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Iron Maiden's Peace Of Mind 25 Years Later

By A Headbanger, Do You Bang Head?
Friday, January 16, 2009 @ 9:24 AM


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Reviewed by "Brother Bob":

Author's note: I'm writing under a different name to support my own blog, but will keep contributing to KNAC.COM as long as these good folks are willing to keep publishing me. BB

It’s been 25 years since the greatest album in the history of civilization has been released. OK, the album was actually released in 1983, but it was still 2008 when I started writing this. To pay respect, and as penance for the hurried, half-assed review I wrote about a Maiden concert last summer I felt the need to write a tribute to not only Maiden’s best album, but the best album in the history of creation. I am of course, referring to “Piece of Mind”.

There have been many great bands, songs, and albums, but none have ever been so powerful and consistent song for song and as a whole as Maiden’s 1983 release. The album is loaded with great songs, has strong & well written lyrics, kick ass guitar solos, Steve Harris’ always amazing bass, and of course, Eddie. Let’s take it from the top with the opening track:

Where Eagles Dare

Piece of Mind (POM) opens with the greatest, most colon stomping leadoff track in the history of rock n’ roll. This song is the Tim Raines/Ricky Henderson of leadoff songs on so many levels… First off, the song is based on a kick-ass Clint Eastwood movie. This alone gives POM a quick lead over every other album in creation. The music is tight, with the lyrics based on American forces raiding a Nazi stronghold in the Alps during WWII. The guitars are perfect, as Adrian Smith and Dave Murray launch one of several incredible guitar solos (more on the solos later) – and solos that feature gunfire in the background. The bass is surprisingly low key, and Maiden even decides to use the drums a little bit differently than they normally do. But I can’t break this song down properly on my own – for that I’m going to need the help of TV’s two greatest NFL analysts, Ron Jaworski and Merrill Hoge. Jaws?

RJ: Thanks, Brother Bob. The 1980’s saw the rise of the New Wave of British Metal, and Maiden was at the forefront for a reason. Maiden has all of the classic components of a great metal band, from strong lyrics to highly talented axe men. But one of the elements that sets Maiden apart is how they use their rhythm section. This can be seen by breaking down the film:

 

Iron Maiden is a metal band built around the power guitar chords. With guitarists like Murray and Smith this comes as no surprise, but what sets Maiden apart is the use of their rhythm section. Where most metal bands keep their bassist in the background to keep the beat and use their drummer as a point of attack, Maiden does the opposite. Steve Harris uses the bass to lead the attack while their drummer keeps the rhythm, but POM shows a few wrinkles to this tactic: This is the look Iron Maiden showed at their last performance. Murray and Smith are split to either side, Bruce Dickenson is lined up over center, first year free agent acquisition Nicko McBain is in the backfield over drums, and Steve Harris is on bass in the slot position. This is a standard formation that audiences can expect to see from Maiden at any show. With two high caliber guitarists splitting the lead/rhythm roles and arguably the greatest heavy metal bassist of all time in Steve Harris,

Hoge: That’s what I’m talkin’ about! Factor Bass, baby!

Jaws: …it is no surprise that Maiden consistently uses all of their guitars on the attack.

Now let’s go back to the start of the song. In their first three albums’ leadoff songs, the guitars were part of the opening intros (Prowler, Ides of March, Invaders – ed). But this time Maiden uses misdirection, letting Nicko take the lead with a simple drum roll to kick things off. By doing this, Iron Maiden sends a message that they are ready to attack from all angles on this album with a well balanced attack.

Ron Jaworski and Merrill Hoge appear courtesy of ESPN, and can be seen breaking down the game film every Sunday on NFL Matchup. For some reason the jet fuel geniuses at ESPN decided that it’s a good idea to broadcast the only good NFL pregame show around at 7:30 on Sunday mornings when nobody is awake. Check local listings.

I’ll be the first to admit, there are better leadoff songs out there. I can think of a few off of the top of my head without much effort, and you probably can, too. BUT, is your leadoff song:

    • Based on a Clint Eastwood movie that kicks ass,

    • Does it feature ordnance in its guitar solo,

    • And introduce the greatest, most well written, ass-throttling 45 minutes in the history of rock?

I didn’t think so. That’s a lot to say about POM, and we’re only one song in! To recap, your score after one song:

Maiden                                                       1

The Rest of the Grit Eating World               0

Revelations

Heavy metal has always seen two themes that got done to the point of cliché in the 80’s – religious overtones and acoustic guitars. For the most part, Maiden avoids these, but when they dive in it’s strong. Revelations hits both, introducing the song with a reading from an English hymnal, and does a great job of using the acoustic and electric guitars together. This song is also brings out one of Maiden’s strengths – having two great guitarists with the talent to share/swap the rhythm and lead guitar duties and go back and forth on the solos. There aren’t many bands out there that can make this work. The closest duo I can think of in this category is Slayer, but as much as I like the guys from LA, Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King don’t even come close to Maiden.

It is you…It is you

Flight of Icarus

Everyone reading this is probably familiar with the story of Icarus. Maiden is also well known for its posters featuring Eddie, and this song’s drawing is one of their best. In the original story, Icarus flies on wings made of wax and feathers, but flies too close to the Sun and falls to his death. In the poster, he flies too close to Eddie

 

This is also the first single that Maiden would release in the US, hitting as high as #12 on the charts. Of course, no single is complete without a music video, and Maiden gives us a good one. The video is very 80’s, but it holds up surprisingly well today. And of course, it features another great guitar solo combo. Another item of note on this song – even though it sounds like in the studio they just overlaid Dickenson’s voice in the chorus, this is one of the rare Iron Maiden tracks that uses backup vocals.

