My Top 5’s: Iron Maiden Albums

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Over their lifespan and lineup changes, Iron Maiden has released 16 studio albums along with plenty of compilations and live records.  Seeing as how I absolutely adore this band (check out this little ditty), I figured I’d be remiss if I didn’t rank the creme de la creme of their discography.  This is a new segment I’ll be doing every so often, that is, ranking a top 5 of varying subject matter (aptly titled “My Top 5’s”).  So without any further fluff or stalling, here we go!

 

Honorable Mention: Iron Maiden (1980)

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Overview: I couldn’t, in good conscience, include a Top 5 list of Iron Maiden albums without including the one that started it all.  Though it falls just a bit short when compared to its immediate successors, Iron Maiden’s eponymous debut offered us a glimpse into what would ultimately make the band such a force in the coming years.  Though it’s a bit raw (even Eddie, the mascot on the front of the album, has improved in look over the years), it checks a lot of the boxes: prog-metal undertones, winding compositions, evil and sinister lyrics and themes.  This album may not be Maiden’s finest hour, but it certainly packs enough of a punch to be revisited even almost 40 years on.

Strengths: Iron Maiden is almost Punk Rock in how unpolished it is, but it uses this to its advantage.  Maiden took what groups like Judas Priest and Motorhead were doing at the time and injected the energy and aggression of punk bands.  Granted, the album is far too complex to even be considered a punk effort, but the attitude of the genre seeps through a bit.  Songs like “Phantom of the Opera” and the title track show off the nefarious Maiden sound we would all come to love.  It is about as evil sounding as it gets for 1980, and it’s probably why this album is revered to this day.

Weaknesses: It goes without saying that most debut albums, save for Van Halen or Appetite for Destruction, are not an entirely accurate depiction of what the band has to offer.  Bands are allowed to grow into their own, and Iron Maiden was no different.  For one, singer Paul Di’anno, while an adequate vocalist in his own right, didn’t have the power or range his replacement Bruce Dickinson possessed.  As a result, some of the songs may not have the same grandiosity the later Maiden tracks would have.  The production quality is also a bit lacking when comparing this record to some of its younger brothers.  Iron Maiden is still a great introduction to the band, but if you are looking for some of the group’s more quintessential and anthemic works, perhaps you should try an album a few more years down the road.

Fun Fact: This album (and, by extension, the band) actually got discovered by a man named Neal Kay, owner of a heavy metal sound house/rock club called The Bandwagon in London.  The Bandwagon garnered notoriety by hosting “hardboard” guitar battles, in which contestants would go on stage and, using cardboard cutouts of guitars, have air guitar battles with each other.  One night, Dave Murray and Steve Harris walked up to Kay, handed him a demo tape and asked him to take a listen.  Kay was blown away by what he heard (understandably so), and the demo began to receive heavy rotation at the club.  The demo would later morph into Maiden’s debut and the rest, as they say, is heavy metal history…

 

5. Number of the Beast (1982)

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Overview: The first of the Bruce Dickinson-era albums, Number of the Beast takes everything Iron Maiden had done on their first two records and magnifies it, particularly in the vocal department.  Dickinson was galaxies ahead of former singer Paul Di’anno in every sense of what it meant to be a frontman: better range, more articulate, more charismatic, better stage presence.  It was because of these traits that Maiden evolved from a New Wave of British Heavy Metal group into a full fledged arena ready outfit, capable of putting on elaborate stage shows to match their elaborate pieces.  The songs on this album reflect that, as they possess much more depth of field, musically speaking, and feel more anthemic.

Strengths: This record contains some of Iron Maiden’s most classic tunes: “Number of the Beast,” “Run to the Hills,” “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” and my personal favorite, “22 Acacia Avenue.”  These songs, musically weren’t much different from songs off of the previous 2 albums, but the way they were presented and produced showed serious growth from the band.  Dickinson’s air-raid siren vocals, coupled with a more polished sound made these tracks feel like arena bangers, and as with most Maiden records, Number of the Beast still sounds great today.

Weaknesses: With this being the first Dickinson album, Number of the Beast still sounds like the band getting used to one another in certain areas.  Where later albums have a theme and feel to them, Beast meanders at times and can be a hard album to get fully invested in from side to side.  Plus, although it may be a personal bias, songs like the title track and “Run to the Hills” have been so beaten into the ground, being that they are two of Maiden’s most recognizable hits, that it makes it kinda hard to “get up” for these songs every time you hear them.  This is still a phenomenal album, especially for the first turn as a Dickinson-fronted effort, but someone had to occupy this spot.

Fun Fact: Bruce Dickinson was still technically/contractually the lead singer of the NWOBHM group Samson when the album was released, so when it came time to write for Beast, Dickinson had to take on a “moral contributor” role.  This meant he was heavily involved with the writing process, but was never officially credited with any of the songs on the record.  Pretty sneaky, sis…

 

4. Killers (1981)

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Overview: Paul Di’anno’s swan song, Killers, was a marked improvement from the band’s debut album while still simultaneously having a similar feel and atmosphere.  Songs were trimmed of excess “fat” and the production quality spiked considerably.  You can really hear the band behind Di’anno take leaps and bounds in terms of musical growth, and even the cover art has that classic Maiden feel to it.

