Written on the 13th of July 2014
As well as not being an electronic music fan, I’ve never been a big metalhead either. When I was a child and an early teenager, I simply detested those fast drums and loud guitars. Even now, I usually prefer other music styles. Softer, calmer, with other instruments.
Still, since I was 19, I started listening to some hard rock and heavy metal, and, although not as often as those first couple of years, I still do it sometimes. There were basically two bands that changed my mind about metal. The first one is Nightwish, which made it relatively easy because of the classical music influence they have, and well, truth be told Tarja Turunen’s beautiful voice also helped. I guess I’ll eventually write about that band.
The other band it a pretty obvious choice when the topic of heavy metal music arises… Iron Maiden. Classic. I remember being much younger and feeling rather disturbed by those monsters I could see on their CD covers. Back then, I’m sure nobody would have been able to convince me those guys weren’t satanics who just shouted and roughly manhandled their guitars. Oh boy, I was so wrong. I don’t really know why I gave them a chance, I just remember listening to The Number of the Beast and being very, very surprised.
After this little introduction, let’s properly talk about them. The band was formed on Christmas Day 1975 by bassist Steve Harris, one of the only two band members, along with Dave Murray (who joined a bit later) who have been in every album. As always, I’m not really going to focus on the lineup, and even less at this point, where band members came and went. Although I’ll mention, as a funny note, that at some point in 1977 they recruited a guitarist, Bob Sawyer, who was fired for embarrassing the band onstage by pretending to play guitar with his teeth. In November 1978 the band hired Paul Di’Anno, who would be the singer on the first two Iron Maiden albums.
On New Year’s eve 1978, Iron Maiden recorded a four song demo, which was presented to the manager of a heavy metal club called Bandwagon Heavy Metal Soundhouse. The guy, Neal Kay, liked it and played it regularly, and one of the songs, Prowler, which actually opens their first album, went to number 1 in the Soundhouse charts. Another copy was acquired by the man who would shortly become the band’s manager, Rod Smallwood. They released the demo on their own record label as The Soundhouse Tapes, with three songs (Strange World was excluded). Within weeks, all five thousand copies were sold. The lineup for the first album was completed in December 1979, when guitarist Dennis Stratton and drummer Clive Burr joined the band.
And, at last, we’re here, in 1980. Iron Maiden’s first album, called… again, Iron Maiden. Although the band itself has criticized the quality of the album’s production, it debuted at number 4 in the UK Albums Chart, which is not precisely bad, I’d say. We may be talking about a heavy metal band here, but, mostly because of Di’Anno’s raspy voice, this is more like heavy punk. However, Harris has stated that the band “despised everything about punk”. Iron Maiden’s music is certainly much more complex, with intricate passages and sudden tempo changes.
A very good example is Phantom of the Opera, which is, along with Strange World, my favourite song on the album, and one of Harris’s personal favourites too. A seven minute epic played with real passion in which everything’s excellent: Di’Anno’s voice, the instrumental bits, Harris’s bass and backing vocals, the aforementioned tempo changes… it gives me goosebumps.
There are more tempo changing songs, such as Remember Tomorrow, and also their first instrumental, Transylvania. Some of the songs are rather punky, like Prowler,Sanctuary, Running Free, Charlotte the Harlot or the title track, Iron Maiden. Still, they’re more complex and changing, and I like them much better than “regular” punk, of which I always get tired extremely fast. I find Prowler, Running Free (cool drums, by the way) and Iron Maiden especially catchy.
Harris wrote most of the material on the album, and there’s only one song in which he had no input, as Dave Murray composed Charlotte the Harlot on his own. A punky song, as I said, at least at some points, although it also features some sudden changes which totally differentiate it from that genre. Charlotte is supposed to be a fictional prostitute, however Murray stated that the song is based on a true story. I’ve read somewhere that Charlotte is supposed an old girlfriend of Murray, but it was probably some random youtube comment, so who knows.
Finally, Strange World is, as I said, one of my favourite songs on this album. For those who think Iron Maiden is about shouting, playing the guitar fast and loud and stuff like that… damn, this is almost sweet. A slow song, with Di’Anno’s raspiness miraculously gone from his voice and reaching unexpected high tones. Beautiful. A wonderful album, which would be topped very rarely by the band.
P.S: about the “monsters” I could see on their album covers… I soon learned, of course, that it was the band’s mascot, Eddie, who appeared on every one.
Bonus track: Nightwish also have a song called The Phantom of the Opera, although it’s a different one. Still great, anyway.