Saturday, July 7, 2012

Rating All The Iron Maiden Albums *Updated*

Those of you that know me and read the drivel I post here know that I love Iron Maiden. Maiden are bringing their "Maiden England" tour across the continent this summer and in that spirit, I'll rate every Iron Maiden studio album in order, with album commentary (should you care or need help sleeping). For the past dozen or so years Maiden have had a bad habit of releasing a live album and DVD after every tour so I don't bother rating them, or compilation albums. I do mention some of their live albums in commentary for the albums they toured for, but they don't get rated.

NOTE: The rankings work this way - Each song is rated out of ten. Then the album gets a rating out of ten based on the averages of all of the songs. This results in some ratings that may be surprising in that some albums that people love don't get an automatic 10/10. I can agree that an album has 4 magnificent tracks, but if the rest weighs it down the rating will reflect that. Doesn't mean the album isn't worth buying, just means that either the album wasn't strong or that the weak tracks weigh it down. If you have one track on an album that sucks, but the rest is good, the rating will suffer somewhat. Using this system one might think that a rating of 7/10 for an album is mediocre, but looking at the album as a whole, and not just focusing on the strong tracks and ignoring the weak would bring in some lower ratings for many a classic album from any band. To get to 7 means the album is likely very, very good all around.

WARNING: These are MY opinions. I know damn well that Maiden fans have strong opinions, and some of mine may seem like heresy. If you disagree, that's fine...but I still don't care. So, let's get to it.

Classic Maiden Era (1980-1985)
This is the period of time that Iron Maiden are most famous for. There are plenty of lineup changes during this time. It features Dennis Stratton on guitar for the first album, Paul Di'Anno on vocals for the first two and Clive Burr on drums for the first three. Steve Harris and Dave Murray play bass and guitar respectively on every Iron Maiden album. Adrian Smith joined in late 1980, while Bruce Dickinson joined in 1981. Their first two albums are dominated by the writing of Steve Harris, with additions from Di'Anno. The following three see a much greater influence from Adrian Smith and Bruce Dickinson, which made for a balanced and powerful songwriting trio.

Iron Maiden (1980) Producer: Will Malone 7.2/10
An album with loads of Maiden classics, it is woefully underproduced. While Phantom of the Opera is an excellent Maiden song, the performance of it on this album is clunky and suffers from bad production. The version of it on 1985's Live After Death is the best and would be rated higher. There are some great songs here, but the production takes away from the greatness. Note: Sanctuary was not on the original release.
Prowler (Harris) 8/10
Sanctuary (Harris/Di'Anno/Murray) 6/10
Remember Tomorrow (Harris/Di'Anno) 8/10
Running Free (Harris/Di'Anno) 8/10
Phantom of The Opera (Harris) 7/10
Transylvania (Harris) 7/10
Strange World (Harris) 8/10
Charlotte the Harlot (Murray) 6/10
Iron Maiden (Harris) 7/10

Killers (1981) Producer: Martin Birch 8.0/10
The addition of Martin Birch as producer immediately paid dividends to Maiden's sound. Adrian Smith's playing also adds another level of excellence to an already good band. This album has fewer well-known classics, but I like it better than the first album not just because the production is better. I like the songs better overall as well. While this was the last we would hear from Paul Di'Anno, I love his performance on this album. Note: Twilight Zone was not included on the original UK release.
The Ides of March (Harris) 8/10
Wrathchild (Harris) 9/10
Murders in the Rue Morgue (Harris) 8/10
Another Life (Harris/Di'Anno) 8/10
Genghis Khan (Harris) 7/10
Innocent Exile (Harris)  9/10
Killers (Di'Anno/Harris) 8/10
Prodigal Son (Harris) 8/10
Purgatory (Harris) 8/10
Twilight Zone (Harris/Murray) 9/10
Drifter (Harris) 6/10

