knows how to start a goddamn album. “Aces High” is all about the Battle of Britain during World War II. Filled with references to spitfires and landing grounds, the song is a blistering beginning to the album. Coincidentally, the first time I saw Iron Maiden live, this was the opening track on their setlist. I can tell you that nothing gets a crowd more hyped than the sounds of spitfire engines roaring and Winston Churchill.
The song itself features all the members of the band at the top of their game. This is one dangerous song. Playing it in your car will most likely cause your insurance premiums to rise. The chorus is a classic Iron Maiden sing-along that if you close your eyes you can imagine 30,000 other people singing along. If you can get through this one without at least nodding your head along, you need to see a doctor.
Track 2: 2 Minutes to Midnight
Not stopping to give you any rest from “Aces High”, “2 Minutes to Midnight” starts right off in your face and out of control. Easily one of the best riffs they’ve ever written, the song does not mess around. Telling the story of the Doomsday Clock by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It represents how far away humanity is from the threat of global annihilation. In 1953 the clock was set two minutes to midnight, due to Soviet/US tensions, with midnight representing complete destruction of the human race. As of right now we’re back at two minutes, so the song is still just as topical as then.
The song is one of the heavier in Iron Maiden’s catalog, complete with dueling solos by Smith and Murray. Bruce Dickinson belts out the vocals like the bombs are about to drop. It’s a song that outwardly protests war and destruction on that huge of a level but it doesn’t preach to you about it. More of a warning than anything. This is one that’ll get stuck in your head whether you like it or not.
Track 3: Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra)
The last instrumental that Iron Maiden would include on their albums and it’s up there with the best. “Transylvania” will always have a place in my heart as the best one, but “Losfer Words” has got to be second. The song sounds like it would have been a cool song with words also. The musicianship is top notch especially the guitar tones used by the rhythm player. Steve Harris’s bass is on point here with no notes being wasted. Overall it’s an instrumental so your enjoyment may be varying. For me, it’s a nice break in between the first two songs. Those two are so titanic in their place in Iron Maiden’s history that the listener needs a break.
Track 4: Flash of the Blade
A song that starts off about a young boy pretending to kill dragons and quickly transitions to a bloodthirsty massacre of the men who killed your family. That’s Iron Maiden if I’ve ever heard of it. Telling a story of that vengeance while having twin-guitar harmonies and Bruce Dickinson wailing like an air-raid siren over it is just perfection. Realistically this song isn’t a classic by any means. What it does well, it does well. It’s a song that sneaks into my playlists every once in awhile. The opening guitar riff is one of the better ones but it doesn’t live up to that awesomeness the whole song.
Track 5: The Duellists
Some background on this track. Bruce Dickinson is a world class fencer. This song isn’t explicitly about fencing nor was it written by Dickinson. Just an interesting coincidence. About a man who spoke out and couldn’t back up his words with his fighting. The song has the hallmarks of an Iron Maiden classic but it falls short of that. It’s a bland song by their lofty standards that regularly doesn’t make it on my playlists. It’s a good showcase for who Iron Maiden is as a band. You can do better than showing this one to someone who doesn’t know who the band are though. The solos and guitar work are the real highlight.
Track 6: Back in the Village
Another song based off The Prisoner. Unlike “The Prisoner” this one isn’t as much of a classic. I used to think this song sucked a lot. Then one night while walking home from class at Cal State Northridge, it came on shuffle. I had to restrain myself from air guitaring in front of everyone else walking to the dorms. That girl I had a crush on in my photo class? Can’t let her see this display of shredding from me. By no means a classic of them, but it doesn’t need to be.
It’s a hard and heavy song that displays what this album is all about. Even if it doesn’t have Egyptian themed lyrics, the whole thing has a tinge of Egyptian sound to it. Take that with a grain of salt because I could just be hearing things. For me, this is one of the underrated songs that I love to hear after a long time away from it.
Track 7: Powerslave
Now about that Egyptian theme. “Powerslave” is all of that Egyptian imagery put to amazing use. Telling the story of a Pharaoh on the door of death. His life seems to pass him by as he awaits death with disappointment. He was a god and now he’s just going to be another dead person in the ground. Death is inevitable even for the gods among us.
From a musical standpoint this might be the best song on the album. If it weren’t for the next song I would think that to be true. Starting at 2:59 and ending at 5:14 might be the greatest section of guitar play and shredding that Adrian Smith and Dave Murray have accomplished. The solos to this song are melodic, blistering, and will definitely make you air guitar along. Writing this was hard because I had to keep stopping just to jam along with them. This was the song that made me want to play guitar myself. It’s a classic. Listen to it for yourself.
Track 8: Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Like I was mentioning above. If it wasn’t for “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, “Powerslave” would be the best song on the album. Based on the epic poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” retells that poem. Going so far as to use specific lines from the poem, I was ecstatic in high school when we read this poem. My teacher though I was a genius and in reality it was just listening to Iron Maiden that helped me get an A on that paper. It’s the second longest song they’ve ever recorded. Clocking in at 13:38 it’s an epic in every sense of the word.
The song goes through different phases just like the life of the aforementioned Mariner. He kills the bird of good omen, his crew dies, and he sails on the sea for an eternity. He finally gives up the dead bird back to the sea, he’s rescued by another boat, and he’s allowed to continue on with his life. The middle section of the song is a real highlight with the sound effects and slow pace. Passages of the poem are recited as the listener is transported on to the Mariner’s ship themselves.
It picks back up in the latter stages of the song as the Mariner’s journey is over and his tale told is over. Until he has to tell it again and again and again….
A truly magical song that you don’t need to love Iron Maiden to appreciate. If you’ve never heard the poem listen to the song along with the lyrics and that’s all you need. It’s one of the songs that the band loves to play live. There are theatrics and costume changes during it. It’s like watching a heavy metal play. “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” might not be a song you’ve heard of by Iron Maiden, but it won’t be one that you’ll forget about after you’ve heard it.
The World Slavery Tour that Iron Maiden embarked on for this album was titanic and legendary in it’s scope and voyage around the world. The tour was so grueling that Bruce Dickinson threatened to quit the band if they weren’t given time off after it. Coming out of that tour was one of the greatest live recordings ever made in Live After Death.
After this would be the first extended break the band would take in their short career. Originally slated to be a six month break that turned into four months. Their next album would be a departure from the sheer heavy metal sound that they established over the course of Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind, and Powerslave. Keyboards, synthesizers, and a time-traveling Eddie would be next up for the band. Check back on Monday for the review of Somewhere in Time.
Giving this album a score was really difficult for me. On one hand it has four of the greatest songs that the band has ever written. On another hand, some might think of “The Duellists”, “Back in the Village”, “Flash of the Blade” and “Losfer Words” as filler. The only track on the album that I don’t listen to much is “The Duellists”. Having that as your worst track isn’t unforgivable especially when you consider the weight and power of the big four on this record. Powerslave gets a 9.5/10 from me. The title track, “Aces High”, “2 Minutes to Midnight”, and “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” take this one to the very top of Iron Maiden at their game.
All images and audio are courtesy of Iron Maiden.
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