You say “heavy metal”, you think Iron Maiden. Between their songs, their logo, their t-shirt designs and their posters, Maiden helped define the sound and aesthetic of metal as we’ve known it ever since. Many bands would struggle to weather the damage of nearly 50 years of existence but Maiden remain one of the dominant forces in the genre even now. You time travel to a metal gig any time between about 1980 and 2022, you’re almost guaranteed to see at least one Maiden shirt. You go to a major metal festival? They’re probably headlining.
With 17 studio albums to their name, many of which are considered classics, it’s difficult to pick a Top 10, let alone rank them, but This Day In Metal never shy away from hard work… (!) So here we go.
Please bear in mind, it’s all personal opinion, try not to rip anyone’s ‘Ed off…
10) The Book of Souls (2015)
At a gargantuan 92 minutes, The Book of Souls does have a length problem. There are filler tracks on here and it could probably be trimmed to a 62 minute album without losing too much. However, that would be 62 minutes of pure unadulterated Maiden, so it’s earned a place on the list. With an open, airy production sound, you can really hear each member’s contribution and it’s a masterclass in both composition and performance. Some of their best late-period songs – Speed of Light, If Eternity Should Fail, Empire of the Clouds – are here and it’s a heavy, atmospheric and huge-sounding record that would do any band proud. To deliver something this inventive and energised after 40 years of writing and recording Maiden songs is remarkable.
9) Fear of the Dark (1992)
For a band on the cusp of major changes, the tension can either make or break a record. With Fear Of The Dark, which felt like it would be Bruce Dickinson’s last album with the band until their shock reconcilation 8 years later, it does a little of both. The lows here are either misguided filler like Weekend Warrior and Chains of Misery, or experiments that aim high and crashland (syrupy power ballad Wasting Love). However, the highs sound like a band on fire, bristling with raw anger. The title track is a masterpiece, one of the darkest, heaviest tracks they’ve done, Afraid To Shoot Strangers is one of their most powerful anti-war anthems and single Be Quick Or Be Dead is a lightning-paced thrashterpiece that launched a thousand whiplash cases.
8) Piece of Mind (1983)
Expectations were high after the watershed Number Of The Beast album. Its follow-up Piece Of Mind brought in drum God Nicko McBrain and also gave Bruce Dickinson his first songwriting credits for Maiden, but the results are mixed. I love its literary influences – everything from Dune to Ramsey Campbell and Aleister Crowley – and the highs are stunning. Where Eagles Dare, Revelations and Flight Of Icarus is an opening trio to end all opening trios, and The Trooper is – of course – Maiden’s most distinctive anthem. But there are a few tracks on the second half that feel like they’re treading water. Absolutely fair play to them, given this was released in between two of the greatest albums of all-time. It’s still a damn fine record but not quite up there with the others from the “golden” era for me.
7) Senjutsu (2021)
Senjutsu wasn’t an album that revealed its hand on first listen to anyone, really, but when it flings its cards down, the whole table rocks. It’s a multi-disc epic whose songs frequently run into the 9+ minute bracket and it requires effort on the listener’s part before it reveals its secrets, but when it does, yow! What an incredible piece of work, a late-period triumph that most bands would kill for. The forboding title track, the hook-heavy singles like Writing On The Wall and Stratego and the huge, epic, complex closers – The Parchment and Hell On Earth – all stand out as some Maiden’s best ever work.
6) Somewhere in Time (1986)
As the God-tier Derek Riggs cover art suggests, this finds Maiden flirting with a retro-futuristic take on their sound, adding synthesisers (a controversial choice for a metal band at the time!) and some more sci-fi themed lyrics. The result has stood up well and avoids sounding too dated thanks to the quality of the songs. Adrian Smith’s singles – Wasted Years and Stranger In A Strange Land – are both fist-in-the-air bangers and Steve Harris delivers some of his most epic, dramatic songwriting with Caught Somewhere In Time, Heaven Can Wait and The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner. It’s easy to overlook this album given where it falls in Maiden’s amazing 80s run but, out of that context, it’s simply a top tier piece of metal. Intelligent, emotional, complex yet accessible.
5) Killers (1981)
I wrote more extensively about Killers for its 41st anniversary recently and the fact that it ranks only half-way up this top ten is a testament to just how incredible the albums above it are. Here, the inter-band tension, as they teetered on the edge of parting ways with singer Paul Di’Anno, lends Killers a violent and unique energy. This still stands up as probably Maiden’s roughest, nastiest album. It’s a brutal ride through London’s east end and classics like Wrathchild and Purgatory remain some of heavy metal’s finest offerings.
4) Powerslave (1984)
Rating the top four Maiden albums is like picking a favourite vital organ. They’re all essential and could possibly shuffle positions for me depending on the week. Powerslave arguably showcases Maiden at their very best but suffers from frontloading and backloading itself with such classics that the mid-section lags. It’s not to say Flash of the Blade or The Duellists (or even the instrumental Big ‘Orra) are bad songs, they’re not. They’re perfectly decent. But the track ordering makes them feel like filler, as they just can’t stand up to the mightiness of Aces High and Two Minutes To Midnight (two of Maiden’s punchiest singles) or Powerslave and Rime of the Ancient Mariner (indisputably Maiden’s two greatest “epic” songs). As a result, I dropped this one down to #4 but it was painful to do that…
3) Iron Maiden (1980)
When I first discovered the band, it was through the Dickinson era and I was horrified when I got this album home and realised they’d once had a different singer. It took me years to fully appreciate it but now I can only assume I had cloth ears as a kid, because this slays so hard. Not only did it completely change the landscape of hard rock and herald the arrival of the true metal era, but it’s a collection of songs so incredibly well-written, original and powerfully sung it’s hard to believe the guys were so young at the time (until, of course, you listen to the lyrics to a song like Prowler and go “oh yeah, they were basically just kids”). Still, Phantom of the Opera is immense, the raging title track still feels like it could scare your auntie, Remember Tomorrow remains probably their best ballad and Running Free still ignites a room. Start to finish this is fast, ferocious and flawless.
2) The Number of the Beast (1982)
To change the face of metal once is an achievement in itself but to do it again two albums later shows why Maiden are such a very special band for so many fans. This was a monumental record at the time and marked a seismic shift in the band’s sound, bringing in operatic powerhouse Bruce Dickinson on vocals and laying down a template for power metal that’s still being used today. The top class songwriting ensures it still sounds every bit as brilliant now as it did then – Number of the Beast and Hallowed Be Thy Name are up there with the greats by any band, and Run To The Hills – the definitive “Maiden gallop” song – could get the dead headbanging.
1) Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)
Having been relieved of songwriting duties for Somewhere In Time, Bruce Dickinson came back to the fore with this concept album that allowed him to explore his occult interests with gusto. Although Steve Harris’s idea to explore the concept of the “Seventh Son” for Maiden’s seventh album may seem a little silly, both he and Dickinson ran with it, played it straight and delivered a masterpiece. Musically, this leans into the prog and synth leanings from Somewhere In Time but adds a layer of raw heaviness back. For all its complexity, there’s no denying the immediate suckerpunch of the singles, which rate as maybe the best Maiden ever did. The Evil That Men Do, especially, is a metal colossus but Can I Play With Madness, The Clairvoyant and Only The Good Die Young are all full-force singalong anthems as well. To balance that so effectively against epics like the nine minute title track, Moonchild and Infinite Dreams is maybe the greatest illustration of Maiden’s genius I can think of. Unbeatable.
There you go! Take a deep breath and let us know your own ranking in the comments, on Facebook or on Twitter!
YESTERDAY, TODAY, EVERY DAY… HEAVY METAL!