After The Number Of The Beast had given Iron Maiden their well-deserved international breakthrough in 1982, they delivered one of their very best albums just a year later: Piece Of Mind.
Piece Of Mind
Produced by Martin “Black Night” Birch
Released 16 May 1983
A big drum spectacle heralds the coming of Nicko McBrain, as well as the dawn of a new era in Iron Maiden’s career and sound. After two similar-sounding albums recorded in London’s Battery Studios, the band and producer Martin Birch relocated to the sunny Bahamas’ Compass Point Studios for the production of the first Maiden album featuring the classic line-up of bassist Steve Harris, guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, singer Bruce Dickinson, and new drummer McBrain.
And despite critics often hailing the previous record, The Number Of The Beast, as the definitive Iron Maiden album, this writer regards Piece Of Mind as the album where Maiden truly found their feet and put forth a powerful claim for timeless rock royalty.
Any vestiges of the band’s more simplistic roots that were present on all the previous records are now swept away, and the album takes flight with Where Eagles Dare, their most ambitious opener yet. Rhythmically and melodically, this is the sound of a band that is high on inspiration. The technical ability of the players is overwhelming, and it’s impossible to imagine this track with Stratton, Di’Anno, or even Burr.
This new sophistication is also reflected in the album artwork, where illustrator Derek Riggs is now moving Eddie out of his previous comfort zone of city streets and … er, Hell. With the Piece Of Mind artwork, the dynamic between Maiden’s lyrical and conceptual ideas and Riggs’ twisted and wonderful imagination is truly heating up:
You can click on this picture for a stunning large version that leaves no doubt about the importance of the Riggs/Maiden synergy back in the 1980s. The perfect marriage of music and imagery.
The 2014 black vinyl reissue recreates the original packaging nicely, while the 2012 vinyl picture disc comes in a gatefold sleeve that opens to reveal live shots of the band on the 1983 World Piece Tour. This show was probably the most visually disappointing of Maiden’s 1980s stage productions, as we’ve argued here at Maiden Revelations earlier, but the pictures make up for it with an incredible display of ludicrous trousers!
Absolutely top-notch material follows the impressive opener: Dickinson’s proggy Revelations, his and Smith’s swaggering Flight Of Icarus with its stadium-sized chorus, and then the relentless (and thus appropriately titled) Die With Your Boots On, credited to Smith, Dickinson and Harris.
Indeed, a prominent feature of the album is the fact that the band are very integrated as songwriters. With the standard of the material being so high, this seems to indicate a surplus of creative energy.
What used to be known as side B in the days of vinyl, now properly recreated with the vinyl reissues, kicks off with one of the ultimate Maiden classics, Harris’ The Trooper, a timeless galloping metal tune about the 1854 Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War, and it continues in fine style with the obscure Still Life, co-written by Murray and Harris. The recent picture disc version is not one for the ears, but it carries Riggs’ artworks for the 1983 singles Flight Of Icarus and The Trooper, the latter of which is one of the essential Eddie incarnations:
The only songs on the record never to be performed live are Quest For Fire and Sun And Steel. They both struggle to match the power of the previous six songs, but their quality is still impressive in the mighty strong company they keep on this record. A highlight of both is the Murray/Smith harmony interplay.
Signing off with the powerful epic To Tame A Land, based on Frank Herbert’s classic novel Dune, the merits of Piece Of Mind become undeniable. Heavy riffs and tasteful melodies conjure desert landscapes, and Dickinson proves that there is no tongue-twisting lyric too weird for him to translate into classic metal.
Iron Maiden deliver a monster of an album that combines determination, guts, and technical ability into a greater whole that is often underappreciated in the squeeze between their 1982 breakthrough album and the era-defining record that was still to come.
Maiden’s 1983 record did not enjoy the aid of being newsworthy, as their previous work did. Nor did it benefit from technological sophistication, like some of their later 1980s work would. It had to stand on the power of its contents, and those contents still blow you away four decades later.
Piece Of Mind is one of their very best albums ever. A masterpiece.
Christer’s verdict: 6/6