This is the first Maiden album I bought, you know.
No, I wasn't around when it first came out in April 1980 - actually, I was still having quite a good time inside my mother's womb, and wouldn't be doing the rounds in this quite strange world (pun intented) until August that year. I would add it to my collection quite a few years later actually, maybe in 1996 or thereabouts - as an official cassette tape, which I still own to this day. I kind of knew what to expect from it, mind you: I'm an Iron Maiden fan since I was a kid, and some albums were already a part of my daily routine, borrowed from friends and neighbours and duly recorded on tape. I was short on money back then, and buying albums would be quite a luxury - I didn't even had a CD Player at home back then, if I'm not mistaken. But my mom gave me enough money to buy a new walkman, as a Christmas gift, and the change from the cash she gave me was enough to buy two cassette tapes.
I wanted Iron Maiden, you see. Wanted it real bad. And, believe me or not, the eponymous 1980 release was the only Maiden available at the store, apart from Seventh Son of a Seventh Son - a record I had already taped from a friend. There was no choice, and no choice was needed: Iron Maiden 1980, here we go (the other cassette I picked was Metallica's "...And Justice For All", I believe).
It's a silly personal story without much of a meaning, you see, but I enjoy remembering this, because buying that record was something of a revolution for me, as it was for the whole metal world when boys and girls first bought it in 1980. And the reaction was pretty much the same, too: I'd thought I knew what to expect, from my previous knowledge of the band and all that, but I was wrong.
I was blown away. In a sense, it still feels the same, nearly 25 years later for me, over 40 years later for the world.
Now, I don't want this review to become a treatise on how Iron Maiden changed my life and all that, so I'll skip any further visits to Memory Lane for the remainder of it. But I do have a theory: THIS is the quintessential Iron Maiden record. I'm not saying it is the best thing they ever did (it sure isn't), nor that it is their most impressive batch of songs (Powerslave gets the nod IMO), but I would be inclined to affirm that, oh yes, this is the most IMPORTANT album they ever recorded. If there's an Iron Maiden LP that changed the world around it, a release that came to show everyone what should be done and how to do it, a signal that defines heavy metal 'before Maiden' and 'after Maiden', this is the one. Their first statement, and everything that matters is already there, as powerful and impressive as it could possibly be. In a sense, the world was already conquered by Iron Maiden the day this album came out: from that point onwards, it was mostly a matter of fulfilling a destiny.
It obviously has a lot to do with Paul Di'Anno. He's a punk singing metal, so to say: though able to reach some pretty effective high notes when required (something that would be far more perceivable on follow-up "Killers", but let's not rush things), what makes his delivery truly unique is the ability to use all the rough edges of his voice in favor of his singing. He's not always perfectly in key (listen carefully to "Charlotte the Harlot", for instance), his range is nothing out of this world, and I'm damn sure he didn't have much in the way of singing lessons when he was a kid - but his raspy, ferocious delivery is all the more highlighted by this lack of refinement, giving to memorable songs such as "Prowler" and "Running Free" a sense of urgency and grit that is no less than spellbinding. He's not bulshitting you, you know: he really is a tough guy that learned to live on the streets, and every single word he sings is filled with youthful swagger, bite and honesty. It's truly great, and I will never get tired of it.
Not that Di'Anno shines on his own, of course. Steve Harris is such a legend that any compliments are bound to be redundant, but I must make my personal exercise in futility here: his basslines are remarkable from an early stage, and he's the glue that keeps it all together really, as this particular line-up was quite short lived and would hardly have been functional if not for his confident playing and sheer sense of purpose. Dave Murray and Dennis Stratton were quite a functional guitar duo to be fair, and it's nice to point out that Stratton's delivery is not that dissimilar to what Adrian Smith would bring to the table in the near future (his solos on "Phantom of the Opera" and "Transylvania", for instance, are very memorable). And drummer Clive Burr (that had joined the group for less than two months when recording sessions commenced) is a beast in his own right, nailing all those complex arrangements and fast tempos with a finesse that makes it look and sound easy, rather than the truly impressive feat it actually is.
This album is a monster. Very few recordings encapsulate the spirit of the scene it stems from as well as Iron Maiden's debut LP: it's as revved-up and irresponsibly gritty as a world still shook by punk rock would demand it to be, and then some, but it's also filled to the brim with a creative ambition that would surely make Harris' heroes like Jethro Tull immensely proud. You can bang your head to it almost to no end, and still a part of your mind will be in awe with all those intricate instrumental passages and unexpected changes in mood and tempo. "Phantom of the Opera", of course, is the song that more perfectly solves this apparent contradiction, and it's no wonder this is one of the greatest classics in the history of metal, no less - but other moments like "Remember Tomorrow", "Transylvania" and even the slightly out-of-place ballad "Strange World" also showcase this magical bridge between punk and prog, made possible only by the musical miracle of early 1980's heavy metal.
Thanks a million to Discogs for picture sleeve scans and cassette photo!
Paul Di'Anno (V), Dave Murray (G), Dennis Stratton (G), Steve Harris (B), Clive Burr (D).
01. Prowler (Harris)
02. Remember Tomorrow (Harris/Di'Anno)
03. Running Free (Harris/Di'Anno)
04. Phantom of the Opera (Harris)
05. Transylvania (Harris)
06. Strange World (Harris)
07. Charlotte the Harlot (Murray)
08. Iron Maiden (Harris)
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