Strengths: The entire front side of this album is a party from start to finish.  It features two fantastic instrumentals in “The Ides of March” and “Genghis Khan,” the latter of which is some of Maiden’s finest work.  “Another Life” is the album’s high water mark and shows just how far the band came from record 1 to record 2.  While they would grow even more over the next couple of albums, this bad boy is an underrated masterpiece and houses many of the band’s more forgotten yet classic material.

Weaknesses: The front side of this album bangs, this we all know.  However, the back of Killers really drags after the title track kicks off side 2.  The songs aren’t bad, they just don’t pack as much of a wallop as side 1.  This may sound a bit nit-picky, and it is because I love this album (and own it on vinyl), but when you get into what separates a very good Maiden record from a great one, it’s the little things that add up.

Fun Fact: This is the only Iron Maiden album to feature two instrumental tracks, both of which appear on the front side of the record.

 

3. Piece of Mind (1983)

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Overview: Piece of Mind is the first Maiden record to feature the classic lineup we all know and love, with drummer Nicko McBrain replacing Clive Burr.  Accordingly, this album is the one where Iron Maiden really sounds like they hit their stride.  Every track on Piece of Mind has purpose and you can tell that although Maiden turned into a machine on this record, they still had fun making it.  Make no mistake about it, for the next few albums after Number of the Beast, the boys were firing on all cylinders, and Piece of Mind represents the birth of this musical renaissance.

Strengths: This record houses the concert staple “The Trooper,” among other classics and when it comes down to it, Piece of Mind is just damn fun to listen to.  “Die With Your Boots On” can be considered a spiritual relative to “The Trooper” and is equally as action packed, but the absolute gem of this LP is “Still Life,” a wonderful metal track that is equal parts fist pumping and creepy and is one of my favorite Maiden tunes of all time.  The closer, “To Tame a Land,” is a great way to end the album and sets up the precedent of having an epic opus close out a Maiden record much like the next two albums to follow Piece of Mind.

Weaknesses: The first three songs to kick off the album don’t really do it for me, so for a while there I thought that with the exception of “The Trooper,” which appears on just about every Iron Maiden compilation album, I wasn’t a huge fan of the LP.  That obviously isn’t the case, but it goes to show how if a record doesn’t start with a bang, be it fair or unfair, it can turn certain fans off with less than adequate attention spans (14 year old me was not about to sit through an entire album end to end).

Fun Fact: Riding high off the success of Number of the Beast, Iron Maiden faced a new challenge: social conservatives!  I kid, mostly, but suffice it to say that some of the more religious fans of music were none to pleased with a band talking about numbers of beasts and depicting Satan controlling people on an album cover.  The boys were taken to task by pretty much everyone who misinterpreted the album and the popular theory was that Maiden had back masked satanic messages into their last album.  So what did our esteemed band members do to remedy this?  Why, put a back masked message on the album, of course!  At the beginning of the song “Still Life,” drummer Nicko McBrain can be heard burping and then delivering the satirical line “What ho said the t’ing with the three ‘bonce’, do not meddle with things you don’t understand…” when played backwards.  You can listen to it (and the fantastic song following) here.

 

2. Somewhere In Time (1986)

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Overview: Consider this a late addition to the squad, as I really didn’t give Somewhere In Time a fair shake until recently, but dear God is this album good!  As far as arena ready Maiden records go, this one is up there with the best.  The album catches some flack for using synthesized guitars layered in to give the songs some bounce (much like a certain other 1986 offering from a revered metal group, wink wink, nudge nudge), but I think it really adds to the tracks.  The layering is subtle, but it gives the songs on the album more weight and depth, which in my opinion is always welcomed.

Strengths: Where to begin?  The opening track, “Caught Somewhere in Time,” is about as fantastic an opener as there is on a Maiden record.  From there the album doesn’t slow down until the closer in “Alexander The Great,” another of the aforementioned epic finishers to a Maiden LP.  The entire record has such an anthemic quality to it, you can almost feel Dickinson and the guys flying all over the arena.  Somewhere In Time is about as close to perfection, along with the number 1 album on this list, as Iron Maiden was or is ever going to get.

Weaknesses: Not much, if we are being perfectly honest, is weak about this album.  On the whole, the songs are a bit long winded, with an average run time of 6:40 per song (I did the math by hand, thanks for my service).  Most of the tracks use every bit of their allotted time to their advantage, but pieces like “Wasted Years” and the first couple minutes of “Alexander The Great” aren’t as magnificent as some of their more hyperactive brethren. Other than that, this is a pretty flawless effort.

Fun Fact: Depending on how keen your eye is and how deep your fandom for the band runs, the front and back covers of Somewhere In Time house no less than 30-some-odd references to any and all things Iron Maiden.  Some examples: the street on the front side where Eddie is vanquishing his faceless foe is called “Acacia,” named after the classic Maiden song “22 Acacia Avenue,” a clock on the back side reads 23:58, which references the track “2 Minutes to Midnight” from the previous record, and a personal favorite of mine is on the marquee beneath the clock that says “LATEST RESULTS: WEST HAM 7 – ARSENAL 3,” a nod to bassist Steve Harris’ support of English Football (Soccer) club West Ham United.

