Coming off the lengthy “World Pieces Tour” in support of the great Piece of Mind, Iron Maiden didn’t take too long to reconvene and write the next chapter of its already rich story. Considered by many as maybe THE ultimate Maiden album (an opinion I don’t necessarily share), 1984’s Powerslave shows a band firing on all cylinders.
The second album recorded by the now classic line-up of Harris-Dickinson-Murray-Smith and McBrain, it was supported by the longest tour of their career for a grueling 189 dates with stops in East Europe, Brazil, Japan and North America.
To understand Powerslave’s importance, let’s take look at the context. 1984 was one of the most successful year for heavy metal with great releases such as Ride The Lightning, Out Of The Cellar, Stay Hungry, The Last In Line or Defenders Of The Faith, all million sellers. By then, the sales figures of such acts were starting to compete with the Cindy Laupers of the world and metal band were seriously denting the charts. In a time where vinyls were still kings, our favorite genre was in fashion and fans were rushing to the store to get the latest LP of their favorite band.
First let’s take a look at the breath taking sleeve supplied by the then go-to Maiden artist, the sometimes unsettling Derek Riggs. As for previous releases, Riggs gifts us with an incredible piece of art, that shows a miraculously freed Eddie as Ancient Egypt’s Pharaoh. As often, the painter emphasizes the details and this album cover tells countless stories to whomever dares to let his mind wander and imagine.
Let’s then analyze the songs. Certainly benefiting from the stability of the band’s line up (that didn’t change for the first time in 4 years), Powerslave is a block of condensed epic and furious heavy metal that set Maiden’s apart from its NWOBH competitors.
Interestingly enough, I was never a big fan of the first two songs and singles: “Aces High” and “2 Minutes To Midnight.” They are fine but lack a little originality in my opinion. I find the rest of the album much more interesting. It only really begins for me with one of my personal favorite in the excellent instrumental “Losfer Words”. Such power and velocity! I was always fascinated with instrumentals and how they balance an album. I think it allows a band to reveal their true identity and sensitivity. Scorpions had “Coast to Coast” and Def Leppard “Switch 625”, Maiden had “Losfer Words.” A definite must hear that shows the band virtuosity. “Flesh Of The Blade” is also an absolute classic that should be played live way more often and displays a sense of darkness that I find particularly appealing. Bruce Dickinson is on fire on this one as well as on the eponymous track, “Powerslave.” One of the few songs the singer wrote entirely by himself, it is definitely a high point in their catalogue with an absolutely insane solo by the Smith and Murray pair.
Finally, what could be said about the piece de resistance of the album, the epic “Rime of The Ancient Mariner” based on a poem of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. 14 minutes of pure riffing with main songwriter’s Steve Harris galloping bass leading the charge. Only Maiden could have done something like that! Maybe the song that represents the British (then) quintet the best.
Embarking on the appropriately titled “World Slavery Tour” following the album release, the band swore after its completion that they will never be out that long again! It is true that manager Rod Smallwood then established an exhausting touring map, sometimes visiting the same places twice, ensuring that the band played every single venue where there was demand. Relentless playing and work paid off though, as this tour achieved to cement Iron Maiden as one of the most important act of the decade.
Bottom line: Maiden at its best!