8-Track takes a band with a storied history and identifies eight songs throughout their career that define their strengths as a band, musically, lyrically, and conceptually. Read previous installments here.
Iron Maiden are probably one of metal’s most famous names; with their origins rooted all the way back in 1975, it was perhaps heavy metal before heavy metal properly existed, one of the harbingers of the style. To be sure, metal has done a lot since they were in their prime but somehow, whether via nostalgia or their uncontainable personal energy, Iron Maiden have managed to stay relevant. Their shows are still jam-packed and their performances are just as vibrant as they used to be. Some of them are well into their 50’s, adding a certain admirable quality to their recalcitrance against voices calling for them to slow down.
The most interesting thing about Maiden’s career is how much they’ve been able to change while still keeping the basic elements that made them when they first started out. While there’s a huge difference between Dance of Death and Killers, some unquantifiable quality ties the two albums together, creating a distinct, instantly recognizable Iron Maiden sound. Lastly, Maiden are interesting in their unique blend of conceptual work and immediacy: while their music relies on simple, fast and technical solos and galloping riffs, their lyrics range across history, storytelling and philosophy. Stubbornly holding on to their desire to explore different concept and ideas, the urge for more intellectual subject matter has never slowed down Iron Maiden’s direct and often simplistic approach to music.
Without further ado, let us begin. Keep in mind that the below is not organized in any specific matter but is engineered towards displaying most, if not all, of the band’s era, each entry focusing on something a little different from their career.
Hallowed Be Thy Name – The Number of the Beast 
Iron Maiden, as the quintessential metal band, must also have their own quintessential song to accompany their unfathomable immensity. What better song than “Hallowed Be Thy Name” to set the precedent from which all other Iron Maiden songs would be judged by? Though the last track of their third album, “Hallowed Be Thy Name” was the first of its ilk in Iron Maiden’s massive catalog, later spawning other such lengthy hits, like “Alexander the Great” and “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Though preceded by the powerful “Phantom of the Opera” on their self-titled release two years prior, Paul Di’Anno’s work with the band was doomed to be forgotten when Bruce Dickinson’s iconic voice entered with “Invaders,” but was forever embedded in our hearts and minds with the 7-minute wonder known as “Hallowed Be Thy Name.”
The story of a man in a cell waiting for his last moments, quietly gasping in terror as his life is about to be extinguished and damning existence itself, only to find a small point of illumination that life has many twists and corridors, but that his immortal soul lives on in some form or another. The afterlife? Another life? It is unclear, but there is a moment of self-absolution that is found in the narrator’s point of view.
Other bands have tried and failed to capture the enormity of “Hallowed Be Thy Name.” Even now, more than thirty years later, there have been very few contenders. Nevermore’s “This Godless Endeavor,” shy of nine minutes, is about the one track that nails a similar tone and has a staying power that rivals Iron Maiden’s classic from The Number of the Beast. Regardless, this track stands far and above many when it comes to Iron Maiden’s work. If there’s any one song that can be called “THE Iron Maiden song,” it’s certainly this one.
The Trooper – Piece of Mind (1983)
“The Trooper” is more than just one of Iron Maiden’s greatest songs, it’s one of the greatest metal songs of all time. Hell, it’s one of the greatest songs of all time, period. From the moment it begins with its sharp, aggressive riffing, this track absolutely demands attention as it establishes itself as one of Maiden’s quicker, more forceful tracks. 12 seconds in we’re hit by one of the most memorable harmonised lead guitar riffs you’ll ever hear, a singable riff which has captivated millions and helped propel Maiden as the flag-bearers of heavy metal. To this day such energetic and melodic riffing can be heard in countless other bands, Maiden’s influence still looming large over our scene four decades after their arrival.
Another notable feature is the galloping rhythm provided by Steve Harris’ bass from its prominently high position in the mix. Few terms are as cliché as galloping bass lines when describing Maiden’s sound, yet when it comes to “The Trooper” there is simply no better way to describe them. The track’s lyrics draw upon the famous Charge of the Light Brigade, where a miscommunication during the Battle of Balaclava saw over 600 British light cavalrymen suicidally charge against a well-entrenched Russian artillery battery, the result hundreds of men and horses dying. Harris’ bass lines thus serve a dual purpose, providing both the rhythmic backbone to the track and a conceptual link between the music and the subject matter, supporting the vivid lyricism and Bruce’s frantically emotional delivery. Finally, no analysis of an Iron Maiden track is complete without discussing the guitar solos. Smith and Murray are both on top form here, the two iconic shredders playing distinctive and memorable solos which complement each other and the remainder of the track, adding yet another layer of melody to this bona fide classic.