Die With Your Boots On

For all that Maiden goes with the 80’s metal badass image, they never took themselves too seriously. Look no further than the cheesy footage used in the videos for the Maiden classics The Number of the Beast and Run to the Hills.

Listen to the chorus, right after Dickenson sings “If you’re gonna die”, in the background you’ll hear a hear Dickenson quietly chirp “Doy”. I don’t have too much else add to this song so,

Onward!

The Trooper Even the conservative magazine The National Review has to give props to Maiden as the thinking man’s metal band. The Trooper is based on Lord Tennyson’s poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade. The original poem is about the suicidal charge by the British cavalry at the battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. This song also gives another great music video, and also is the theme of what is probably their most famous poster.Solid lyrics, great guitar work, you know the drill by now.

Still Life

Another popular gimmick in the 80’s was the use of backwards messages, and Maiden is no exception. This song kicks off with what sounds like a backwards message, but I’m not 100% on this. When I was in school I had an aspiring musician living across the floor from me who owned a four track. One day when we were bored we tried playing backward a few tapes that had these messages, but this was the only track where we still couldn’t make head or tail of what was being said. If anyone has any insight to what was said please drop something in the comments.

The song itself starts off quietly, with Dickenson singing about seeing faces at the bottom of a pool. The song never states who the narrator is speaking to – friend, girlfriend, wife? Whoever it is, this person doesn’t see the faces at the bottom. As the intro closes out and the song kicks in Maiden goes back to Nicko to pound the skins to lead the charge. Another solid song, and it ends with the narrator going insane and deciding he has to go to the bottom of the pool to join to join the faces and taking his visitor with him. In the words of the immortal Billy Pilgrim, "So it goes”

Quest for Fire

This is the album’s only weak point. By definition, it is impossible for any song on POM to suck, but if any song could this one would. It has some weak lyrics about cavemen looking for fire – maybe it was the inspiration for that bad 80’s caveman movie with Darryl Hannah. Still, the solid POM sound carries the song enough to keep it from sucking. Since this song is the only spot that keeps this album from perfection, there’s no point in dwelling on it.

Onward!

Sun and Steel

Maiden wastes no time getting back on track with a great song about one very talented swordsman.

You killed your first man at 13

Killer instinct animal supreme

By 16 you had learned to fight

The way of the warrior, you took it as your right

Years ago I read an interview with Dickenson saying that the song was about a samurai who was the best warrior in his time, but he was a man with a death wish. So he kept fighting, hoping that someone would kill him, but he was too talented for anyone to take him in combat.

Life is like a wheel, and it’s rolling still.

Years later I realized that the subject of this song was the legendary samurai, Miyamoto Musashi, author of the classic Book of Five Rings. With its strong lyrics and great guitars, this song does the perfect job of helping this album resume kicking ass, and serves things up for the grand finale…

To Tame a Land

Whenever Maiden’s epic saga songs get mentioned, it’s usually referring to Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Alexander the Great, or even Phantom of the Opera. Usually overlooked is the best of the bunch – that’s right, To Tame a Land. This one is based on the Frank Herbert novel Dune, and tells of its main character, Paul Muad’ Dib. The original movie adaptation by David Lynch got a bad rap, but for such a detailed book Lynch did as good a job as could be hoped for with just over two hours of screen time. I’ll never understand why Lynch cast that dork from Twin Peaks as the Kwizatz Haderach though, and the mini-series done back in 2000 did a way better job with the story, but I digress.

After nearly forty minutes of head banging intensity, the final track opens with a quiet, middle-east influenced guitar lick, and launches with the rest of the band joining in, while in the background the subtle sound effect of a flying spacecraft plays.

Dickenson proceeds to belt out Muad’ Dib’s story, with the usual incredible support from his band mates. The song builds up to its bridge, where Maiden throws another curve. The guitars stay mainly in the background, with Harris’ bass handling the rhythm and Nicko pounding the drums before Dickenson comes back for the bridge leading to the songs’ final words–

And when the time for judgement’s at hand,

Don’t fret he’s strong and he’ll make a stand,

Against evil the fire that spreads through the land,

He has the power to make it all end.

Stop for a minute and look again at that last line - “he has the power to make it all end.”

What a great line to end the album! Who hasn’t wanted to have that kind of power, whether it be over a bad business deal, a relationship that’s gone downhill, a shitty job, or dealing with the homicidal political group that murdered your father and is attempting to control the galaxy by manipulating the spice trade?

And the song doesn’t end there. What else does Dickenson have to say for the remaining three and a half minutes following that last line? Nothing. That’s right, the man who was described in the “Somewhere on Tour” program (yes, I still have mine) as “Mr. Motormouth Incarnate”, Dickenson steps aside and lets the rest of the band bring it home. After the last lines Harris pounds on the bass before Murray and Smith launch into the best of the great guitar solos featured throughout the album. And as the solos finish and the song winds down, it’s back to Nicko, who contributes with a few well pounded drum rolls before turning the reigns back over to the middle-eastern influenced guitar lick and the song and album ends just like that.

Quietly.

Yes, they could have gone out with a bang and a scream in the same way that other great Maiden closing songs have done, like Drifter, …Mariner, or Hallowed be thy Name. But an album like this doesn’t need an ending like that – they left it all on the field.

So there you have it folks, the greatest album ever recorded. But don’t take my word for it. I’m sure that by now you’re already downloading POM off of iTunes or dusting off an old CD from your collection.

And after you listen to this CD, I’ll only have two words for you – You’re welcome.

OK, three more words – Up The Irons!


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