Iron Maiden: The Nature of the Beast

I consider myself a fairly well-rounded person with a variety of interests. But if you went only from what I blog about, you'd be forgiven for thinking I'm preoccupied with only those things I read, listened to on a walkman, or watched on VHS in the 80s.

I'm afraid this next series of blogs will not change that impression.

The first Iron Maiden album I remember coming out was Piece of Mind in 1983. My brother and his friends were all really into it, which meant I was always borrowing his copy, so I think my parents might have gotten me the cassette for Christmas to smooth over sibling relations. A lot of people think of Kraftwerk when they imagine the Autobahn, and while that's understandable, myself, I always think of Maiden, in particular Piece of Mind and Powerslave. Those were the cassettes usually in my walkman from '83 to when we left Germany in '86.

Unlike practically every other band that hit it big in the 80s, Maiden still tours and releases albums regularly. The albums might not sell as well as they used to (although they still, amazingly, go to number one in countries around the world,) but their tours are more successful than ever. I'm happy for them that this is the case, but even more bizarrely, they still release music and imagery that captures my imagination all these years later. (As well as gets me moving. I twisted my knee shoveling out of Polar Vortex 2014 two weeks back and mildly re-aggravated it last night jumping up and down in my kitchen while listening to "Hallowed Be Thy Name." I've a friend who put himself in the hospital jumping around to Blur's "Song 2;" if such a thing ever happens to me, Maiden will undoubtedly be responsible.) 

As far as the music goes, when it comes to whatever band of the heavy metal spectrum this sort of thing represents:

Maiden pretty much owns it. I imagine you'll know straight off whether this sort of thing is your cup of tea or not. I've found that if you didn't get into Maiden as a child, there's a fair amount of adult resistance to it; so it goes. They remind me of Kiss in this (and pretty much only this) regard. Once you're a Maiden fan, you tend to be of the "For Life" variety, but they have to take hold of your brain at an early age. Luckily for them (and for me, as it means I'm never without new Maiden material) each new generation seems to produce more or less the same amount of fans.

And the demographics are interesting to look at, too. Beyond my scope here, but it's an interesting sidebar to the whole Maiden phenomenon. A band one would reasonably assume would appeal only to a diminishing return of adolescents of the white-guy persuasion sells out arenas around the globe to boys and girls of all persuasions and pigmentations. Basically, their fan base is an ever-replenishing global juggernaut that turns out each and every year, radio play /celebrity-worship/ trends be damned.

I imagine they will be confusing non-Maiden fans until the day they hang up their cleats and epees.

As for me, what can I say? Maiden's high-energy mix of galloping rhythms, sudden structural changes, twin leads *, football-stadium-chants and neo-Celtic whimsy has appealed to me from the first time I heard it to the present day. The lyrics range from historical / literary epic to horror-dreamscape to songs about whatever movie Steve Harris saw on TV the night before. 

And of course, behind and above it all, is Eddie, their mascot and talisman, who forever appeals to the comic books side of my brain.

* When the classic line-up (Dickinson/ Harris/ McBrain/ Murray/ Smith) reformed for Brave New World, they opted not to kick Janick Gers (the replacement for Adrian Smith, who left after Seventh Son of a Seventh Son) out of the band. So twenty-first century Maiden has three leads. This is the sort of detail that forever amuses me. I seriously hope they get Dennis Stratton (guitarist for the first few years of the band) back in the line-up at some point so they can claim the distinction of having four lead guitarists.

What is it about Maiden that allows them to repeatedly succeed where so many others have failed? I can't say for sure. But it has something to do with the band's loving what they do, still being excited to try new things within this strange paradigm they've created for themselves, a lack of rock star egos, and transparency. With Maiden, what you see is what you get, unapologetically.

Undoubtedly a great deal of their continued success is due to the efforts of Sanctuary Management, aka Rod Smallwood and Andy Taylor, shown here with Number of the Beast-era Bruce.

Says Andy (speaking to Mick Wall in the band-authorized bio Run to the Hills:)

"We made a pledge to the band (once the money started coming in after The Number of the Beast,) where we guaranteed them that no one was ever going to knock on their door again asking for a bill to be paid. We said, 'You'll never be on credit again. You'll never have a tax problem. Whatever you get, it will be yours to keep, and you'll never have a chance of losing it.' And that's how we've carried on. Nowadays, it's a much bigger situation (of course, but even if it weren't) that's all because of the careful planning Rod and I put into their money right from the word go. We like a laugh, but we don't fuck around."

All the more important in Britain where the tax situation for rock stars is so oppressive. (Why do you think so many of them end up moving once they get to a certain income level?) And all the more impressive considering how long these guys have been around and the financial fate of so many of their contemporaries. Granted, Andy's and Rod's job has been made easier by moderation in personal spending from the band members. (i.e. no Kiss-level shenanigans.)

