Few acts in the long and often fractured history of Heavy Metal have been able to achieve the sustained hot-streak that Iron Maiden managed to pull off during the 80s. From 1980 to 1988, Iron Maiden released seven studio albums, as well as a live double, that still stand up to scrutiny today.
Thanks to that run of albums through the 80s, Iron Maiden were the decade’s undisputed kings of Heavy Metal, especially here in the UK, with only the significantly poppier Def Leppard coming within touching distance of them, and given that Leppard released just four albums in the decade compared to Maiden’s eight, their output could perhaps more accurately considered an amble rather than a run. Having been picking off the Iron Maiden discography album by album, seemingly at random, it’s taken me a little while to get to Powerslave, but I was aware of its heavyweight reputation long before I first heard it in full, but given how often other albums with similarly weighty reputations have failed to impress me in the past, I was pretty much primed for disappointment.
I’m happy to report that my misgivings were actually entirely misplaced, as Powerslave is an album that hits the ground running with an opening salvo which consists of “Aces High”, “Two Minutes to Midnight”, the instrumental and “Losfa Words (Big ‘orra) (personally, I’m quite partial to “Flash of the Blade” too). Powerslave is just one of those albums which keeps up its energy levels throughout its run time, with even its less significant tracks being enjoyable. Much of this is perhaps down to the fact that it is the simplest and most direct Iron Maiden album that the band recorded with Bruce Dickinson in the 80s, with the majority of songs simply not hanging about long enough to get bloated, and the contrasting closing epic “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” having enough going on to keep the listener interested, while not losing sight of the core tune either. It’s a fine balance, and not one that many bands have managed to achieve successfully down the years, and it was a genuinely pleasant surprise that Iron Maiden managed it on Powerslave, as all the elements were there for them to make a well meaning, if ham-fisted attempt, which just didn’t satisfy.
While each of the albums from Iron Maiden’s golden age having something to recommend them, it is perhaps inevitable that there is much debate as to which is their definitive album, and which should be the first for a newcomer to the band to investigate. As a relative newcomer to the band myself, I would recommend either starting with The Number of the Beast as an accessible album and going chronologically through their Bruce Dickinson period, then back tracking to the Paul Di’Anno years, or starting with Powerslave as the album which would probably have the widest appeal to fans of rock music in general rather than specifically Heavy Metal. It is this that is perhaps the secret of Powerslave’s appeal for me. Iron Maiden’s other albums from this era are solid to great Heavy Metal albums, whereas Powerslave is a great album regardless of genre.