1. Powerslave (1984)

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Overview: Iron Maiden’s finest hour.  Powerslave is what happens when a band is in their creative and artistic prime, when every member is locked in and ready to give their all.  There are 0 fluff pieces on this record and the album as a whole is just exciting and punchy from start to finish.  The energy this album exudes cannot be overstated and it is not only the best Maiden record of all time, it may very well be one of the best METAL records of all time.

Strengths: Along with “Caught Somewhere in Time,” “Aces High” is one of the greatest opening tracks to ever grace a Maiden record.  It offers a “tip of the iceberg” look into what Powerslave holds in its grooves: dizzying vocals, dazzling twin guitar harmonies, and lyrics about badass subject material (in this instance, dog fighting in war planes).  The rest of the album really takes off (no pun intended) after that, with songs like “2 Minutes to Midnight,” the title track, “Flash of The Blade,” and one of my all-time favorites, “Back in The Village.”  Even the instrumental “Losfer Words” is a seminal Maiden piece and shows off their musicianship as a whole.  Hell, even the album art is classic and iconic.  So much so, that I bought the album only knowing 3 of the 8 songs on it, but believing it was going to bang because of the cover.

Weaknesses: Much like its immediate successor, Powerslave can be a bit long winded.  The songs are, for the most part, a bit more concise than the ones found on Somewhere In Time, but the average really gets bogged down by the epic “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”  “Mariner” clocks in at almost 14 minutes and can drag in parts.  Luckily, it is housed at the end of the record and is entirely skip-worthy if you’re not feeling particularly bold that day.  “The Duelists” is also one of the weaker points of the album but even then, it can still go punch-for-punch with most of the other songs on Powerslave.

Fun Fact: At 13:45, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” was easily Iron Maiden’s longest song for almost 3 decades, until “Empire of The Clouds,” off of 2015’s The Book of Souls, took its  place on the somewhat dubious throne.  Its runtime?  An ass numbing 18:01!  Pack some snacks and a pee bottle if you’re planning on taking on that beast!

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My Top 10 Favorite Bands (Ranked By Me): Number 2

Today’s entry sees 5 lads from Sheffield, England who made it big…

Our Top 10 Favorite Bands list brings us all the way to Number 2.  If you’ve missed any of the previous entries be sure to check out the links to the posts at the bottom of the page.  Today’s entry sees 5 lads from Sheffield, England who made it big…

 

 

2. Def Leppard

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It’s hard to make even a surface sweep through the annals of Hard Rock history without seeing an image of these 5 young men.  The last couple of groups I’ve posted about (The Cars notwithstanding) have had an undisputed Hard Rock/Heavy Metal image and sound.  Def Leppard, on the other hand, has very muddled and oft-argued roots in the Metal community.  Having been birthed in the golden age of the NWOBHM (that’s New Wave of British Heavy Metal, for the uninitiated), Leppard’s first two albums, On Through The Night and High ‘n Dry, were decidedly heavy.  Songs like “Wasted,” “No, No, No,” and “Me and My Wine” all exhibit the mammoth riffs and high pitched vocals associated with the movement at hand and cemented the band as a staple in the genre.

But that all started to change when in 1983, with the help of producer Robert “Mutt” Lange (the then-future, now-former Mr. Shania Twain, to you), Def Leppard released Pyromania.  Stuffed full of radio friendly hooks and arena-ready choruses, the album went platinum by the end of the calendar year.

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Although the record still contained heavy bangers like “Stagefright” and “Die Hard The Hunter,” it also housed cavity-sweet pop-rockers like “Photograph” and “Foolin’.”  This seemingly innocuous blend of heavy and melodic sounds represented a shift in the Leppard fandom; some fans were incensed that their once-beloved metal band had turned into the dreaded “sellouts” metal fans are always railing against.

Things wouldn’t get better for Def Leppard’s more militant fan base, as 1987 saw the release of Hysteria.  Similarly to the previous album, Hysteria had a solid blend of saccharine pop songs and heavy rockers, but because the only songs to get airplay were tracks like “Love Bites” and “Animal,” the album attracted fans of a less heavy variety, only further angering the purists.

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This, ironically enough, is what catapults this group to such a high spot on my list.  Def Leppard is such a versatile band in the regard that they can go from heavy to melodic on the same album and nothing sounds out of place.  Unlike Thin Lizzy, whose versatility I mentioned as a detriment, Leppard’s ability to be sonically diverse doesn’t come from a place of trying too many genres on for size, but rather from sticking to one genre and playing it from each end of the spectrum.

 

Best Album – Hysteria (1987)

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Ahh, the magnum opus.  I wrote extensively about this album in a previous post, so if you’re looking for an in-depth review you can click the link.  Long story short, not only is this my favorite Def Leppard album, it’s one of my favorites of all time.  From top to bottom, Hysteria brings the heat.  Want a sappy 80’s love song?  Check out tracks like “Love Bites” and “Hysteria.”  Need a jolt of hard rock?  Why not try “Run Riot” or “Gods of War.”  Hysteria offered a wide net for all fans of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal and although the album gets slammed by some of the heavier fans of the metal community, it is still, in my humble opinion, Def Leppard’s finest hour.