The Number of the Beast (1982) Producer: Martin Birch 7.8/10
Perhaps the most well-known Maiden album, Beast had the debut of Bruce Dickinson on vocals. While maybe the most popular of their albums, it isn't my personal favourite. I love some of the tracks on this album, but there are some I've always disliked. Too bad those are the ones I keep hearing over and over again. Sorry fanboys, but I always disliked Run to the Hills and thought it was a hokey track. Note: Total Eclipse was not included on the original release.
Invaders (Harris) 8/10
Children of the Damned (Harris) 8/10
The Prisoner (Smith/Harris) 9/10
22 Acacia Avenue (Harris/Smith) 9/10
The Number of the Beast (Harris) 7/10
Run to the Hills (Harris) 6/10
Gangland (Smith/Burr) 7/10
Total Eclipse (Harris/Murray/Burr) 7/10
Hallowed Be Thy Name (Harris) 9/10

Piece of Mind (1983) Producer: Martin Birch 8.0/10
Another album full of Maiden classics, Piece of Mind is one of my favourite albums. It was on this album that we first heard Nicko McBrain on drums. One of the best drummers in the business, Piece of Mind showed so much of his skill. This album solidified Maiden as one of the most all around talented acts in show business. It was clear at this point that Iron Maiden brought an intelligence and depth that was different in rock music.
Where Eagles Dare (Harris) 9/10
Revelations (Dickinson) 9/10
Flight of Icarus (Smith/Dickinson) 10/10
Die With Your Boots On (Smith/Dickinson/Harris) 10/10
The Trooper (Harris) 9/10
Still Life (Murray/Harris) 7/10
Quest for Fire (Harris) 4/10
Sun and Steel (Dickinson/Smith) 8/10
To Tame a Land (Harris) 6/10

Powerslave (1984) Producer: Martin Birch 8.9/10
This was the first time that Maiden had released an album in which I could say that I enjoyed every track on the album. Their most solid piece of work, Powerslave, and it's Birch-produced accompanying live album Live After Death (containing classics from their first 4 albums), stands as the gold standard in the metal genre. Live After Death contains better versions of some of their first album classics, such as Phantom of the Opera and Running Free.
Aces High (Harris) 10/10
2 Minutes to Midnight (Smith/Dickinson) 10/10
Big Orra (Losfer Words) (Harris) 7/10
Flash of the Blade (Dickinson) 9/10
The Duellists (Harris) 8/10
Back in the Village (Smith/Dickinson) 8/10
Powerslave (Dickinson) 9/10
Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Harris) 10/10

Synth-Metal Era (1986-1988)
Powerslave marked the end of the classic metal era in music, not just for Iron Maiden. Sensing this, Maiden took metal in a different direction with their next two albums. Experimenting with synth guitar sounds and adding more epic songs to their albums, these two albums sound dramatically different from their predecessors. Rather than move into a more pop direction, as many of their contemporaries did with disastrous results, Maiden kept it metal, but moved the bar forward.

Somewhere in Time (1986) Producer: Martin Birch 9.0/10
Somewhere in Time is my favourite Maiden album, and in my top 5 of all-time. I love the sound on this album. I love the songwriting on this album. Maiden achieved a depth here that they did not match before or again. Dickinson has stated that he wasn't happy with this album, and there is no songwriting from him here, but I politely disagree. An amazing work of heavy metal and with the best album cover of all-time.
Caught Somewhere in Time (Harris) 8/10
Wasted Years (Smith) 9/10
Sea of Madness (Smith) 10/10
Heaven Can Wait (Harris) 8/10
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Harris) 10/10
Stranger in a Strange Land (Smith) 9/10
Deja-Vu (Murray/Harris) 9/10
Alexander the Great (Harris) 9/10