Powerslave – Powerslave 
If it wasn’t for the monumental leap in quality and cultural significance of 1982’s The Number of the Beast, 1984’s Powerslave would probably be regarded as the definitive Iron Maiden album. Still one of the band’s most consistent, challenging, and yet oddly accessible albums to date, things don’t really get any better on here than the album’s title track. Relying heavily on the harmonic minor scale, the song’s main riff is an instant earworm that takes the band’s trademark gallop into much more hypnotic and imaginative territory.
Once you’ve matched this up with some of Bruce Dickinson’s most adventurous vocal takes ever and Steve Harris’ crushing bass tone and you’re well accustomed to the basic structure of the track, things take a very unexpected turn. The song quickly goes full-on progressive rock, showcasing one of the most seamless and beautiful interludes that the band has cut to tape. The way the song then propels into a vicious solo section which is then closed off by the band’s greatest harmony riff of all time (not joking), the song kicks right back into the main theme, solidifying “Powerlsave” as one of the most cohesive and groundbreaking songs in 80s metal. The band has included it in their live set almost religiously since its premiere, and there’s no secret why.
Caught Somewhere In Time – Somewhere In Time (1986)
Somewhere In Time saw Iron Maiden in the midst of the synthesizer-driven mid-late 80s, and the beginning of album opener ‘Caught Somewhere In Time’ showcases their embrace of the times, imploring guitar synthesizers into the mix. This was a point of contention for many long time Maiden fans, some of them disregarding this album entirely, even to this day. But a sliver of patience and attention goes a long way with music as timeless as Iron Maiden’s, and the core of their sound remained in place. It’s all there in spades: the air tight galloping backbone of Steve Harris’ bass locked in with Nicko McBrain’s drums, the chorus drenched open guitar chords blanketing the groove, the singing harmonized guitar leads, and Bruce Dickinson’s glorious soaring wail over the top of it all.
The embracing of synths was indicative of a band who had hit a wall creatively, but they kept it to a minimum and used them as a texture tool more than anything. It served them well, as Somewhere In Time was their most commercially successful album to date. While ‘Caught Somewhere In Time’ may not have been one of the singles or even videos from a decade demanding of a band’s MTV presence, it holds up as the perfect gateway into the future of the band, expanding their sound while holding down the foundation that solidified their place as legends and innovators in the rock and metal world.
The Evil That Men Do – Seventh Son of A Seventh Son (1988)
No, not the Charles Bronson movie, at least not this time. “The Evil That Men Do” is a case study in everything that makes Iron Maiden one of the greatest bands of all time. The melodic intro, the incredible harmonies, Bruce’s soaring vocals and infectious vocal lines. It’s all here in one four-and-a-half minute song. In an album noted for both it’s progressive rock elements and for not having any bad tracks, “The Evil That Men Do” is a more straightforward song, the type you’d expect from a band like Iron Maiden.
Generally, that’s why this track is found on most, if not all, best-of compilations the band has released. It’s popular for a reason, because it’s damn good, and even though it’s hard to pick a standout track on an album like Seventh Son, “The Evil That Men Do” is both a fantastic representation of an album that’s slightly more heady and ambitious than most of the albums preceding it. This was Iron Maiden in their absolute prime, perhaps tied with Powerslave and Piece of Mind, and it shows. Not that they’ve declined in quality, except for perhaps the Blaze Bayley perhaps, as the band still puts out great material, but it was this string of albums that saw the band truly embracing their status as heavy metal royalty. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son was a perfect album, and while “The Evil That Men Do” isn’t the most ambitious or longest track on it, it’s the one that gets stuck in my head over and over and over again.