 

Worst Album – X (2002)

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I really could’ve picked any album released after Lep’s sensational 1992 effort Adrenalize, but I decided to go with X, as it represented the final nail in the coffin of what I consider “classic Def Leppard.”  While many consider Def Leppard post-High ‘n Dry to be irredeemable, it was really the trifecta of Slang, Euphoria, and the aforementioned X, that truly murder the identity of what Def Leppard meant to me.  The songs are anemic, packing little to no punch while simultaneously feeling stripped down.  The band started to introduce acoustic tracks and all of the cuts off of this trio of schlock sound dated in the worst, most 90’s dad rock way possible.  God, now I understand the pain of those early Leppard fans who were so mad at Hysteria; this sucks!  Sellouts!

 

Strongest Member – Joe Elliott (Lead Vocals)

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The flaxen-maned front man of Def Leppard was more than just your average, pretty boy lead singer.  No, Joe Elliott was the driving force behind literally every single one of Def Leppard’s biggest hits.  Being the singer, Elliott obviously provided the voice to these chart toppers, but he was also the principle writer of them as well.  Elliott was even the man who suggested the name of the band (though he originally opted to spell it “Deaf Leopard” before cooler heads ultimately prevailed).  This, coupled with the fact that Elliott is a multi-instrument talent (drums, guitar, and keyboard), made him a runaway for “Strongest Member.”  And for those wondering, guitarist Phil Collen came in second.

 

Weakest Member – Vivian Campbell (Guitars)

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It pains me deeply to put a shred master such as Vivian Campbell in such a dubious position, but when considering contributions to the band, Viv is certainly lacking.  He has one good album under his belt, Adrenalize, and even then that album was partially written while previous guitarist “Steamin'” Steve Clark was still alive.  There is no doubting Campbell is a 6-stringed wizard, but when it comes to his time in the band, the results speak for themselves.  Be it a “wrong place, wrong time” situation or not, there is no denying Vivian Campbell was/is a member of the group during their decline.  I debated putting original guitarist and founding member Pete Willis here, but his time spent with the band was during two of their best albums, On Through The Night and High ‘n Dry, and he was a principle writer on both.  That made Campbell the odd man out, so he ends up here as a result.

My Top 10 Favorite Bands (Ranked by Me): Number 5

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In the countdown of My Top 10 Favorite Bands (as ranked by me), we have made it to number 5.  If you have missed any of the last bands ranked, be sure to check out the previous posts.  Today’s band hails from Ireland and is known (however tragically so) for only one album.  Allow me to enlighten you…

 

5. Thin Lizzy

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Often times on this blog, I like to throw around the word “underrated.”  Never has this been a more apropos judgement of a band than with Thin Lizzy.  Formed in 1969 by bassist/lead singer Phil Lynott and drummer Brian Downey, Thin Lizzy never got the respect they deserved, at least on an international level.  The members are considered heroes in their hometown of Dublin, but beyond the confines of the green cliffs of Ireland, Lizzy is the oft forgotten girl in glasses to many other rock cheerleaders (if you catch my analogous drift).

I’m not kidding either.  Ask anyone who consider themselves a fan of the genre to name one song by Thin Lizzy that didn’t come off of their 1976, lightning-in-a-bottle offering Jailbreak, which featured classics such as “The Boys Are Back in Town,” “Emerald,” and the title track.  I doubt the person you asked will be able to accomplish the feat.  To only ever listen to Jailbreak is to do yourself and the legacy of the band a huge disservice.  For starters, I wouldn’t even consider “Boys are Back” as one of their top 20 tunes of all time.  But I digress, the band is more than just a one-hit wonder.

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The group had a smattering of “classic” Lizzy tracks as far back as their 1973 breakthrough Vagabonds of the Western World, but in my humble opinion the band didn’t achieve their signature sound of poetic/crooning hard rock until 1975’s Fighting.  It was there that Lizzy started to hone the iconic twin lead guitar playing, anchored heavily by Scott Gorham.  After 1976, Thin Lizzy released classic album after classic album, including a live LP, Live and Dangerous, that by all accounts should be considered a Top 5 live record.

My main theory as to why Thin Lizzy is considered underrated and often overlooked in the eyes of hard rock and heavy metal fans can probably be chalked up to just how ambitious they were as musicians.  Take any album after Fighting into account: every record had straightforward hard rock bangers, Irish folk songs, and acoustic ballads littered about.  Even swing appeared on some, in the case of “Dancing in the Moonlight.”  If Thin Lizzy had stuck to what they were good at, hard rock songs with dual lead guitars backing up Lynott’s charismatic vocals, they could’ve been out of this world.  But perhaps, it was this approach that made Lizzy so unique in the first place.  Who’s to say…

 

Best Album – None

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Look, I get it.  Thin Lizzy is one of my favorite bands, but I don’t have a favorite album of theirs?  Yeah pretty much!  For the exact reasons I stated in the last paragraph, Lizzy bounced around genres so often on every album that it was nearly impossible to get into a groove on any of their records.  One minute you’d be listening to Ireland’s answer to Aerosmith or Ted Nugent, and the next you’d have to sit through 8 minutes of an Irish folk song or listen to Thin Lizzy try their hands at a country ballad.  It was all very off-putting for someone who really appreciated Lizzy’s hard rock sensibilities.  That being said, Bad Reputation, Black Rose: A Rock Legend, and Chinatown have some absolutely classic Lizzy bangers and are worth checking out.