Seventh Son of a Seventh Son Producer: Martin Birch (1988) 7.6/10
Maiden's concept album about a fantasy character with the powers of clairvoyance and healing, Seventh Son is the favourite album of many die-hard Maiden fans I know. Like Somewhere in Time, I love the sound on this album. The songs, in my view, aren't as strong. Still, it is a fantastic album and the last to feature Adrian Smith for a dozen years. Seventh Son represents the end of Maiden's fantastically successful 80's run.
Moonchild (Smith/Dickinson) 9/10
Infinite Dreams (Harris) 9/10
Can I Play With Madness (Smith/Dickinson/Harris) 7/10
The Evil That Men Do (Smith/Dickinson/Harris) 8/10
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (Harris) 7/10
The Prophecy (Murray/Harris) 7/10
The Clairvoyant (Harris) 7/10
Only the Good Die Young (Harris/Dickinson) 7/10

Metal Roots Era (1990-1993)
Prior to recording their follow up to Seventh Son guitarist Adrian Smith left Iron Maiden, leaving a void both in terms of playing and writing. Also during this time Bruce Dickinson released his first solo album, Tattooed Millionaire. The guitarist on that album was Janick Gers, who stepped in to Iron Maiden thereafter. Gers would prove to be a reliable songwriter for Maiden in the following years, but has a playing style that some have described as sloppy. Still, Maiden could have done worse than Gers since he helped pen some good Maiden tracks. During this time Iron Maiden made an obvious effort to come up with a more raw, classic metal sound.

No Prayer For The Dying (1990) Producer: Martin Birch 5.9/10
A return to a more raw sound and the addition of Janick Gers are the stories of this album. The songwriting is rather poor overall and the the production is undercooked. This is one of Maiden's weakest efforts, with some laughably bad tracks. Oddly, two of the three standout tracks on this album come from Dave Murray, who doesn't write many songs for Maiden. I know a few Maiden fans who don't like Holy Smoke, but I quite frankly always loved that track. So sue me.
Tailgunner (Harris/Dickinson) 6/10
Holy Smoke (Harris Dickinson) 9/10
No Prayer for the Dying (Harris) 6/10
Public Enema Number One (Murray Dickinson) 7/10
Fates Warning (Murray/Harris) 7/10
The Assassin (Harris) 4/10
Run Silent, Run Deep (Harris/Dickinson) 6/10
Hooks in You (Dickinson/Smith) 4/10
Bring Your Daughter....To The Slaughter (Dickinson) 6/10
Mother Russia (Harris) 4/10

Fear of the Dark (1992) Producer: Martin Birch and Steve Harris 6.3/10
With Fear of the Dark Iron Maiden won back some of the goodwill that they lost with No Prayer. Overall a much stronger effort that carries some classic Maiden tracks. Gers contributes several writing credits on this album, to mostly good effect. The production quality here is much better than No Prayer as well. A better album, if a bit inconsistent. It was really too bad that Dickinson would leave Iron Maiden after this album to pursue his solo career more fully. Dickinson really did some good solo stuff after this too, working with Roy Z and reuniting with Adrian Smith for part of his rather good catalogue.
Be Quick or Be Dead (Dickinson/Gers) 8/10
From Here to Eternity (Harris) 4/10
Afraid to Shoot Strangers (Harris) 8/10
Fear is the Key (Dickinson/Gers) 7/10
Childhood's End (Harris) 7/10
Wasting Love (Dickinson/Gers) 5/10
The Fugitive (Harris) 5/10
Chains of Misery (Dickinson/Murray) 7/10
The Apparition (Harris/Gers) 5/10
Judas Be My Guide (Dickinson/Murray) 7/10
Weekend Warrior (Harris/Gers) 5/10
Fear of the Dark (Harris) 8/10

Blayze Bayley Era (1995-1998)
Iron Maiden's new singer was Blaze Bailey. I found this to be a bizarre choice because, in my view, Bayley had neither the range nor the ability to perform Maiden's catalogue. Clearly they didn't want a Dickinson knock-off (just as Dickinson was quite different from Di'Anno), but time would show that Bayley was clearly the wrong guy for the job. His penchant for singing off-key is quite unbelievable. So many of these tracks end up with ratings of 5/10 because they were written better than that but were brought down to that level by production and performance.

