Iron Maiden - Powerslave
On September 3, 1984, "Iron Maiden" released their fifth studio album "Powerslave".
This is the album that established the status of "Iron Maiden" as the largest heavy metal band in the world at the time.
This album is basically the essence of Heavy Metal, the "bread and butter" of this amazing genre and one of its pillars, just before it was split into countless sub-genres with different and weird names.
This is the band's second album with its classic lineup, which included Steve Harris, Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, Bruce Dickinson, and Nicko McBrain, and is also the band's first album where the lineup remains the same as the previous album.
The story of this masterful album begins in December 1983, with the end of the successful tour of the previous album "Piece of Mind". The band takes a break of only three weeks and decides to repeat the same pattern that characterized the creation of the previous album, hoping to recreate the same success.
They gathered at the Le Chalet Hotel in New Jersey for rehearsals, just as she did with "Piece of Mind". During the six weeks, they stayed at the hotel, the band wrote most of the material for the album, again similar to what happened with their previous album. From there the band moves to the "Compass Point" studio in Nassau the Bahamas, the same studio where "Piece of Mind" was recorded. Legendary producer Martin Birch, with whom the band previously worked, was chosen to produce the album as well. Also, like the previous album, the material of "Powerslave" dealt with poetry, literature, historical events, and favorite movies of the band members.
The album opens with "Aces High", the second single released from it and one of the band's iconic songs. The name of the song is taken from a 1976 film of the same name starring Christopher Plummer. The lyrics are written from the point of view of the British Royal Air Force pilot who fought against the German Air Force during the "Battle of Britain" - the first battle in history that was entirely aerial. The intro to a slow and dramatic song as if simulating the plane on the runway as it drives before takeoff, then an explosion! Throttles are open all the way and the plane soars up along with the music at an insane speed of 134 BPM. And the rhythm, what a rhythm, listen to it carefully because it just tells us the whole course of the aerial battle. Dickinson is at his peak and he manages to convey through his voice what the pilot is going through during the fight, with the listener feeling as if he is right inside the cockpit. The solos of Dave and Adrian are simply complementing each other. The song opens with the words: "There goes the siren that warns of the air raid" words that soon enough will bare Bruce Dickinson's nickname as "The Air Raid Siren", as befits his mighty voice. The clip that came out for the song opened with Churchill's famous speech, which later became an integral part of the song at the band's performances. Contrary to expectation the person who wrote the song is Steve Harris and not Bruce Dickinson. It is interesting to note that the song "Tailgunner" from the album "No Prayer for the Dying" is a kind of sequel to the song "Aces High" and it describes the battle for Britain from a different angle.
The album continues to explode with the big hit and the first single released from it "2 Minutes To Midnight". The song opens with the catchy and stunning reef of Adrian Smith that simply sweeps you away and makes your head move in involuntary (and not a word about the "borrowing" from Riot's "Swords and Tequila"). The song is based on the doomsday clock that represents the countdown to a nuclear war, with midnight representing a nuclear catastrophe. In September 1953 this clock stood at 2 minutes to midnight, following nuclear tests conducted by the two great powers several months apart. In 1984 - the year the album was released, the clock stood at 3 minutes to midnight, due to tensions between the USSR and the US, the highest reading of the clock since 1953. This amazing hit was written by Adrian Smith and Bruce Dickinson and the "old fans" between our readers will surely remember that the clip of this song was broadcast by Yoav Kutner musical in the mythological TV show "Zehu Ze", it was undoubtedly a defining moment for "Maiden" fans in Israel when a clip of the band was broadcast on Israeli television.
The third track "Losfer Words (Big 'Orra)" is an instrumental piece composed by Steve Harris. This is probably the "weak" part of the album and maybe that's also why it's Maiden's last instrumental track to date. Weak or not, it's still "Iron Maiden" and the "weak" tracks are also mind-blowing, mainly thanks to the interesting guitar dialogue between Dave and Adrian.
The fourth track, "Flash of the Blade", depicts Bruce Dickinson's love for fencing and tells the story of a medieval man who lives on his sword and seeks revenge. As you know, Dickinson is a professional fencer who came in seventh at the British Fencing Championships and represented his country at the European Championships in 1989. The dual guitar riff that opens the song fits the story and simply illustrates in an amazing musical way the battle of swords. This song was part of the soundtrack to the 1984 film "Phenomena" starring Jennifer Conley.
The song that seals the first side of the vinyl "The Duellists" is probably the big brother of the previous song as it also talks about a duel. This time the song was written by Harris and is influenced by Ridley Scott's 1978 film of the same name. Something in the melody of the song is a bit reminiscent of the song "Where Eagles Dare" that Harris wrote for the previous album.
Another song by the Dickinson-Smith duo "Back in the Village" opens the second side of the album with Adrian Smith's crazy riff. This song was also influenced by the TV series "The Prisoner" which influenced the writing of the famous song from the album "The Number Of The Beast". Dickinson uses the lyrics of the song in the terminology of a pilot and probably predicts his own future here and illustrates his love of aviation: "Take your chances, kill the engine, drop your bombs and let them burn." But the homage to the album "The Number Of The Beast" does not end there, the line "I see sixes all the way" and the number 666 that Dickinson whispers in the background, constitute a kind of small "tribute" to that masterful album.
The theme song "Powerslave" is without a doubt one of the highlights of the album. The galloping and sweeping rhythm and oriental riff leave no room for doubt, this is one of the band's representative songs, a classic that puts us deep into its DNA. The song tells of a king in the Pharaoh dynasty who all his life taught and educated him that he was a kind of God. He is in the last hours of his life and does not understand how he is about to die, when in his last breath he promises to return as a mummy. The song was written by Dickinson and he claims he is referring to the song "Revelations" from the last album which was written about the English mystic Aleister Crowley - the founder of the religious philosophy Thelma.
The epic piece that closes the album "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is a song written by Harris under the influence of a poem of the same name by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The piece stretched over more than 13 minutes and held the band's longest-running record for almost 30 years, until the release of the song "Empire of the Clouds" included on the album "The Book of Souls" and lasting about 18 minutes. The song tells of the ancient mariner who was cursed because he killed an albatross bird, his ship is swept south in the stormy sea, as he witnesses adventures along the way. It's a very musically complex piece, with a lot of rhythm changes and many influences from the progressive genre that are very close to Harris' heart. The story of the act blends well not only with the lyrics but especially with the music, with the center of the song we witness an instrumental piece led by Harris' bass playing and Murray and Smith's moaning guitars that simply lower us deep into the depths of the sea. By the way, this is the song that the band members testified that they most enjoy playing at shows.
It is interesting to note that the album cover illustrated by Derek Riggs includes several encrypted messages embedded into the painting, including the face of Mickey Mouse, and captions such as: "WOT? No Guinness", "Indiana Jones was here 1941 wot a load of crap", "bollock".
After the release of the album, "Iron Maiden" went on the biggest tour they had to date, which lasted almost a year. During the tour, the band visited places where they had not performed before and became the first heavy metal band to play behind the "Iron Curtain". The highlight of the tour was the band's performance in Rio, where they played for the first time in front of an audience of no less than 300,000 people. The album and the tour designed to promote it raised "Iron Maiden" to the rank of the biggest metal band of the time. The tour was recorded on audio and video during two of the four performances held at the Long Beach Arena in California, from March 14 to 17, 1985, and released on the double album and on VHS "Live After Death" - one of the greatest live albums of all time.