 

Worst Album – Thin Lizzy (1971)

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Seeing as how this is Thin Lizzy’s debut LP, it gets a pass for being wildly disjointed and boring.  It’s pretty much your standard, early 70’s blues rock affair and sounds nothing like the Thin Lizzy we all know and love.  If you were to listen to “Ray Gun” off of this album then immediately cut to “Cold Sweat” from Thunder and Lightning, you’d swear you were hearing to two different bands.  It’s fair: bands evolve!  Thin Lizzy is no exception to this rule, but along with most of the other records from the pre-Jailbreak days, I’d steer clear of this puppy.

 

Strongest Member – Phil Lynott (Lead Singer/Bassist)

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Phil Lynott WAS Thin Lizzy.  I talked so much about the twin lead guitars in this ranker, but I would be absolutely remiss if I didn’t give proper kudos to old Phil here.  Not only was he a great frontman and more than adequate bass player, he was a phenomenal songwriter.  Every single one of my favorite Lizzy tunes has Lynott being the principle writer.  His melodic sensibilities and crooning delivery made every song have both a bad boy edge and certain softness to it.  Lynott passed away due to drug use in 1986, thus ending the band’s run in its classic incarnation and proving in the process that he was indeed the driving force behind Thin Lizzy’s brilliance.

 

Weakest Member – Eric Bell (guitar)

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I have nothing against Eric Bell.  He’s a fine guitarist and had some pretty good work on some of Thin Lizzy’s earlier songs, particularly “The Rocker,” a personal favorite of mine.  Therein lies the problem, however, as Bell was only a member of Thin Lizzy during their early years, and thus is associated with the band before they became a hard rock machine.  Things started to turn around for Lizzy, musically speaking, when they brought in guys like Gorham and Brian Robertson to do twin lead guitars.  It is by that logic alone that I must “award” Mr. Bell this spot.

My Top 10 Favorite Bands (Ranked by Me): Number 6

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Our Top 10 Favorite Bands list has brought us to number 6.  If you missed any of the previous bands, be sure to check out the links to the rankings at the bottom of the page.  Today’s band didn’t invent the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, but they damn sure perfected it…

 

6. Iron Maiden

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Here’s a fun exercise: close your eyes and think of the words “heavy metal.”  Now open them.  Chances are you thought of Metallica, maybe Priest or Sabbath, but certainly Iron Maiden.  There are a handful of bands that have now become synonymous with the term “heavy metal” and Maiden is definitely one of them.

When the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was being formed by young and hungry bands in England in the late 70’s, many of them fizzled out after the trend started to die down only a few short years later.  There were two key bands with markedly different sounds that would end up surviving the trend’s chopping block.  One of those was Def Leppard (more on them in a later entry) and the other was Maiden.

Maiden’s sound can best be summed up by Anthrax guitar player Scott Ian as “[Judas] Priest but eviler.”  Their first two albums with original singer Paul Di’anno are as sinister sounding as it gets with a touch of prog rock; it was as if Yes started wearing leather jackets and practicing Satanism.  After Di’anno was booted, the band went from evil prog rock outfit to arena ready giants with former Samson frontman Bruce Dickinson at the helm.  Maiden had a string of albums with Dickinson that rocketed the band to superstardom and are considered classics by any metal fan.

What separates Maiden from the rest of it’s metal brethren is their eagerness to be creative and different without alienating their core fanbase.  You never hear Maiden fans complaining about the group selling out like you do from, say, Metallica or Def Leppard fans.  Iron Maiden have been around for almost 40 years and their fans are still as loyal as ever, and part of that is owed to how genuine the band has remained.  You would be hard pressed to find a metal fan who isn’t a huge Maiden fan, and for how expansive the genre of Heavy Metal is, that says a lot about these 5 lads from London

Best Album – Powerslave (1984)

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In all honesty, this was a nearly three way tie between Maiden’s 1984 masterpiece, 1981’s Killers, and Number of the Beast.  It is Powerslave, however, that delivers on every single track from dropping the needle on “Aces High” to the record rut after “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”  There are very few albums that, in their entirety, capture a group at the height of their creative genius, but Powerslave gives listeners a chance to hear Iron Maiden firing on all cylinders.  Dickinson had already been with the quintet for two albums, and the band’s “classic” lineup was in place for years prior.  What you get as a finished product is, in my opinion , one of the greatest side-to-side metal albums in music history.  Every song has purpose and there is absolutely zero filler here.  If you consider yourself a fan of metal and haven’t checked this one out, do it!

