Iron Maiden is the best heavy metal band. Don’t try to argue the point, just accept it. I got into Iron Maiden when I was 10 or so years old after seeing the Be Quick Or Be Dead music video clip from the then-new Fear Of The Dark album. I’ve loved them ever since and am immensely happy to have seen them live on five occasions on two tours.
I’ve always said that Iron Maiden were at their best whenever it was that you discovered Iron Maiden. Ask any two Iron Maiden fans what their favourite album is, and you’ll rarely get the same answer. If two fans do happen to nominate as their favourite the same item from the Iron Maiden discography, it’s unlikely they’ll name the same favourite Iron Maiden song.
THE TWO BEST IRON MAIDEN ALBUMS
My personal favourite Iron Maiden album is Fear Of The Dark because that’s what got me into them at the time. Iron Maiden’s commercial (and critical) success was starting to wane at the time, as was singer Bruce Dickinson’s enthusiasm. Consequently, my second-favourite Iron Maiden album is The X-Factor, the first of the two much-maligned *shock gasp* Blaze Bayley-era-vocals Iron Maiden albums. In the three years that passed between Fear Of The Dark and The X-Factor I grew to love everything there was about Iron Maiden. When you’re a young teenager, three years seems like an eternity, so when The X-Factor finally came out after many delays I just couldn’t get enough of it. I distinctly recall dubbing the album to tape from my grandfather’s CD player (I got my own boombox a year later) and pretty much destroyed the cassette from repeated listens.
So those are in my personal view the two best Iron Maiden albums. As stated, everyone’s opinion will differ. And for that same reason, I also have my least favourite (“least best?”) album by Iron Maiden: A Matter Of Life And Death.
A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH
The band’s fourteenth album, A Matter Of Life And Death is also the third “second coming” album for Bruce Dickinson. He re-enlisted for vocal duties on 1999’s Brave New World album, as did guitarist Adrian Smith, providing Iron Maiden with no less than three guitarists and a bass.
A Matter Of Life And Death was critically acclaimed upon its release in 2006… and yet it’s the only Maiden album I can’t get into, try as I might.
I still don’t know what it is… Bruce’s not-quite-air-raid-anymore vocals? The fact that the album was intentionally not mastered? I really don’t know, but it’s worth noting that A Matter Of Life And Death is regarded in some circles as the band’s most self-indulgent album. This is evident by the fact that during the A Matter Of Life And Death tour they played the album in its entirety, with only a handful of anthems played towards the end of each show. While Iron Maiden deserve full credit for doing something genuinely different, both on record and live, an act such as this was, once could argue, noodly self-indulgence — and unsurprisingly, the track selection for the tour upset loads of fans.
My copy of this single from the best heavy metal band came from the best record shop in Australia.
THE REINCARNATION OF BENJAMIN BREEG
To close, the artwork above is for The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg, the lead single from A Matter Of Life And Death. As with the rest of the tracks from this album, there’s just something about it that I find very difficult to get into compared to every other Iron Maiden album. The intro feels a bit weak, Bruce’s voice doesn’t seem to hit the mark and, while it breaks my heart saying this, there’s not much to it that I find overly memorable, other than perhaps the main riff. On the other hand, if that’s Iron Maiden’s worst, then I can happily live with that. It all gets back to that whole expectations thing. The inclusion of Hallowed Be They Name (Radio 1 ‘Legends’ Session), a classic track from the The Number Of The Beast album, is a nice touch in that it’s still a live rendition of a track but not one played to an arena.
Iron Maiden have been around for 30 years. They’ve released 15 studio albums, have three live guitarists and a bass player, and have performed more than 2000 live shows. Every time a reference is made to their estimated 85 million record sales, we are inevitably reminded that this extraordinary fact has been achieved with relatively minimal commercial airplay and exposure. When you’re that damn good, rock n’ roll lore allows you to have that one excessively self-indulgent album — the operative word here is “one” here. Just don’t disappear up your own arses by doing it on every one of your last five albums, like our friends Manowar have been known to do
Ultimately I tip my hat to Iron Maiden for not sticking to the formula. Which is exactly why Iron Maiden is the best heavy metal band around, no matter when or how old you were when you really got into them.