Which is not to say they haven't indulged themselves (and perfectly reasonably) along the way.

I just want to introduce the band today to those of you out there who don't know them. Future posts will rank the albums, one for the studio releases and one for the live ones, and Flight 666, and I will devote the month of March to "Thirty One Days of the Beast." A countdown of my favorites, aka the essential Maiden songs. (I just happen to have 31 favorites - what a coincidence! And I know this because I painstakingly ranked them all in Excel when I was bored after absorbing their last studio album, The Final Frontier.)

Hopefully, even if you're not a particular Maiden fan, you'll find something to entertain you in all of this, but if not, I guess we'll see you once I get this out of my system. There will likely be other blogs produced concurrently to all of the above, as well.

While Maiden is far more egalitarian in its inner chemistry than many other bands, its progenitor, undisputed leader, and principal songwriter is Steve Harris aka 'Arry.

Hailing from London's East End, specifically the Leyton district, Harris was scouted at an early age by West Ham United FC and invited to train with their under-18 squad when he was 14 years old. This is the dream of many a young lad, Brit or otherwise, and his friends thought he was crazy for opting not to pursue a career in the beautiful game. (Not so much his family, who were all Leyton Orient fans. Incidentally, when a friend of mine was visiting Chicago from London, he brought me a Leyton Orient kit - which I still have - for this very reason.)

Steve is one of two members of the current line-up who have been there from the very beginning. The other is Dave Murray.

Subject of this amusing blog by Nick Cato.
Dave is a Tottenham fan, but don't hold that against him. 

In addition to his long tenure as Maiden's premier vocalist and frontman, Bruce "Conan the Librarian" Dickinson is a commercial airline pilot, an author, a radio personality, and a fencing champion, once ranked 7th All-England.

Though not a football fan, he once flew Rangers FC (my favorite Scottish team) to Israel and back for a Cup.
A rather eccentric personality and general all-around fascinating dude.
His efforts as a screenwriter, however, have left a little to be desired. This movie is a hot mess, although the sequence where a resurrected Aleister Crowley terrorizes street punks to the strands of "The Wicker Man" is amusing, if only for how the song overpowers the dialogue and all other sound in the mix.
Next up is Adrian Smith, the second guitarist.

Avid angler. One of my favorite things about Maiden is how varied (and extensive) their extracurriculars are.
Adrian grew up a Man United fan but has identified himself as more of a Fulham fan as an adult. Some sites list his favorite club as Watford. If you're into football, this tells you that, at least footy-wise, he's not to be trusted.  

Nicko McBrain is Maiden's drummer. He's probably the most "Americanized" of the group, meaning when asked who his favorite football club is, he answers "The Miami Dolphins."

Cheeky bastard.
Nicko was known as Mr. Excess in his younger days, given his astounding capacity for ales and lagers. But time has tamed his wild ways, and these days he makes a home in the States with his American wife. (The McBrain family has had a bit of a rough patch of late, and we here at the Omnibus send our best wishes.) 

He's also given Paul McCartney a run for his money with some of his quotes in interviews, particularly this one when describing the band's first American tour: "We'd have a bit of taboo and a bit of yahoo and a little bit of livening up here and there, a bit of the old disco dust."

Nicko has always been one of my favorite rock personalities, mainly because his affection for a good time never eclipsed his personal health or responsibilities. As I get older, I'm increasingly impressed with those who maintain a life at the top of the metal heap without any of its attendant cliches (as fun as I find said cliches) or decimation of lifelong friendships/ relationships. 

And plus, I mean his name's fricking McBrain. If that isn't ridiculously fun, I don't know what it is.

And last but not least is Janick Gers, the third guitarist.

Outside of Ridley Scott, probably the world's most famous Hartlepool United fan. He's such a frequent presence on the Millhouse Terrace at Victoria Park on match-days that he gets yelled at by other fans when he misses games due to touring.
The description of this video by the original poster - and the look Bruce gives Jani - is hilarious.
These aren't the only people who have been in the band over the years, but I'll cover the others when I rank the albums.

Up the Irons!


  1. I like that they didn't kick the newer guitarists out of the band once the older ones decided to come back. That's a classy move, both toward the guitarists themselves AND (arguably more importantly) toward their newer fans.

    God damn it . . . I sense that I may be about to become an Iron Maiden fan.

    If I were reading a novel and encountered a character who "is a commercial airline pilot, an author, a radio personality, and a fencing champion, once ranked 7th All-England," I would get annoyed with it for being perhaps a bit too whimsical. And yet, boom, there's Bruce Dickinson, living proof that real life is sometimes much odder than fiction. I love it.

    1. ha! I hope so re: your burgeoning Maiden fandom. You'll have 31 opportunities to test the waters come March.

      Totally agreed on it being a class move for all involved to keep Janick in the band. (And on the suspension of disbelief required to properly deal with Bruce's actual reality.)