Worst Album – The X Factor (1995)

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What happens when one of the most iconic singers in rock history leaves the band that made him famous?  Well you get this album, of course.  The songs on The X Factor aren’t particularly terrible, but they sound too much like someone trying to be Iron Maiden.  When comparing this one to the classics of the 80’s, it shrivels in their presence.  It seems like an unfair comparison, but someone had to occupy this spot and it goes to this 1995 disappointment.  Give it a listen if you feel I’m being unfair, but I’ll stand by this verdict until proven otherwise.

Strongest Member – Steve Harris (Bass/Vocals)

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The captain of the S.S. Maiden, Steve Harris is one of the most revered members of the heavy metal family.  You will routinely see him popping up on lists of best bass players of all time but what really distinguishes him from other purveyors of 4-stringed bad-assery is his deft songwriting ability.  A quick check of any Iron Maiden LP will net you plenty of S. Harris writing credits as well as some producing to boot.  Harris was also one of the founding members of Maiden and is the only member to appear on EVERY album (and boy have there been a lot)!  Through longevity alone, Stevie boy easily claims this spot as his own.

Weakest Member – Blaze Bayley (Vocals)

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I don’t really have too much to say about old Blaze here, other than that he was the weakest member on Maiden’s weakest album.  That alone lands him on this not-so-coveted platform and it wasn’t a particularly hard choice either.  Bayley is a fine vocalist but he’s to Maiden what Gary Cherone is to Van Halen: a talented singer who just wasn’t right for the job.

 

 

My Top 10 Favorite Bands (Ranked by Me): Number 7

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Our Top 10 Favorite Bands countdown has brought us to Number 7.  If you’ve missed any of the previous bands on this list, be sure to check out those posts.  Today’s band took the first wave of British Punk and turned it completely on its head…

 

7. The Clash

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The year was 1976.  Political unrest in both England and The States was at an all time high, disco was king, and heavy metal godfathers like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Kiss were selling out fewer and fewer arenas by the day.  Around the same time, an anti-movement was taking place in the U.K. and, to a lesser extent, New York City.  Punk was the result of a disenfranchised youth getting fed up with conservative politics and “dinosaur rock.”  Bands like The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, and The Buzzcocks took pride in deconstructing rock and synthesizing it down to its basic form: three chords and indiscernible lyrics set to a hyper active beat.  It was completely different from anything being released at the time, and the young freaks with the bleached hair and clothes pins shoved through their orifices ate it up.

The Clash released their self titled debut album in 1977 and while it sounded very loud and abrasive like most punk records of the day, the musicianship and writing was in a completely different stratosphere than the other outfits around at the time.  Things only got more progressive after the next series of albums.  The Clash dabbled in almost every conceivable genre of music during the height of their popularity, so to pigeonhole them as a “punk rock” band was to do a great disservice to the English foursome.  They were basically punk’s answer to The Beatles.

That may be where my lone criticism with The Clash lies.  While their musical versatility really separated the band from their punk peers, it was what made large amounts of their albums skippable.  Between rockabilly, ska, ballroom, blues, and others, The Clash tried their hands in everything and it made for multiple disjointed records.  However, when The Clash were on, they really earned their moniker of “The Only Band That Matters.”

Best Album – London Calling (1979)

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In the time of vinyl, releasing a 19 song LP was unheard of, but that’s exactly what London Calling is.  From the iconic album art to the eclectic spectrum of tunes, London Calling felt like an instant classic pretty much from the needle drop.  The album had radio hits in “Train in Vain” and the title track, but the real gems from this record are the deep cuts.  Songs like “Death or Glory,” “Spanish Bombs,” “Guns of Brixton,” and “Revolution Rock” have all become staples in every Clash fan’s rotation and they all represent different sides of the band.  Above I mentioned how The Clash would often times mix too many genres into one overblown cocktail of music, and while that is sometimes the case on this album, it works way more often than it doesn’t.  London Calling has become a sort of punk rock Bible, which is a tad ironic seeing as how very few songs on the record could be classified as straight up punk.  This is the album that transformed The Clash from punks to true professionals.

Weakest Album – Cut The Crap (1985)

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By 1985, the wheels started to fall off the well oiled machine that was The Clash.  Guitarist, co-lead singer and principle songwriter Mick Jones was fired, and his shoes proved to be too large to fill.  Cut The Crap was a disjointed effort that saw The Clash slowly start to unravel before our very eyes.  What was once a cohesive unit of brothers was now a shell of its former self and the album sold accordingly, that is to say it didn’t sell much at all.  Cut The Crap was The Clash’s last album as a unit, marking an end to one of the most influential groups of the 20th century in popular music.

Strongest Member – Mick Jones (Guitar/Vocals)

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He sang, he played guitar, he wrote, and he even cofounded the band.  Mick Jones was inarguably the driving force behind many of The Clash’s best work.  Every band has a principle songwriter and Jones was just that.  Much like Cliff Burton of Metallica, it became quite apparent just how much Jones meant to The Clash after he was fired from the band (see Cut The Crap above).  Check the liner notes of any Clash album from 1977 to 1982 and you will see Mick Jones’ name present on almost every tune.  The man was a creative genius even after The Clash, touring with The Gorillaz and forming Big Audio Dynamite.  It takes a lot of talent to be the leader of a band routinely referred to as one of the most influential in rock history, and Jones is proof of that.

