From small beginnings, legends are born. And thus, this is the debut album by Iron Maiden, possibly the biggest and most successful metal band in the world. At the time, it was commended and the band then became standard bearers for what was then called the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, but no-one knew they'd eventually go onto become one of metal's proudest and most loved bands. Not a bad outcome for five lads from East London who'd spent the four years before this was released playing local dives the length and breadth of the land as well as experiencing the kind of line-up changes that would usually cripple a band. Indeed, only bassist Steve Harris and guitarist Dave Murray remain from this line-up.
The first thing you notice about this album is that it doesn't sound much like the Iron Maiden of today. Like most debut albums, it sounds like a band trying to find it's feet although there are hints at what would come, especially in terms of ambitious songwriting. The production isn't too good, it's very rough and while it may add to the general vibe, it could've been better. Having said that, this was the third attempt to make the album as the band had trouble with production from the off. The first producer made a crap mix so the fired him, and the second producer suggested to Steve Harris that he use a plec to play his bass instead of using his fingers! Naturally, he was fired too.
Kicking off with the quite frankly fantastic "Prowler", it sets it's stall pretty early. The first thing you can hear is the punk vibe to it, which then was considered off as a) punk and metal were two very seperate genres in those days and b) the band themselves have gone on record to say they actually hated punk. Then-lead singer Paul Di'Anno (real name Paul Andrews) has a very raspy voice, which I guess is where the punk vibe came from. The best thing about this song is that it mixes tempos without sounding forced. The mid-section sounding frantic as if it were a tramp who is masturbating in the bushes over some women he's just clocked. It's what the song is about. Seriously, check the lyrics! The guitar work is class, some tight rhythm playing over a wah-wah infused melody. This leads into the next song, "Remember Tomorrow". A slow, haunting song with a brooding atmosphere. It switches between quiet verse and loud chorus. Again, it's a top song which shows they have some variety. Next, we're onto the boogie of "Running Free". For some reason, this song reminds me of glam rock (Slade, The Sweet, Suzi Quatro and all that lot). This song also made it onto the seminal live album 'Live After Death', albeit for eight minutes long due to having a singalong section in the middle. It also contains the legendary "SCREAM FOR ME!!!" sentence that current singer Bruce Dickinson likes to shout whilst playing live. On here, the song is as rough and as unfriendly as the East London streets the band hail from. Curiously, it contains no guitar solo although there are plenty guitar melodies instead. This then leads to what I feel is the album highlight "Phantom Of The Opera". Loosely based on the book of the same name, it's the first song on this album that gives us a glimpse into the part of Iron Maiden that likes to write epic, almost prog-like songs. Usually, every Iron Maiden album has a song which is generally looked upon as an epic centrepiece. This song has it. The moment the guitar starts with a simple melody line, it then launches into a surging rock beat which doesn't let up - until the second section which is more mid-paced. This is basically the song in a nutshell, a few sections all spliced together. Whilst that may sound awkward, the band pulls it off. Easily the best song on here. UK readers of a certain age may remember the song being used in an advert for lucozade which also starred athlete Daley Thompson.
Side two opens up with an instrumental by the name of "Transylvania" which is another really great song. Some excellent guitar work - which leads (no pun intended) to the guiarists on this album. Dave Murry is one of them, as you know, and the second is a guy called Dennis Stratton who ended up getting sacked over musical differences after the subsequent tour. He played some great stuff on here, but Adrian Smith - his replacement - was much better. In fact, Mr Smith is the best guitarist in Maiden. They went to shit when he left. Coincidence? I think not! "Strange World" is up next and it's a slow song. Not that that's a bad thing but it's not the best song on here. It's a proper 'lighters in the air' moment though, which no doubt went down well live. "Charlotte The Harlot" restores order, detailing the story of a lady called Charlotte and her prowess at the 'oldest profession', the only song written by Dave Murray on his own. This ended up becoming something the band would revisit in later albums ("22 Acacia Avenue" on 'Number Of The Beast' being the most notable). Finally, we're only the blaze of glory that is the title track - "Iron Maiden"! It turns and lines up for the final home stretch before running home as fast as it can! Nice breakdown in the middle with an especially great bassline, it remains a live favourite even to this day. Not a bad way to finish an album.
The band would go on to bigger and better things (Until the 90's at any rate), that's a fact. However, as a cornerstone in the history of the band itself then it stands as both a dated and weathered cornerstone but an essential one at the same time. As mentioned, there are bits where it sounds like the band are still trying to find their identity but the sheer enthusiasm and energy involved makes up for it.
Top Track: Phantom Of The Opera. As if I hadn't made it clear enough.
8/10 - Oh, now you have my attention, and maybe my money and heart.
(And here is the lucozade ad with Phantom Of The Opera. The athlete is Daley Thompson)