The X Factor (1995) Producer: Steve Harris and Nigel Green 5.5/10
This album drives me nuts for a couple of reasons. One is that the songwriting is rather strong, with some great tracks. The second reason is that those tracks are horribly spoiled by terrible vocal performances and production without any sort of energy. The best track, Sign of the Cross, suffers badly from this. A much better version is on the 2001 live album Rock in Rio with Dickinson on vocals. It is there that you see what could have been. It's sad. This album also started Steve Harris' annoying habit of attaching long, boring intros to his songs...something he's never been broken of.
The Sign of the Cross 7/10
Lord of the Flies (Harris/Gers) 7/10
Man on the Edge (Bayley/Gers) 7/10
Fortunes of War (Harris) 6/10
Look for the Truth (Bayley/Gers/Harris) 5/10
The Aftermath (Harris/Bayley/Gers) 4/10
Judgement of Heaven (Harris) 5/10
Blood on the World's Hands (Harris) 5/10
The Edge of Darkness (Harris/Bayley/Gers) 5/10
2 a.m. (Bayley/Gers/Harris) 5/10
The Unbeliever (Harris/Gers) 5/10

Virtual XI (1998) Producer: Steve Harris and Nigel Green 5.4/10
The second, and last, Blazy Bayley album, this one has weaker songwriting than X-Factor and just as bad vocal performances. Again, there are a couple of tracks that the band have performed live with Dickinson and Smith (The Clansman on Rock in Rio is excellent) that sound much better and show what could have been. There are some synth additions on this album that sound cool, though. I like the feel of this album better than the dark and brooding X-Factor, but I just can't get past the Bayley vocals, which ruin everything.
Futureal (Harris/Bayley) 7/10
The Angel and the Gambler (Harris) 6/10
Lightning Strikes Twice (Murray/Harris) 5/10
The Clansman (Harris) 7/10
When Two Worlds Collide (Murray/Bayley/Harris) 5/10
The Educated Fool (Harris) 5/10
Don't Look to the Eyes of a Stranger (Harris) 4/10
Como Estais Amigos (Gers/Bayley) 4/10

Classic Reunion Era (1999-2015+)
In 1999 Iron Maiden dismissed vocalist Blayze Bayley and reunited with Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith. Smith had been playing in Dickinson's solo band along with the excellent Roy Z. At this point Maiden became a 3 guitar act with Murray, Gers and Smith. This has proven to be an excellent combo, with Maiden releasing a lot of good material since 2000. Not all of it is stellar, but a lot of it is really good. The addition of Adrian Smith's songwriting and playing abilities really helped Iron Maiden, as Steve Harris was (and still is) mired in an obsession with epic length tracks with long, boring intros. This has left Smith, Gers, Murray and Dickinson the task of writing the rockers for Maiden, and they've done a good job of it since 2000. Murray really shows hits ability on Brave New World. Contrastic this era to the previous 10 years really shows the void that was left when Adrian Smith left Iron Maiden. The man is simply an amazingly talented songwriter and musician.

Brave New World (2000) Producer: Kevin Shirley and Steve Harris 7.6/10
By 2000 it had been a dozen years since Iron Maiden had released an album that could truly be called excellent. That streak ended with Brave New World. So much about this album is excellent, from the album cover on down. Great songwriting, great sound, great performances. A return to form for Iron Maiden that ranks with their 80's period.
The Wicker Man (Smith/Harris/Dickinson) 9/10
Ghost of the Navigator (Gers/Dickinson/Harris) 8/10
Brave New World  (Murray/Harris/Dickinson) 8/10
Blood Brothers (Harris) 9/10
The Mercenary (Gers/Harris) 8/10
Dream of Mirrors (Gers/Harris) 5/10
The Fallen Angel (Smith/Harris) 8/10
The Nomad (Murray/Harris) 8/10
Out of the Silent Planet (Gers/Dickinson/Harris) 5/10
The Thin Line Between Love & Hate (Murray/Harris) 8/10