Weakest Member – Paul Simonon (Bass/Vocals)

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Saying someone is the weakest member of The Clash is a lot like saying they’re the ugliest  of all the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit models, so bare with me.  Paul Simonon didn’t have the chops that drummer Topper Headon had, nor was he the creative tour de force like Jones or Joe Strummer, so he takes this spot only by virtue of being stuck with three insanely talented musical visionaries.  That’s not to say Simonon didn’t have his moments.  He wrote a couple of fan favorites, including “Guns of Brixton” which he also sang on, and he was the cover boy for the now iconic London Calling album art.  Paul Simonon may be the weakest member of “The Only Band That Matters,” but that in and of itself is still something to be immensely proud of.

My Top 10 Favorite Bands (Ranked by Me): Number 8

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In the countdown of My Top 10 Favorite Bands (as ranked by me), we have made it to number 8.  If you have missed any of the last bands ranked, be sure to check out the previous posts.  Today’s band sees us make a return to the thrash genre, with a group whose DNA is forever shared with the number 9 band on this list…

 

8. Megadeth

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Megadeth lead singer/guitarist Dave Mustaine, whether he likes it or not, will always be linked to Metallica, so it’s only fitting that he and his crew come in one spot ahead of the thrash quartet Mustaine was once a part of.  Similarly to Metallica, however, my love for Megadeth comes from a very specific time slot of their existence, particularly from 1985 to 1992.

One of the biggest detriments against Megadeth comes in the form of the revolving door of musicians Mustaine chose to surround himself and bassist David Ellefson with.  It was kind of hard to get a handle on the persona of the band with so many lineup changes, and I always preferred the original lineup of Mustaine, Ellefson, Gar Samuelson on drums, and Chris Poland on the opposite lead guitar (pictured above).

While they lacked continuity in the lineup department, they had it in terms of song structure and composition, mostly because Ellefson and Mustaine were the principle writers.  The albums showed growth between releases but never strayed too far from the formula, something I really appreciated.

I hate to keep comparing Megadeth to Metallica, so allow me to once more compare Megadeth to Metallica.  What separates one from the other is how much more fun Megadeth is to listen to.  Much like when David Lee Roth formed a “spite band” after being ousted from Van Halen, Mustaine did the same.  That is to say both Roth and Mustaine surrounded themselves with infinitely better musicians than their previous outfits boasted (Eddie Van Halen and Cliff Burton notwithstanding).  The musicianship in Megadeth, even on the early albums, incorporated time signatures and modes far beyond the realm of Metallica’s limited spectrum, even in their prime.  These are the things that separate the number 9’s from the number 8’s.

Best Album – Rust in Peace (1990)

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It was a near dead heat between this and 1986’s Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying, as both albums offer the absolute finest Megadeth has to offer.  Every song on this album is perfectly crafted from start to finish, as Rust in Peace is a master class in thrash metal songwriting.  The changing modes and time signatures make sure that every listen to this record feels like the first time.  Hell, I still get excited every time I hear the opening riff to “Hangar 18.”  If Master of Puppets is the Old Testament of thrash, consider Rust in Peace its New Testament counterpart.

Worst Album – Risk (1999)

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Risk. As in “if they thought putting all of these songs on an album was a good idea, that certainly was a risk!” HEY-O!  I’ll be here all week.  But seriously, folks, the 90’s were a weird time for a lot of bands who saw their heyday in the previous decades.  Mustaine and Megadeth were actually one of the few outfits whose popularity not only stayed afloat in the 90’s, it thrived.  The end of the decade, however, gave us Risk, an album that was a bit errr progressive and different.  Fans and critics weren’t really in the mood for different though, as Mustaine’s choice of softer melodies didn’t mesh well with the public.  Looking back, Risk has aged slightly better than originally thought, but it still doesn’t hold a candle to classic Megadeth.

Strongest Member – Dave Mustaine (Lead Singer/Guitar)

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Was there ever any doubt?  The strawberry haired mad scientist known as Dave Mustaine was and is the driving force in one of the most popular thrash bands in the history of the genre.  You could talk about his keen ear for music or his wizardry on the frets of his guitar, but what puts Mustaine head and shoulders above his peers and bandmates is his aggressive, almost violent desire to be better than his former band, Metallica.  Even when Megadeth was at the height of popularity, Mustaine found himself depressed at the fact that he could never catch Metallica.  This militant need for perfection is what makes Mustaine one of the most underrated musicians of his era; a true genius at his craft.

Weakest Member – Dave Mustaine (Lead Singer/Guitar)

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Whoa, plot twist alert!  For everything amazing Mustaine did for Megadeth, it was his ego and paranoia (read: drug use) that at times almost caused the thrash outfit to unravel.  Whether it be his constant firing of members not named David or his creative choices after the early 90’s, Mustaine represented a sort of Hindu Shiva for the band: one hand creates while the other destroys.  Megadeth is clearly one of my favorite bands and Mustaine is a huge reason for this, but part of me feels that if he had just checked himself at times, Megadeth could have been even better than they already were.

