Iron Maiden: The Essential Albums

Iron Maiden has amassed an impressive discography in their nearly 30 years together. If you're a Maiden fan, you've got to have all of it, naturally, but where do you start if you're new to the band or just casually curious? 



You are welcome, Planet Earth. Up the irons.

Before we begin, an honorable mention to one of the most iconic album covers of all time:

Brutal. Brutally awesome.

Killers is a good album, to be sure, and "Wrathchild" is an absolute classic. If Maiden was any normal band, this would probably be my favorite of their songs. Can you believe it's my 32nd favorite? That makes it just ineligible for my forthcoming 31 Days of Maiden. I absolutely expected it to be among my top tracks. Yet after painstakingly making my way through their catalog and filling in all my spreadsheet cells and running the numbers, I have 31 songs ahead of it in my personal countdown.

I know! I'm as surprised as you are. 

Anyway, good album, maybe even great, but not as essential as everything covered below. (If we were judging solely by covers, Killers deserves a Special Jury Prize for Audacity, at the very least.)


5. Flight 666 - There will be a standalone blog for this one, so just a name-check for now, but the concert that comes with the documentary (from the "Somewhere Back in Time" tour) is a fantastic retrospective of classic Maiden.  The band bristles at defining this tour/ concert as a "retrospective," or a traveling antiques show, but a chance for newer fans (of which there are legion) to experience the classic songs in concert. Fair enough.

You can probably do just as well, though with:

"Scream for me, Dortmund... scream for me, Dortmund!!"

Iron Maiden's tours and live albums follow a bit of a pattern. There are the "retro" tours, like Flight 666, and then there are the new-album tours. This is a new-album tour, specifically the tour they did in support of Dance of Death.

Are you surprised I didn't pick Rock in Rio, the new-album tour for Brave New World, which I think is a superior LP to Dance of Death? I know! Me, too! I solved this problem for myself by getting Death on the Road on CD and Rock in Rio on DVD.

Do I recommend this method for you? You're old enough now where you can make your own decisions.

Anyway, Dance of Death, as we shall see, is a Maiden offering I esteem quite highly, so hearing the live versions amidst the assortment of classics is quite fun.

This is a great glimpse into the end of the Di'anno years (Friday Rock Show Session, November 1979 / Reading Festival August 1980) the beginning of the Dickinson one (Reading Festival November 1982) and the classic line-up at the height of their 80s glory (Monsters of Rock, Donington, 1988.) The performances and song selections are both top notch.

Although they hated punk, there is an undeniable punk-edge to late-70s Maiden. I think it was just in the London air at the time. Di'Anno's voice was well-suited for this, even if I grew up preferring Bruce's version. (The lyrics are "Oh well! Wherever, wherever you are," but I've been singing it as "Oh well! WHAT-EVER! Wherever you yadda yadda" for years, and I don't intend to stop.)

I was trying to figure out if this was the first live album I ever owned, but that distinction may go to Judas Priest's Unleashed in the East. I can't recall for sure. At one point, though, when I only had something like ten cassettes and as many albums, total, Live After Death was the coolest thing I owned. Hell, it still might be.

Back cover (and I'm happy to see this included in this Top 10 gatefold sleeves list; Maiden doesn't always get its due for such things.)
Inner gatefold
The World Slavery Tour was the biggest in the band's history to that point (187 gigs over 331 days.) It was the first time they played the Rock in Rio festival in Brazil (to 300,000 people) and the first time any metal act toured behind the iron curtain (in Poland, Hungary, and the former Yugoslavia.) When it ended in mid-summer, the band took the rest of the year off to recover. As a result of their collective mental and physical exhaustion, all subsequent outings incorporated strategic blocks of days off and downtime. (Leading to all those amusing "day off" special features on the DVDs.)