Dance of Death (2003) Producer: Kevin Shirley and Steve Harris 5.4/10
Aside from the awful album cover, most Maiden fans I know really like this album. I, however, do not. There are a couple of standout tracks for me, but overall I found the songwriting to be sub par. The title track is like a Spinal Tap song, Rainmaker is catchy but repetitive, with no second verse, and the opening track is really hokey and bad. There are just a lot of bad tracks here. A letdown album after the great Brave New World. Not much else to say.
Wildest Dreams (Smith/Harris) 4/10
Rainmaker (Murray/Harris/Dickinson) 6/10
No More Lies (Harris) 6/10
Montsegur (Gers/Harris/Dickinson) 8/10
Dance of Death (Gers/Harris) 4/10
Gates of Tomorrow (Gers/Harris/Dickinson) 4/10
New Frontier (McBrain/Smith/Dickinson) 4/10
Paschendale (Smith/Harris) 8/10
Face in the Sand (Smith/Harris/Dickinson) 7/10
Age of Innocence (Murray/Harris) 4/10
Journeyman (Smith/Harris/Dickinson) 4/10

A Matter of Life and Death (2006) Producer: Kevin Shirley and Steve Harris 6.4/10
After Dance of Death I could have been forgiven for thinking that Brave New World was an anomaly and that Maiden really had simply run out of steam and couldn't do it anymore. I was happy to be mostly wrong about that. A Matter of Life and Death has enough solid material to sustain it, but enough mediocre material to be somewhat of a disappointment. Still, there are tracks on this album that I keep coming back to. Steve Harris waters down some wonderful work here with his typical post-1995 boring intros. This album would have been miles better without them weighing down tracks like Benjamin Breeg and The Legacy.
Different World (Smith/Harris) 5/10
These Colours Don't Run (Smith/Harris/Dickinson) 7/10
Brighter Than A Thousand Suns (Smith/Harris/Dickinson) 6/10
The Pilgrim (Gers/Harris) 8/10
The Longest Day (Smith/Harris/Dickinson) 8/10
Out of the Shadows (Dickinson/Harris) 5/10
The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg (Murray/Harris) 6/10
For the Greater Good of God (Harris) 7/10
Lord of Light (Smith/Harris/Dickionson) 6/10
The Legacy (Gers/Harris) 6/10

The Final Frontier (2010) Producer: Kevin Shirley and Steve Harris 6.8/10
Steve Harris continues his determination to make songs less good by including long, boring intros. The fact that you can't skip over Satellite 15 to get to the rocking title track really pisses me off. In fact, I now just rely on their great live version of the title track from 2012's decent live album El Vivo. El Dorado is a half baked track, and the final two songs needed to have their boring intros chopped to make them into much better tracks. Still, again there are songs I just keep coming back to, like Mother of Mercy,The Alchemist, Isle of Avalon and the magnificent Starblind. Overall, a good record.
Satellite 15...The Final Frontier (Smith/Harris) 7/10
El Dorado (Smith/Harris/Dickinson) 6/10
Mother of Mercy (Smith Harris)  7/10
Coming Home (Smith/Harris/Dickinson) 5/10
The Alchemist (Gers/Harris/Dickinson) 8/10
Isle of Avalon (Smith/Harris) 8/10
Starblind (Smith/Harris/Dickinson) 10/10
The Talisman (Gers/Harris) 6/10
The Man Who Would Be King (Murray/Harris) 6/10
When the Wild Wind Blows (Harris) 5/10

