Hello, and thank you for reading the first column where I ranked Iron Maiden’s debut album and not completely bombarding me with hate mail (yet). Read it here: IRON MAIDEN – Iron Maiden (Ryan Ranks #1).
As a reminder, for these columns, I’ll be taking albums and ranking the tracks from worst to best. Next up is Iron Maiden’s sophomore effort, 1981’s Killers. Again, I’ve not exactly made things easy on myself. The album is VERY consistent and overall incredibly strong, containing nothing I’d consider close to being bad. It’s a rather brisk listen with nothing overstaying its welcome. The production has seen an upgrade as some of the rough edges from the first album have been filed off, leading to a cleaner sound. A lot of the tracks had actually been written before the debut album dropped but have been refined and recorded for this one. Of note, this is the last album to feature Paul Di’Anno on vocals and the first to feature guitarist Adrian Smith.
As per usual, I’ll do the North American release, so we’ll have “Twilight Zone”, but no “Women in Uniform” which is on the Australian pressing.
Well, here we go!
Maiden’s second album sees an Eddie that more closely resembles what people think of when they see the beloved mascot. Eddie is seen with a bloody hatchet after what is presumably a murder. Well, the title of the album IS Killers, so what else would you expect? Eddie having afternoon tea with the queen?
Another essential piece of work from Derek Riggs. Best of all: no crappy computer-generated remake!
11. “The Ides of March”
Occupying the bottom spot on this ranking is Iron Maiden’s shortest song, clocking in at a lithe 1:48. A brief instrumental to usher the listener into the rest of the album, yet it’s still relatively complex. The underlying drums really stand out here. There’s nothing really *wrong* with this track; it’s just surpassed by everything else the album has in store. It’s effective as an appetizer before the heavy metal main course that follows.
10. “Innocent Exile”
“Innocent Exile” is a companion piece (or even a sequel) to a track that comes up later on in this list (spoilers: “Murders in the Rue Morgue”). It’s rock-solid, but it’s not one that tends to stay with me after the album ends. That aside, we still get a very good bass performance from Steve Harris throughout, and the lyrics effectively capture the feeling of dread and paranoia within the protagonist.
9. “Genghis Khan”
Another Maiden instrumental; my second favorite after “Transylvania” from the first album. It’s another fairly short track, but it’s a fun, frantic listen. The galloping beat and guitar work do a great job of living up to its namesake. “Genghis Khan” successfully captures the vibe of “brutal conqueror who killed the absolute crap out of everything in his way” without needing those pesky lyrics. You’ll go where he goes! Defile what he defiles! Eat who he eats!
The album closer presents a hard-driving beat punctuated by stellar guitar work and awesome drumming, throwing in some shifts in tempo and melody to change things up. It’s definitely the most upbeat track in terms of subject as it’s pretty much about life on the road, as opposed to all the murder, death, and macabre themes tackled by the bulk of the album. It’s a fun way to cap off a great record, especially when you get to the Big Rock Ending.
7. “Another Life”
“Another Life” starts off with a memorable drum intro and guitar riff that segues into a fast-paced assault on the listener. It’s a bit sparse lyrically, but Paul Di’Anno gets the absolute most of what is there with the vocals. The drums and guitars win the day, though, with strong instrumentation throughout, including a very enjoyable solo.
6. “Twilight Zone”
A track that was not included in the initial UK pressing, this tale of a spirit trying to contact his still-living lover is one of the few Maiden love songs you’ll hear. I mean, you don’t exactly go to Iron Maiden for that touchy-feely stuff. It’s got a great opening guitar riff to keep you listening and continues at a brisk tempo throughout. Clive Burr’s drums and Adrian Smith’s and Dave Murray’s guitars are terrific here, but Paul Di’Anno’s vocals are the true standout here.
5. “Murders in the Rue Morgue”
Based on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe, “Murders in the Rue Morgue” weaves the tale of an English fellow in France who goes to check out the titular slayings and ends up being thought guilty by everyone around him (spoilers: the killer was a rather sadistic orangutan). The song starts off soft and foreboding before picking up steam. The lyrics and vocals do a great job of setting the mood of urgency and desperation, and the accompanying music effectively underscores it.
4. “Prodigal Son”
This may be a somewhat controversial placement as it’s generally softer and a bit more ‘prog-rocky’ than everything else on the album, but it honestly works. It’s extremely well-composed with the easy-going intro leading into those sweet guitar riffs, and it thankfully doesn’t veer too far into ballad territory. This examination of someone trying to save their soul after dabbling a bit too much into evil is the longest song on the album, but it’s not the sweeping epic that we’re used to on other Maiden releases. It’s really more of a pleasing listen that contrasts with the more hectic and harder-hitting fare that fills out the track listing. Interestingly enough, this is the only song from Killers that Maiden has never played live.
The last single to be released from this album, “Purgatory” is a relentless overlooked classic that starts out aggressive and does not let up for a single second of its three-minute, twenty-second runtime. Frenetic and urgent from start to finish with a chorus that practically encourages the listener to wail along, this should have been a concert staple for years after, but it was not to be.
Fun fact: The iconic Number of the Beast album art was originally meant to be the cover art for this song’s single release. When presented with Derek Riggs’ artwork, the band looked at it and thought “Gee willikers, this should be used for an album” and saved it for NOTB. I doubt they used those exact words, but new art for the single had to be created.
When that sinister bassline from Steve Harris and Paul Di’Anno’s screaming give way to an absolutely killer (pun intended) guitar riff, you know you’re in for some good stuff. The title track assails the listener with menacing vocals and lyrics punctuated by catchy instrumentation and absolutely blistering solos; the best solos on the album as far as I’m concerned. This was one that definitely grew on me a lot over the years. Hell, this entire album kinda grew on me as I admittedly overlooked it quite a bit in favor of other albums. If nothing else, this series gives me the opportunity to give some works their proper due.
The number one choice is another relatively short offering, but it packs a major punch. That famous opening bass from Steve Harris followed by the howling guitars set the stage for what’s to come. Paul Di’Anno’s vocals carry the perfect balance of skill and snarl here. Like “Purgatory”, “Wrathchild” never lets off the gas for nearly three minutes. An infectious rhythm, excellent solos, and memorable lyrics further cement this as one of the most popular early Maiden staples, likely the most well-remembered Di’Anno-era song, and a live favorite for decades to follow.
More of Ryan Ranks coming soon to CGCM Rock Radio/Website: Ryan Ranks