IRON MAIDEN (1976–PRESENT). Bruce Dickinson (vocals), Steve Harris (bass), Dave Murray (guitar), Adrian Smith (guitar), Nikko McBrain (drums), Janick Gers (guitar).
Arguably the most important and enduring heavy metal group to emerge during the New Wave of British heavy metal in the late seventies and early eighties, Iron Maiden have long specialized in a technically accomplished brand of riff-oriented yet melodic metal that capitalized on the members’ highly polished playing skills and the considerable vocal power and stage dynamism of their singer Bruce Dickinson. With their fantasy-based lyrical imagery and creatively staged shows, they have managed to maintain and please a rabid fan base for over three decades, becoming along the way one of the most influential of heavy metal bands.
First put together by bassist Steve Harris in 1976, an evolving lineup of the band played around in the London clubs until stabilizing in 1978 to include Harris, guitarist Dave Murray, drummer Doug Sampson, and singer Paul Di’Anno. The band made its local reputation playing a harder and faster version of the classic melodic hard rock played by their influences such as Thin Lizzy, UFO, Wishbone Ash, and Deep Purple. In 1978, the group entered the studio, recording a three-song tape that came to be called The Soundhouse Tapes. In three weeks the band was able to sell five thousand copies, and the band began to get attention from the local rock press.
By 1979, the band had added a second guitarist in Dennis Stratton, and drummer Sampson had been replaced by Clive Burr. In December of the same year, the band had a record deal with EMI Records.
The band’s first album, Iron Maiden, hit the UK album charts and reached the number 4 position with one week. The album contained the early classic Maiden tracks “Running Free,” “Transylvania,” and “Phantom of the Opera.” The tunes, penned mostly by Harris, were indicative of the band’s style: eschewing the mundane heavy metal themes of sex and booze, the band’s lyrics were largely fantastical, drawing inspiration from literature, science fiction, and history, all of which would contribute to the band’s larger than life image and stage presentation.
The band followed up the album’s release with a headlining tour of the UK, after which came supporting tours of Europe supporting Kiss and Judas Priest. In October 1980 guitarist Stratton was replaced by Adrian Smith.
Maiden’s second album, Killers, built on the style of the first album although it added a heavier edge. The album also built on the lyrical imagery Harris had developed, with the track “Murders in the Rue Morgue” drawing inspiration from the short story of the same title by Edgar Allan Poe. Unfortunately, Killers would be Di’Anno’s last album with the band. Due to increasingly problematic drug and alcohol abuse, he was fired from the band at the end of 1981, and former Samson vocalist Bruce Dickinson soon took his place (Weber).
Dickinson made his recording debut with the band on 1982’s The Number of the Beast, and any concerns about the band’s ability to replace Di’Anno were dismissed. Dickinson’s dynamic style and almost operatic range were clearly in evidence and fit particularly well with the band’s dramatic style. The album gave the band their first UK number 1. While the album was a major hit in the U.S. as well, it also drew controversy over its title, which led a variety of fundamentalist Christian groups to accuse the band of being Satanists. The band did what they could to deny the accusations and went on to perform an extensive world tour in support of the album.
In 1982, prior to the release of the band’s fourth album, drummer Clive Burr was replaced by ex-Trust and Pat Travers drummer Nicko McBrain. Not unlike the addition of Dickinson, McBrain’s joining gave the band another world-class performer whose abilities would only make the band stronger. In 1983, the band released Piece of Mind, which was another big hit. The band supported the album with two extensive tours.
Powerslave followed in 1984, and featured the songs “2 Minutes to Midnight,” “Aces High,” and “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the last a 13-minute song based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem of the same name. The band followed up the release with their biggest tour yet, with a stage show that now included the huge mechanical ghoul mascot dubbed “Eddie,” who was based upon the ghoulish characters that were featured on a number of their album covers. Many of the shows from the tour were recorded for an upcoming live album, and after the tour, the band took a well-deserved six-month break.
