The album that unleashed one of the biggest heavy metal bands of all time into the world, Iron Maiden’s self titled debut (1980) saw a much more raw sounding band than what they established themselves as later on. Featuring original vocalist Paul Di’anno, whose vocal style was much more gruff and punk-esque than his successor Bruce Dickinson’s, it is clear on this album that the band were still finding their style somewhat, not quite playing to the level of musicianship that they would later master.
Opening with the track “Prowler” which began with an opening riff followed by energetic sounding drums from then drummer Clive Burr, it definitely had a punk sense of energy that went in full force. Di’anno had a unique sense of charisma in his voice, sounding like something of an outlaw with the lyrics documenting a rather sinister account of a stalker spying on young women.
As soon as this was over the band slowed down with “Remember Tomorrow” where they got an opportunity to show more of their technical skills somewhat, with guitarist’s Dave Murray and Dennis Stratton, in his only recording with Maiden showing their ability to perform the dual playing that Murray would later perfect with Stratton’s replacement Adrian Smith.
After this was undoubtedly the highlight of the album and still a fan favorite to this day “Running Free”. A true fist-in-the-air anthem about teenage rebellion, it was a track that was Di’anno to a tee, his gruff style suiting it perfectly. Although Dickinson has definitely performed the song live well over the years, this is very much a Di’anno song, his style just giving it that slight sense of street power that it needed, which Dickinson’s more operatic style can’t quite deliver.
Next was “Phantom of the Opera” which is also one of the most played songs from the album today. One song that Stratton actually played quite a big part in, he originally added backing vocals which the rest of the band did not like because it apparently sounded too much like Queen. At 7 minutes long, it is one of bassist Steve Harris’s favorite tracks and with its time and mood changes, it was arguably the first song in Maidens career to show their proggy side.
What follows next is “Transylvania” an instrumental composed by Harris which was notably covered by Iced Earth on their album “Horror Show”. A track that gave the guitarists another chance to show their capabilities, the song, not having Di’annos vocals over it gave the band as a whole a chance to show their technical proficiency.
“Strange World” then saw Di’anno make a welcome return and show a different side to his vocal capabilities. A slow number, he actually SANG here rather than the raspy shout he was known for. This is a song that would not be out of place on any of the Dickinson material and it is a mystery why it has not been played live much over the years, as Dickinson’s more wide ranging style could arguably do it more justice than it is given here.
The next song is “Charlotte the Harlot” and notable for two reasons- one for being the only ever Maiden song to have been solely written by Murray and is the first of four tracks in the bands catalogue to be about a fictional prostitute named Charlotte, although Murray has stated that it was based on a true story. Given the songs subject matter, it had a moody and somewhat sad tone, with the lyrics giving a sympathetic view to the character. It is still fast and energetic but downbeat at the same time.
The album closed with the title track and bands namesake “Iron Maiden” in particularly epic fashion. It was relentlessly energetic from start to finish and obviously a live staple to this very day. Lyrically it was basically about the band being who they were, which at this time was a young and upcoming band destined for great things, which they soon achieved over the next few years. Strangely lacking a solo it definitely had the punk feel that was prevalent throughout this album, whether the band felt that way or not.
Viewing this album retrospectively, its importance will never be irrelevant because it was the sound of a new young band who are now one of the biggest bands in the world. Nearly 40 years on, it sounds of its time but at the same time still sounds exciting, having the feel of a band who had ambition to go to great places.
Other than that, it is generally still a very good album. Definitely a strong debut, many of its tracks are still regarded as classics now. With this album, Maiden got off to a good start, it is not a weak debut like a lot of other bands have. One thing that it had what their later, more polished albums didn’t have is a feeling of rawness and more of a rebellious attitude.
Compared to later albums such as “Number of the Beast” and “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” it was not as musically adventurous. It was more of a straight ahead rock album. As previously stated, Di’anno’s style was very different to Dickinson’s which undoubtedly had a lot to do with it. Many people agree that Di’anno did not have the kind of vocal range to perform some of the material that they would produce on later albums, which is why it was somewhat more limited sounding compared to the more progressive sounding and epic later records.