From my perspective, this is a big year for Yer Metal Is Olde pieces, and it starts off with this piece of work. Iron Maiden wasn’t my first purchase by these legends: that would be The Number of the Beast, when it came out back in 1982. But after being blown away by that album as a twelve-year-old, I quickly gobbled up whatever else I could find – which wasn’t much. A few months later I grabbed my cassette copy of Killers, then the Maiden Japan EP, and finally their debut. So by the time I’d worked my way to this album, well, it confused me a bit. Why? Well, it didn’t sound at all like Killers, and as a teen I had no idea why, so for a few years this was just “the shitty Iron Maiden album.”
AMG Himself has written plenty about this album here in his Iron Maiden from Worst to Best manifest, so I won’t repeat it, and while I disagree with many of the placements in his list, one I do agree with is Iron Maiden in 8th place. And like he says, everything about this album screams debut, which as I look back through wizened eyes is the exact reason it didn’t impress Young Me. From the wimpy production to the punk-instead-of-metal Eddie, to the poor band photography on the back cover and the overall rushed feel, Iron Maiden just couldn’t make its way onto my turntable and stay there. But now, years later, what keeps me coming back to this album is a clutch of great songs – and nostalgia, of course.
Of note: here in this walk down memory lane I am referring to the North American version of the album, which included “Sanctuary” in the middle of side 2, and thank goodness for that, as we’ll see in the next paragraph. We’re all familiar with most of side 1, which not only contains concert staples in the rock anthem “Running Free” and the classically progressive “Phantom of the Opera,” but also the complex yet catchy opener “Prowler” and the moody power ballad “Remember Tomorrow,” which just might have been Paul Di’Anno’s best vocal moment with the band. Honestly, production aside, these four songs hold their own against most of Iron Maiden’s future side 1’s.
Side 2 goes off the rails just a little. “Transylvania” is an okay song, but don’t start things off with an instrumental. “Strange World” has no place here. This song was totally in guitarist Dennis Stratton’s wheelhouse, and one can see why he only lasted a few months, as it doesn’t fit the Iron Maiden style at all.1 “Charlotte the Harlot” is a cute song title, but again not the greatest material. Side 2’s strength lies in the band’s namesake song, a hard rocker that showcases Di’Anno’s slightly punk style. Luckily, having “Sanctuary” breaking up the weak songs made side 2 more tolerable. It’s a fairly generic tune as far as the arrangement and riff goes, but it’s also simple exuberant fun.
I was into plenty of other bands when these early Iron Maiden albums came out – Judas Priest, of course, but also Scorpions, Kiss, Accept, Venom, Twisted Sister, and Def Leppard to name a few. Maiden were unique musically amongst those acts in that Steve Harris’s bass drove the songs. In interviews, Steve Harris has often talked about how he writes bass lines as if it was a guitar, and that gave the band a very singular sound. I was also into Paul Di’Anno’s tone, which had more of a punk/blues feel to it than Dickinson’s soaring screams, and when he stayed focused on how he sounded best, he was amazing.
What that all added up to here on Iron Maiden’s debut album might not have been the greatest record of 1980, and certainly not of the band’s career, but it resulted in an album that stood out from the crowd enough that a lot of the tracks got plenty of airtime (it was much harder to skip songs without scratching the record, so I recorded the good songs to cassette) and, as amateur as it came across, it planted the seeds for what became arguably the greatest band in heavy metal history. Yer Metal is Olde, but not Perfect.