Welcome back! The Number of the Beast was a ridiculously hard act to follow, but Iron Maiden sure rose to the occasion with their fourth studio album, Piece of Mind. Iron Maiden hits it out of the park yet again with another legendary release. While it may be a bit more inconsistent than past releases, the highs are VERY high here.
The lineup undergoes yet another change, this time behind the kit. The late Clive Burr was ousted from the band during the Beast on the Road tour for reasons that are still disputed to this day. Replacing Burr on the skins would be ex-Trust drummer Nicko McBrain. This is where the ‘classic’ Maiden line-up would be completed and would remain intact until 1990.
Hey, it’s the one where Eddie is all bald and lobotomized. Get it? Piece of Mind? Another very recognizable album cover, showing up in Stranger Things (yes, Eddie Munson, it IS music) and the Square-Enix Guardians of the Galaxy game. Fun fact: the working title was Food for Thought, but the band came up with Piece of Mind in a pub, so they opted for that.
9. “Quest for Fire”
Starting this list off is a song that comes up fairly often in conversations about the worst Maiden song ever, a sentiment I can’t entirely share. Even though it’s one of the weaker tracks from Maiden’s Golden Age, it’s not completely abysmal or anything. It’s a fairly short, fun, simple song based on a caveman movie. However, it does have the cheesiest and most historically inaccurate opening line in Maiden history. I can’t help but chuckle heartily when I hear Bruce Dickinson sing the absolute crap out of “IN A TIIIIIIIIIIIIME, WHEN DINOSAURS WALKED THE EEEEAAARRRRRRRTH”. I’m not sure if dinosaurs do appear in the “Quest for Fire” movie and I’m not going to watch it to find out, even if it does have Ron Perlman.
8. “To Tame a Land”
The album-closing epic du jour, it’s not bad, but it pales in comparison to a lot of its contemporaries. It doesn’t sink its sandworm-like teeth into you like some of the other epics in Maiden’s catalogue. Still, we get some mighty fine guitar work and a very prog-like feel that effectively conjures images of Frank Herbert’s Dune.
Fun fact: the band originally wanted to name the song “Dune”, but Frank Herbert wasn’t at all about the rock music and he was ESPECIALLY not about the heavy metal, so he told them to kick rocks. Thus, “To Tame a Land” was chosen as the title.
7. “Sun and Steel”
Inspired by the life of legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi, Maiden gives us another breezy, relatively straightforward track. However, this one fares better than “Quest for Fire” because of the great beat, fun riffs and solos, and catchy chorus. Also, samurai are awesome.
This track also lends its name to a flavour of Trooper Beer, specifically their sake-infused lager. If you want something a bit different in your beer and you come across this, give ‘er a go.
6. “Still Life”
Inspired by the spooky short story The Inhabitant of the Lake by Ramsey Campbell, “Still Life” is definitely one that I’ve overlooked over the years, but have come to appreciate the more I listen to it. Starting with a backwards-talking opening that makes fun of people who accuse Maiden of slipping satanic messages in their music, this track eases the listener into things with a slow, melodic opening that soon gives way to a great driving beat, evocative lyrics, and a killer solo.
A darker, moodier track inspired by famed occultist Aleister Crowley and written entirely by Bruce Dickinson, “Revelations” is a cleverly complex composition. Another of the longer songs on the album (just under 7 minutes), it feels suitably epic and, as the second song on the record, serves as a good comedown after the frenetic “Where Eagles Dare”. Strong vocals from Bruce are complemented by stirring and intricate guitars from Dave Murray and Adrian Smith.
4. “Die With Your Boots On”
Another Maiden track dealing with apocalyptic themes, “Die With Your Boots On” basically tells you “When it’s your time, go out swinging”. At least if you’re listening to this, you’ll go out headbanging because this is an absolutely killer track with excellent guitar work. The beefy solos and riffs are well-punctuated with blistering vocals and percussion.
3. “Flight of Icarus”
Bruce Dickinson gets to indulge his inner Greek mythology nerd as he and Adrian Smith pen a track with a charging, steady beat punctuated with crisp guitars and vocals that soar like the titular wax-winged boy. Some may not be entirely into this one because it’s a bit slower-paced, but I still think it’s a very strong track and one of the best from the album. Even with how highly I rated the album version here, though, it actually hits harder live because of the faster tempo. And the flamethrowers.
2. “Where Eagles Dare”
The album’s first song does away with the ‘short and relatively simple’ formula of the last couple of records and gives us a furious 6+ minute opener, setting a firm standard for everything else to match. The rapid-fire drums that welcome you to Piece of Mind let you know IMMEDIATELY what Nicko McBrain was all about. Crunchy guitars and powerful vocals from Bruce Dickinson greatly elevate this track, while the solos do a great job of conveying the ‘aerial dogfight’ nature of the subject matter. Bruce LOVES his songs about flight.
One track in and you can already tell how well this new iteration of Maiden gelled together. Hell, that whole first side of the album is top-tier stuff.
1. “The Trooper”
Thus far, this is probably the least trouble I had in deciding what the number one song would be. “The Trooper” is just THAT incredible. Based on the Charge of the Light Brigade, we get absolutely iconic guitar work from Smith and Murray with that amazing opening riff leading into, much like “Run to the Hills”, an addictively galloping beat. Bruce absolutely destroys the vocals here, displaying incredible range throughout. It also produced one of THE definitive Eddie looks for the single cover. Hell, Maiden’s entire beer line was named for this track!
A long-time live staple and fan favorite, and for good reason. One of my top overall Iron Maiden tracks, and likely the top for a lot of people.
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