The Book of Souls (2015) Producer: Kevin Shirley and Steve Harris 6.3/10 (Disc 1 7.2/10; Disc 2 5.2/10)
Iron Maiden's first double album contains some great moments, but is marred by some sketchy vocal performances from Dickinson and a lot of self-indulgent bloat. On some tracks, like Speed of Light, it sounds like Dickinson did one take and it wasn't even on time. The album has a tonne of great riffs and passages. But every single song of the album could have been shortened to it's benefit. The Red and the Black starts out great and then just bores the hell out of you with endless interludes. Empire of the Clouds is an Andrew Lloyd Weber-type production that is positively excruciating to sit through. Overall, however, there are enough good moments on Book of Souls to recommend. But glory days are long gone. Note: Had the album been simply the first half it would have a rating of 7.2, ranking it among their better albums. But disc 2 is so weak that it drags then whole project down.
Disc 1
If Eternity Should Fail (Dickinson) 7/10
Speed of Light (Smith/Dickinson) 7/10
The Great Unknown (Smith/Harris) 8/10
The Red and the Black (Harris) 6/10
When the River Runs Deep (Smith/Harris) 8/10
The Book of Souls (Gers/Harris) 7/10
Disc 2
Death or Glory (Smith/Dickinson) 5/10
Shadows of the Valley (Gers/Harris) 5/10
Tears of a Clown (Smith/Harris) 7/10
The Man of Sorrows (Murray/Harris) 5/10
Empire of the Clouds (Dickinson) 4/10

So there it is. All of Iron Maiden's studio albums rated, song by song. My rankings, incidentally, put Somewhere in Time at #1 and Virtual XI and Dance of Death tied for last place.

The rankings, in order, are:
Somewhere in Time 9.0
Powerslave 8.9
Piece of Mind/Killers (tie) 8.0
The Number of the Beast 7.8
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son/Brave New World (tie) 7.6
Iron Maiden 7.2
The Final Frontier 6.8
A Matter of Life and Death 6.4
Fear of the Dark 6.3
The Book of Souls 6.3
No Prayer for the Dying 5.9
The X-Factor 5.5
Virtual XI/Dance of Death (tie) 5.4

Maiden have released a lengthy list of live albums, most of which I simply cannot recommend. 1993's Real Live/Dead One and Live at Donnington are both appalling in their production. Absolutely un-listenable. 1985's Live After Death, on the other hand, is one of the best live albums you'll ever hear. 2001's Rock in Rio is a good live album as well. The Death on the Road album has a list of tracks I dislike on it, but El Vivo! is not bad at all. The Beast Over Hammersmith live album is difficult to get a hold of, but is rather good, as well.

Final Commentary: 
Looking at Iron Maiden's catalogue it is easy to see how much you can create and do when you're young and fit. Between 1980 and 1988 Iron Maiden were doing an album and world tour almost every year. They released albums in 1980, 81, 82, 83, 84, 86, and 88. All of them are great albums. That is a monumental amount of material in a short span of time. The materal they released in the next ten years was significantly less strong. This was in part due to the departure of Adrian Smith in 1989 and the departure of Dickinson in 1996. You have to think, however, that Maiden had lost some of that youthful energy and creativity. Instead of taking a break (something they've learned to do in the last 12 years) to recharge, they just kept the train rolling. The material suffered.

Since the reunion in 1999 Iron Maiden have been a much better band, but only once have they reached the heights of their 80's material. I think that some of this is due to the fact that Steve Harris is determined to produce and direct Iron Maiden, whereas in the 80's he had a producer who would stand up to him and the rest of the band and say "no, that's not good enough!". Again, the material has suffered. Since 2000 they have recorded 5 studio albums with only one topping the magic 7/10 number. The Final Frontier comes very close, but just misses. I rarely find myself putting in a post-80's Maiden album and listening to it as an album anymore. I simply pick the tracks I want and make a playlist. There are plenty of wonderful tracks, just not plenty of wonderful albums. Still, their good tracks on weak albums are miles better than most other metal out there, and that's what keeps people coming back to Iron Maiden.

But that's just the way I see it.