Album Review: Iron Maiden, "Killers"

It’s been 40 years since Iron Maiden released their best studio album, Killers. It’s hard to believe there was a time during the band’s lengthy career when they put out albums of normal, manageable length, as opposed to the movie-long double LPs they've been releasing since they discovered how much music can fit on a CD. 

Killers is kind of like Queen II, the sophomore sleeper hit that became more and more loved by the group’s hardcore fans over the years; the album is pretty much all deep cuts, save for maybe “Wrathchild”, and the Killers era is also the last time in the group’s career where you could reasonably call Iron Maiden an “underground” band. By their next album, any “street cred” they might have had, both as part of the NWOBHM and just because Paul Di’Anno is this really cool punk guy fronting a metal band, would be completely wiped out when the very non-street fencing enthusiast and opera singer Bruce Dickinson would take his place.

Yeah, yeah, I
know, with their polished Martin Birch production, dual guitar harmonies, and progressive arrangements, Iron Maiden will never be known for their heaviness. Iron Maiden was never a particularly heavy band; they just totally rock. And, on Killers, they manage to incorporate their progressive influences into tight, compact, raw, and energetic songs that kick your ass and don’t overstay their welcome, something that can’t be said of a lot of later Maiden material. And, just like Queen II, Killers begins with a big, bombastic intro track – “The Ides of March”, if you were wondering – before the rockin’ starts. 

And, when it does, hoo boy! Sure, Maiden may not be the fastest band in the world, but the one-two punch of “Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “Another Life” will have you banging your head, waving your fist, and playing air guitar so hard, that a time-space vortex will open in mid-air, suck you in, and transport you back to 1981. 

If you do want fast tunes, though, there’s the melodic speed metal of “Purgatory”, otherwise known as the first three BLIND GUARDIAN albums. Conversely, the instrumental “Genghis Kahn” is as epic and progressive as Iron Maiden get, in spite only being three minutes long. And, if you just want to hear some pretty acoustic guitars, you shouldn’t be listening to a metal album; but you’re in luck, since there’s the semi-ballad “Prodigal Son”, which I guess is a more blatant and obvious homage to the group’s biggest influence, WISHBONE ASH.

Of course, you can’t talk about Killers without mentioning that it’s the first album with new lead guitarist Adrian Smith, who replaced Dennis Stratton, or that it’s the final album with Paul Di’Anno, who would go on to a pretty prolific career in his own right, releasing albums both solo and with bands like BATTLEZONE and a whole bunch of others you can look up on Wiki. And, much of what I said about Killers can also be said about Maiden’s self-titled debut from the year before. It’s just that, since that first album has more popular cuts like “Phantom of the Opera”, “Running Free”, and, of course, “Iron Maiden”, people often overlook Killers, viewing it as more of a stepping stone to the next era of the band. 

I’m here to rectify that. Iron Maiden would go on to release many fine albums after Killers. I’m definitely not some hipster who only likes the Di’Anno era and claims that Maiden crapped out the second Bruce Dickinson joined. In fact, I reckon a lot of the material on The Number of the Beast, especially the fast as heck opening cut “Invaders”, was meant for Di’Anno to sing. It’s just that I prefer his punky snarl over Bruce Dickinson’s operatic singing, and I prefer this shorter, faster, and more immediately rockin’ material over long-ass prog metal tunes about Dune or that stupid bird that took a dump on a boat.

Edwin Oslan
Revenge of Riff Raff
25th February, 2021

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