 

My Top 10 Favorite Bands (Ranked by Me): Number 9

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Yesterday saw the introduction of the Top 10 Favorite Bands list and if you haven’t read that post yet, I won’t spoil who number 10 is (go check it out instead).  Today we unveil number 9, who comes in so high based on only its first trio of albums!  Shocked?  Read on to find out why number 9 should have hung it up after lucky number 3…

 

9. Metallica

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Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler (I swear to god, that’s his name) once said in an interview that Metallica “were the best thing to happen to the 80’s.”  While I don’t agree wholeheartedly with that statement, its hard to argue with his logic.  From his perspective, the 1980’s were filled with bands that made metal a glossy and accessible commodity to “posers.”  Men wore make up and liberally applied hairspray all while playing “softer” versions of the same hard rock once championed by guys like Geezer.  When Metallica came along, it became cool to be an outcast again.  It wasn’t about having a hot lead singer and writing songs girls could identify with.  Metal was violent and angsty once again, and Metallica were to blame.

Putting Metallica on this list puts me in a bit of an uncomfortable spot.  When it comes to their catalogue, they’re batting sub .300 in my book, as I find most of their material after 1986’s metal masterclass Master of Puppets to be contrived and hallow efforts when compared to their earlier works.  That is, however, as much an indictment on their later albums as it is a testament to just how freaking insane Metallica’s first 3 releases were.

The first two Metallica songs I heard were “Whiplash,” on a Tony Hawk video game’s soundtrack, and “Battery,” on a friend’s Walkman while riding down to The Keys.  I was floored by how heavy “Battery” was and how fast and furious “Whiplash” felt.  The next time I was in a Barnes and Noble, I picked up Master of Puppets on CD and instantly fell in love.  It was like nothing I had ever heard before and it really shaped my affections for metal as a genre (up until that point the heaviest album I owned was probably Back in Black by AC/DC).

Since then, I was extremely disappointed to learn that not everything Metallica released sounded like their first three albums, but I still hold that trifecta of Kill ’em All, Ride the Lightning, and Master of Puppets in extremely high regard and feel that few bands could touch what was original Metallica.  As a matter of fact, I’d wager that if Metallica had quit making music after bassist Cliff Burton’s death in ’86, they would be Top 5 on this list, an accomplishment I’m sure they are kicking themselves over not achieving.

Best Album – Ride the Lightning (1984)

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Not much separates this album from it’s direct predecessor, Master of Puppets.  Honestly, this record only sits in this spot by the narrowest of margins, as it ultimately came down to quality over quantity (Puppets has more songs I love, but Lightning has songs I love more).  The first 3 songs on this album are all-timers when it comes to Metallica tracks.  Sonically, the album is light years ahead of their debut in both production and musical prowess.  Not only is this my favorite Metallica album, it may be one of my favorite albums ever.  The whole 8 song record is on YouTube, so I would recommend anyone reading this take a quick break and give it a listen.

Worst Album – St. Anger (2003)

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I almost put The Black Album here just to be petty, but I have more self restraint than that.  Seriously though, I have friends who will vehemently defend their love for this album (sorry, Matt).  I have a few issues with this one, however.  The lack of guitar solos, while at the time a conscious choice made so as not to date the album, has ironically given the record a really time specific, early 2000’s feel to it.  There is also the infamous snare drum, which sounds like drummer Lars Ulrich is beating on a taut piece of printer paper.  I’ve pretty much hated every album Metallica has released after …And Justice For All, but this one really represents Metallica’s low water mark.

Strongest Member – Cliff Burton (Bass)

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I said in the introduction paragraph that Metallica would be a Top 5 outfit had they quit after the death of Cliff Burton, so I figured I needed to double down here.  In all seriousness, Cliff was the driving force on all of Metallica’s early work.  He was far and away the most musically gifted in the band, as he taught the other members about harmonies and melodies as well as introduced more advanced song structures after Kill ‘Em All.  Cliff winning this award is a lot like giving an injured player an MVP after the team loses without him, as the quality in songs went into a slow and steady decline after the bassist met his untimely demise.  As the key songwriting cog in Metallica, no one else could even come close to holding this spot.  Rest in peace, Mr. Burton.

Weakest Member – Kirk Hammett (Guitar)

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Okay, calm down.  It certainly wasn’t going to be Cliff in this spot, and the twin headed songwriting monster that is Lars and James wasn’t taking this one home either.  That leaves our boy Kirk here as the black sheep of the crew.  Hammett took over for Megadeth guitarist Dave Mustaine after he was booted from Metallica for alcohol issues.  The gap in talent was apparent from the jump, as Hammett reportedly struggled with some of the solos Mustaine had written for Kill ‘Em All.  Hammett doesn’t really have a huge hand in any of the songwriting processes either.  His lack of virtuoso talent and dubious creative credentials make Hammett an obvious, albeit controversial choice, for this spot.