Released as part of the Eddie's Archives box set, I'm not sure if this technically counts towards their "official" live releases, but for my money, this is the most interesting of them. It's a blistering set (recorded in 1982 at London's famed Hammersmith Odeon) that captures the band at a real crossroads between their first era and everything to come. Di'Anno had just left the band, and this was Bruce's trial by fire as Maiden vocalist. There's a different energy to his performance as a result; he's not quite sure how hard to hit, so he's hitting harder than he needs to. Which would be a bit much if he did it all the time, but it's nice to have here.

The real difference, though, is Clive Burr on drums. Nicko is the better of the two Maiden drummers, but Clive's style as evidenced here (and on the BBC Archives recordings) was perhaps more straight-forwardly aggressive. He gives an altogether different punch to the rhythm section. Some drummers (Anton Fig) play just behind the beat, some are dead on top of it (John Bonham), and others are a bit wild (Keith Moon.) Using this scale, Nicko is closer to Keith Moon, and Clive is closer to John Bonham. Every drummer I've named is great, so don't take this as a knock on anyone.

Bruce puts his own spin on the Di'Anno era songs (especially "Another Life") and the band just sounds great.


Be Quick or Be Dead / From Here to Eternity / Afraid to Shoot Strangers / Fear Is the Key / Childhood's End / Wasting Love / The Fugitive / Chains of Misery / The Apparition / Judas Be My Guide / Weekend Warrior / Fear of the Dark

I did not get this one when it came out. I was big into hippie and neo-hippie stuff at the time. But when I got back into Maiden after catching them live in 2000 and re-visiting metal in general after a decade spent away from it, I grew to appreciate it. Particularly the title track and "Afraid to Shoot Strangers."

Sign of the Cross / Lord of the Flies / Man on the Edge / Fortunes of War / Look for the Truth / The Aftermath / Judgment of Heaven / Blood on the World's Hands / The Edge of Darkness/ 2 a.m. / The Unbeliever

Bruce left the band after Fear of the Dark and Blaze Bayley * took over on vocals. Much closer to Paul Di'Annos' vocal range than Bruce's, his tenure with the band isn't as well regarded as it should be. At least this album, I should say. It's commonly called their "darkest" album on account of its lyrical outlook, moody song structures, and quieter production, as if the songs are coming from deep in the shadows. Steve wrote most of the tunes, and he was going through his divorce at the time. (It shows.)

* I initially misheard the new vocalist's name as "Blaze Blazeley," a name so 1000% metal I privately refer to him as "Blaze Blazeley" regardless. If I lapse into that and don't catch it to edit, that's why. 

I can definitely sympathize with those who don't think much of it, as on the surface it sounds almost as if Maiden is unsure of itself. A far cry from "Where Eagles Dare," one might say. Regardless, some of Maiden's best songs are to be found here, and I think on account of that vulnerability. If I expanded my top 31 to, say, top 50, I'd have to include half the album's tracks, particularly "Look for the Truth," "The Unbeliever," and "Sign of the Cross."

Not to mention "Man on the Edge," which is, to my knowledge, the only song ever written about the movie Falling Down. It's a fun little tune and features the brilliantly awkward line "Once he built missiles, a nation's defense / now he can't even give birthday pres-ents." I love how they cram that rhyme in there! Too funny. The movie is not a personal favorite, but I love the fact that Blaze and Janick were so into it they wrote a song about it. The song has aged much better than the movie itself.

The other Blaze album, 1998's Virtual XI, is probably my least favorite Maiden album, but it features a song called "The Clansman," written by Steve after he apparently saw Braveheart. Blaze sings it pretty well, but Bruce kills it in concert. They performed the song when I saw them in 2000, as well as this album's "Sign of the Cross," leading to some interesting looks when I described the setlist to folks: They played The Clansman and then blew up a cross on stage... wait, no, not like THAT.

Prowler / Sanctuary / Remember Tomorrow / Running Free / Phantom of the Opera / Transylvania / Strange World / Charlotte the Harlot / Iron Maiden

Ahh, the one that started it all. From here on out in our countdown, you won't find many duds. Each track is fairly well-represented in future live or compilation releases and deservedly so. I'll cover my favorites in the forthcoming 31 Days of Maiden, but special mention for "Prowler" and "Sanctuary," which were big favorites of mine, growing up. 

