Review by Sonny for Iron Maiden - Powerslave (1984)
The only band whose first six albums I have listened to more than Iron Maiden is Black Sabbath and then only just, so that probably tells you exactly how much I enjoy this album already. Although Maiden had dabbled in the epic previously, Hallowed Be Thy Name for example, this is the album where Maiden became E.P.I.C.
Kicking off with the tribute to the few in number but ridiculously brave RAF pilots of The Battle of Britain, Aces High, Powerslave shifts immediately into top gear and fair hurtles along, the track's pace encapsulating the velocity and dynamism of the dogfighting Spitfires in their dance of death with the Luftwaffe aces as they join in battle above England's south coast. Following this with the album's first big single release, 2 Minutes to Midnight, Maiden are truly revealed as a heavy metal band operating at the height of their powers, from the scintillating twin leads of Smith and Murray to the soaring vocals of the "Air Raid Siren" sounding better than he ever did either before or since. Following the galloping instrumental Losfer Words (Big 'Orra) come a couple of my favourite less-lauded Maiden tracks, Flash of the Blade and The Duellists, both of which are terrific, but Flash of the Blade especially is an awesome slice of hi-octane heavy metal. Back in the Village is another speed-driven number which is very much in the vein of the opener Aces High and in truth tends to get a bit ovelooked due to it's proximity to the album's towering epics.
And so to the main event: Powerslave and the thirteen-minute Rime of the Ancient Mariner pretty much defined epic heavy metal in the early eighties and perfectly illustrate just how supremely confident Maiden had become at this point. Powerslave's tale of a death bed Egyptian pharoah finally having to face his own mortality is as suitably bombastic and towering as the subject matter would dictate. Fittingly for a track about an all-powerful monarch, Powerslave sound absolutely imperious. The main riff has a glorious Middle Eastern vibe and Steve Harris' bass sounds better than ever before, particularly during the solos of the second half of the track. Now this would be epic enough for most metal bands at this point in the genre's development but Maiden then up the ante even higher. Rime of the Ancient Mariner takes heavy metal and marries it with prog rock sensibilities in a way pretty much unheard of in 1984. Harris and co at this point were riding on such a wave I think they believed that now was the time to do exactly what they really wanted to do as they had accumulated enough kudos to take the fans along with them and a thirteen minute progressive track based on classical literature, although on paper a tough sell (we were only half a decade on from the punks burning prog rock to the ground remember) launched them even further into the stratospere. What can you really say about Rime of the Ancient Mariner? This is an incredible track and one of metal's great narrative experiences. If you want to point at one particular song and say when were Maiden at their peak then this track would be my answer and it may even be the single most awesome heavy metal track ever committed to wax.
I have a fair number of albums that I have rated as five-star releases, but this is mainly based on my enjoyment of them rather than the fact I consider them perfect. Powerslave is one of only a fistful of albums I would give that accolade to (Paranoid, Reign in Blood and Watching FromA Distance being the others). Despite this it still isn't my favourite Maiden album as I have a deeper and more personal connection to the Paul Di'Anno-fronted Killers, but that's just me and Powerslave deserves all the plaudits it has ever received several times over.