Somewhere in Time released in 1986 featured some experimentation by the band. Most of the lyrics were related to time travel to some degree of another. More significantly, the band experimented with their sound by incorporating synthesized treatments and effects that complemented their traditional instrumentation of guitars, bass, and drums. Though a slight departure from their traditional sound it wasn’t enough to alienate their fans, and the album performed well, especially thanks to the single “Wasted Years.”
More lyrical adventures followed with Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, released in 1988. The album was based on the story of a mythical child possessing clairvoyant powers. Instrumentally, the album was the first to feature actual keyboards in addition to guitars. The album was a smash hit and gave the band its second number 1 in the UK.
As the band turned ten in 1990, they celebrated by releasing The First Ten Years, a collection of 10 CDs and 12-inch vinyl records.
In 1989, Adrian Smith released a solo album called Silver and Gold with his side project ASAP. Dickinson followed suit in 1990 with Tattooed Millionaire, featuring guitarist Janick Gers.
Adrian Smith left Maiden during sessions for the album No Prayer for the Dying and was replaced by Janick Gers. The album, released in 1990, marked a return to their more traditional sound and featured the number 1 hit single “Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter,” which was included on the soundtrack of the film Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child.
Dickinson went on a short solo tour in 1991 before rejoining Maiden for 1992’s Fear of the Dark. After the album’s release, he announced that he was leaving the group although he stayed long enough to perform with the band on a farewell tour and to record two live albums. His final show with the band was on August 28, 1993, which was filmed and broadcast by the BBC and later released on video as Raising Hell.
After a long series of auditions, the band selected vocalist Blaze Bayley, formerly of the band Wolfsbane, as Dickinsons’ replacement. He made his debut with the band on the album The X Factor in 1995. With Bayley’s vocal style a departure from that of Dickinson’s, reactions to the album were mixed. At the same time Harris was experiencing the breakup of his marriage and critics speculated that
this contributed to a difference in the album’s sound as well. The band followed the album’s release with an extended tour that took them through all of 1996, after which they released their first proper compilation of their hits.
The album Virtual XI was released in 1998 and was again a disappointment in the sales department and was the first Maiden album to miss the million sales mark.
1999 saw a return to form for the band as Bayley left and the group welcomed back both Dickinson and Smith (guitarist Gers remained as well). In celebration, the band embarked on a huge reunion tour dubbed “The Ed Hunter Tour,” which referred to the band’s recently released computer game Ed Hunter. After the tour the band began work on the album Brave New World, which was released in 2000. The album was followed by another world tour, which culminated in the band’s appearance at the Rock in Rio festival. Their performance was recorded and released in 2002 as Rock in Rio.
The reinvigorated Maiden have kept busy in the new millennium, releasing both the hit collection Edward the Great and the studio album Dance of Death in 2003. Live DVDs The Early Days, Part 1, and Raising Hell were brought out in 2004. The two-disc collection The Essential Iron Maiden was released in 2005, which coincided with the band’s co-headlining appearance with Black Sabbath on that year’s Ozzfest tour. The live CD/DVD Death on the Road came out later in 2005, followed by the 2006 studio album Matter of Life and Death.
Discography: Iron Maiden (Capitol, 1980); Killers (Capitol, 1981); The Number of the Beast (Capitol, 1982); Brain Damage Tour of Europe [live] (Capitol, 1983); Piece of Mind (Capitol, 1983); Powerslave (Capitol, 1984); Live After Death (Capitol, 1985); Somewhere in Time (Capitol, 1986); Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (Capitol, 1988); Stranger in a Strange Land (EMI International, 1990); No Prayer for the Dying (Epic, 1990); Running Free Run to the Hills (EMI, 1990); Fear of the Dark (Epic, 1992); A Real Live One (Capitol, 1993); A Real Dead One (Capitol, 1993); Live at Donington (Virgin/EMI, 1994); Virtual XI (CMC International, 1998); Brave New World (Sony, 2000); Rock in Rio [live] (Columbia, 2002); Dance of Death (Columbia, 2003); Death on the Road [live] (Sony, 2005); Somewhere Back in Time: The Best of 1980–89 (Sony, 2008); The Final Frontier (EMI, 2010).