And "Phantom of the Opera" is Maiden-by-numbers, in a good way. The way the riff and rhythm explodes should be on some kind of "Maiden Identifiers" app.

Wildest Dreams / Rainmaker / No More Lies / Montsegur / Dance of Death / Gates of Tomorrow / New Frontier / Paschendale / Face in the Sand / Age of Innocence / Journeyman

I was surprised as hell by this album. I had hopes it would be good, coming off the masterpiece that is 2000's Brave New World. But it turned out to be great. All of their 21st century material has been unreasonably solid, including their latest release, 2012's The Final Frontier, but this one is probably their last studio release to truly challenge their 80s work. (the so-called "classic era.")

Terrible cover, though.

"Wildest Dreams" came close to making my top 31, as did "No More Lies" and "Montsegur." My favorite is probably the title track, though:

They had ascended from He-el-l-l-l-llll...!! I can't get enough of this crap. And then the twin neo-Celtic leads? Please - just leave me here with my Maiden and let me jump up and down; I'll be along soon enough.

I laugh at this about myself - don't think this is said with any bravado. But when confounded by those who are emotionally moved by things like Katy Perry's "Roar," I can only cross-reference to things like this track and shrug. Takes all kinds.

Caught Somewhere in Time / Wasted Years / Sea of Madness / Heaven Can Wait / The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner / Stranger in a Strange Land / Deja-Vu / Alexander the Great

Where to start with this one? How about that cover? Here's the full gatefold.

There's an awful lot of in-jokes and self-referential stuff going on here, as this site exhaustively details. But my favorite bit is this from the news ticker above Dave's head:

Those of you who don't follow English Premier League football, know that this score is the clearest indication that this scene takes place in some fantasy world. Though if by some miracle the Hammers ever trounce the Gunners 7 to 3, my anguish as an Arsenal fan will definitely be lessened by realizing the Somewhere in Time back cover prophecy came true.

What an album. The weakest track here, ironically, is "Alexander the Great," which is still a pretty cool tune, just outclassed by the other tunes. (I'm forever amused by the way the song ends, which is basically like the band runs into the end of the album. "He died in Babylon!" WHAM.) 

"Deja-Vu" doesn't have the best reputation among Maiden fans for some reason, but I love that track. And seeing the band perform "Heaven Can Wait" in concert is always a treat; it may be the best of their "soccer chant" songs, i.e. those tunes in their catalog that include a part for the audience to sing. (Whoah-oh-oh! Whoah-oh-whoah-oh-WHOAH-oh-oh!)

Invaders / Children of the Damned/ The Prisoner / 22 Acacia Avenue / Number of the Beast / Run to the Hills / Gangland / Total Eclipse (not included on original release) / Hallowed Be Thy Name

This could be the best Side Two of any album ever released. ("Beast" through "Hallowed.") Holy moley. Side One is no slouch, either, but not quite as best-songs-ever as Side Two.

(A side note, literally (ahem) - I miss discussing sides of albums; it was such a fun way to organize the material.)

I'm sure I wasn't the only kid who had never heard of The Prisoner until this album came out. And there was practically a 20 year gap between hearing about it and actually seeing it.

But I thank the band for introducing me to something that's been such a renewable source of epic contemplation over the years. And that's one of two songs they wrote about the show.

"22 Acacia Avenue" is a sequel to Iron Maiden's "Charlotte the Harlot." (I don't think there's ever been a third part.)

