Review by Tymell for Iron Maiden - Powerslave (1984)
Despite Iron Maiden's (absolutely earned) legendary status, I find their albums can actually be a bit mixed. Not really in style, which is always wonderfully consistent, and rarely do they produce outright stinkers, but for every absolute banger of a track there's another that's just "okay". Some songs that are decent pieces of Maiden's craft, but will get skipped over more often than not. All this is why Powerslave has always stood tall among Maiden's early albums for me, because it suffers from this problem the least.
When it comes to quality Maiden, there's plenty to choose from here. "Aces High" opens the album up with the sort of mind-melting guitar work that hauls you off into whatever world the band choose to explore. It magnificently keeps up the energy while still allowing for some variety as it goes, aided by some of Dickenson's most passionate delivery (and that's saying something). This, "Back in the Village" and "Flash of the Blade" are all just so full of energy, using furious riff assaults with bass and percussion driven gallops to make it feel like a heavy metal Irish jig in how they pull you into the wild ride.
"2 Minutes to Midnight" isn't quite so rapid-fire, but its infectious rhythm and lyrical acrobatics make it insanely catchy. "Two! Minutes! To miiidniiiiight!" is an irresistible battle cry. The title track perfectly conveys the desperate hunger for immortality, even the riffs carrying across that feeling of dark need and ultimate failure. "I'm a god, why can't I live on?"
In "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", Maiden took their formula to a new level entirely with this truly epic 13 minute beast of a song, almost twice as long as anything they'd put out up to then. And it even forgoes a prolonged intro, just diving right in! Harris' bass is succulent here, a real driving force. Part way in we cut into the quiet, gently strumming yet ominous section. You can feel the tension with the sounds of the creaking ship and the whispered narration. There's the ship, now ghostly and empty, adrift with only the mariner himself and his curse. Much like they did on the equally awesome "Hallowed be Thy Name", Maiden really tell a story here, their music acting as a perfect frame for it. It really gets across the conviction of the band, how they really care about telling these tales.
The only weak points on here really are "The Duellists" and "Losfer Words (Big 'Orra)". "Duellits" is okay, but just sort of pushes forward for 6 minutes without particularly interesting hooks, lyrics or techniques. "Losfer Words" is a serviceable instrumental, but doesn't stand out as such: you can hear the space where Dickinson's vocals would be, so it comes across as just another track but minus vocals, rather than it sounding like a distinct beast of its own. It doesn't help that these two songs sound so similar right off the bat either.
Maiden truly capture the spirit of heavy metal itself, shedding the remains of the hard rock side to the genre in its early days, and helping define what it was really all about, the vibrancy and energy in contrast to the darker side of Black Sabbath. The genuine skill and enthusiasm of everyone present allows them to take the listener off to new worlds or time periods with ease, and Powerslave encapsulates that deftly. Number of the Beast had a bunch of their all-time hits, and Seventh Son would go on to show more development in their writing, but when I think of classic Iron Maiden, I think Powerslave.
Choice cuts: Aces High, 2 Minutes to Midnight, Powerslave, Rime of the Ancient Mariner