The Clansman – Virtual XI (1998)
Though it may come from the Blaze Bayley era, this anthem to end all anthems (I’m Scottish, give me this one) was penned by Harris and as such, merits a place in this list. Now, I’m referring to the far superior Rock In Rio version, not the original. Whether or not you fuck with songs based in medieval Scotland or not, this is one that should sit high on the list of sing along Maiden classics. The acoustic intro and it’s tasty little lick just teases at the hooks that boom out with the call of “freeeeeedom”. Dickinson’s phrasing doesn’t get a much better workout than on this one and he simply knocks Bayley right out of the arena. It might be cheesy as hell but yelling along to this track is mighty cathartic and brings up some serious Braveheart style patriotism, even in me and I’m perennially unfussed with that nonsense.
The first lead section has some of the simplest guitar playing in any Maiden two minute solo but still stands loud and proud. Though they’re trying to pull of a Gaellic vibe, it still sounds like the band themselves and never ever threatens to get too ridiculous. Just as refrained in the opening and closing passages of this nine minute riptide of a forgotten album track, Dickinson, Smith, Harris et al can take a turd and polish into something else all together. Yes, this may be from one of the worst metal albums of the 90’s but fuck me if this version doesn’t make up for the steaming pile that was Virtual XI.
The Thin Line Between Love and Hate – Brave New World 
As Iron Maiden began to progress in their career, and following the departure and then return of Bruce Dickinson, the nascent roots they had in the wider 70’s music scene started to assert themselves more and more. Brave New World, a comeback album of sorts, is one of their finer works, mettling the early aggression with a penchant for storytelling and a brighter touch on the composition. No where is that brighter touch and expansive gaze apparent than in “The Thin Line Between Love and Hate”. First off, it’s much, much longer than most Iron Maiden songs: clocking in at eight and a half minutes, it’s not a poetic epic like their traditional, longer tracks nor is it a simple affair of verse/chorus/verse.
The track obviously relies on the tried and true Iron Maiden tools: Dickinson soars, the guitar solos are abundant and the magical duo of McBrain and Harris are as enchanting as ever. However, something in the approach feels lighter, more carefree and hopeful. Names like Yes, Rush and King Crimson might spring to mind to describe the riffs and the interactions between them across the track somehow makes it seem even longer than it is. Perhaps that is also owed to the solo flight of Dickinson, as the instruments fall off near the end, leaving him to carry the message and tone forward to its powerful conclusion.
Regardless of what you like about Iron Maiden this track, and indeed the entire album, has it all. Emotional, technically impressive solos live side by side with breakneck, galloping speeds and a vocalist who is one of the absolute legends of the genre. As a boy growing up, discovering this album added a whole new hue to what Iron Maiden were for me. It still manages to capture that boyish charm, the open, curious gaze and fill the heart with wonder and joy. More than the power of their earlier releases, Brave New World as exemplified via “The Thin Line Between Love and Hate” is a creation with varied emotional roots and influences. For that, it remains the true opening shot to the modern iteration of Iron Maiden.
Paschendale – Dance of Death 
Yes, Dance of Death is not one of the proudest moments in Maiden’s catalog; out of the album’s eleven songs, there are maybe two that are completely great (“Paschendale” and the title track), and on top of all that the album cover is among the worst ever put out by the band. I believe, though, that “Paschendale” makes up for all of that in spades.
First off, the song structure is a little out of the ordinary when it comes to Maiden tracks; instead of starting off with a roaring, head-banging riff, the band is quiet; the main riff—if one can call it a riff—is delicate and played on the higher guitar strings, and Bruce Dickinson’s vocals are at their softest. Lyrically, “Paschendale” is among the best of the band’s entire discography (in my opinion); the song tells the tale of the brutal Battle of Paschendale,which resulted in around 800,000 casualties back in the heat of World War I (though the numbers are disputed). Dickinson is ruthless in his telling of the tale, delivering his vocals with as much emotion as he can. (“Whistles, shouts and more gun fire / lifeless bodies hang on barbed wire / battlefield nothing but a bloody tomb / be reunited with my dead friends soon” sounds even more shocking and visceral when he sings it.) Live, Dickinson will often recite some of Wilfred Owen’s poetry before the song begins and wear traditional WWI garb while the stage is covered in barbed wire
In short, “Paschendale” defines Iron Maiden as a band that not only rocks hard, but is intellectually and emotionally deep as well.