Moonchild / Infinite Dreams / Can I Play with Madness? / The Evil That Men Do / Seventh Son of a Seventh Son / The Prophecy / The Clairvoyant / Only the Good Die Young

If I ever want to remind myself what the exact thing I wanted to hear was in 1988, I need only put this on and listen to it start to finish. I listened to this so much I think it burned me out on Maiden for a good 12 years, actually. Every song was a favorite at one point, and I fully believed each and every time my mind was finally made up on the matter. I've narrowed it down to three, 28 years later, but "The Evil That Men Do" is strong on the bench:

Personally, I think League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century missed a great opportunity to bring Ed the Head into things via the moonchild business.

The Wicker Man / Ghost of the Navigator / Brave New World / Blood Brothers / The Mercenary / Dream of Mirrors / Fallen Angel / The Nomad / Out of the Silent Planet / Thin Line Between Love and Hate

In 1999, I got a job at a Prints Plus at the Rhode Island Mall. My boss, like me, had grown up a huge Iron Maiden fan, and we got to talking about them one day. Both of us hadn't listened to them in years, but we saw an advertisement for this album at the Tape World a few stores down. On an impulse, I went and bought it. (And paid something like $15 - officially the last time I paid full price for a cassette.) On first listen, we laughed at its Maiden-ness, instantly recognizable to both of us even after having been away for many years. Then we listened to it again. And again. And thus began Maiden, Phase II in my life. 

As with the next two selections, it's difficult to discuss this one without going into specific commentary on specific songs, but since most are included in my list of personal faves and will thus be covered individually in the weeks to come, I'll hold off on that for now.

What an album.


Where Eagles Dare / Revelations / Flight of Icarus / Die With Your Boots On / The Trooper / Still Life / Quest for Fire / Sun and Steel / To Tame a Land

I don't know if I can say anything about these songs that isn't immediately self-evident upon hearing them. And as with Brave New World, most of the tracks here make my top 31, so I'll keep my remarks somewhat sparse. Start to finish awesome, and the post-"Trooper" songs on side two don't get the acclaim they deserve. Lyrically, Piece of Mind runs the gamut from WW2 to Greek mythology to the Crimean War to Dune to Neanderthals to the apocalypse. Musically, ditto. (Whatever that means!)

Fun fact: the backwards-message that begins "Still Life" is Nicko McBrain saying "Don' be meddlin' wit 'tings you no understand" in his best Idi Amin voice. It was done intentionally to mock the then-popular belief that metal bands were inserting Satanic messages onto their albums via backmasking.

As satirized at the time here in Bloom County.
Aces High / 2 Minutes to Midnight / Losfer Words (Big 'Orra) / Flash of the Blade / The Duellists / Back in the Village / Powerslave / Rime of the Ancient Mariner

When it comes to metal, it really doesn't get much - if at all - better than Iron Maiden. Maybe some vintage Metallica (maybe) maybe some Priest, maybe some Saxon. But as far as consistency, slugging power, and on-base-percentage, Maiden just buries everyone. And if Powerslave was the only thing they ever released, that would still be true.

Again, most songs covered individually later, yadda yadda, but "Losfer Words" is one that, like "Wrathchild," I was surprised to discover did not make my countdown, as I've been singing its praises for years:

The last song on side one, "The Duellists," is also very cool. Mick Wall, author of the authorized bio of the band, asks the asinine question, "Do we really need two songs about swordfighting on one album?" Answer: yes. Swordfight-song All The Things!!

But really, my answer is, only if it justifies its inclusion by rocking. And "The Duellists" does that. It's the lesser of the two swordfight songs, to be sure, but who cares?

Not only is this my favorite on account of the songs included but because it is so perfectly Maiden. Probably should be anyone's go-to when asked "So what is Maiden all about, then?" Ditto for Piece of Mind or Brave New World, but if I was absolutely forced to pick only one item from their catalog, I would reluctantly but confidently pick Powerslave.


I leave you with this cover of "Aces High" by the world's greatest all-female Maiden tribute band. (One of the only of their videos on YouTube that doesn't just zoom in on Courtney's boobs.)


  1. I'm tempted to skip past the Iron Maiden phase of my ascendent Iron Maiden fandom straight to the Iron Maidens phase. Mm-hmm...sure am.