The run of classic 1980s Iron Maiden albums continues with Powerslave, the record that really epitomizes the highest high of Maiden’s fortunes around the world.
Produced by Martin “Pool Bully” Birch
Released 3 September 1984
The first album recorded by Iron Maiden’s classic line-up, Piece Of Mind (1983), was a masterpiece. The passage of time has only reinforced this. The fact that the band managed to transcend The Number Of The Beast (1982) is still mind-blowing all these years later. But Piece Of Mind would be forever caught in the squeeze between the number one Beast record, and the era-defining album that arrived in 1984.
With Powerslave (1984) and the ensuing World Slavery Tour, Iron Maiden became the biggest metal band on the planet, plain and simple. For the first time in their career they released two albums in a row with the same line-up, and Powerslave drips with the sound of honed skills as well as sheer ambition and self-confidence.
All of this is evident in the opening duo of the dogfighting Aces High and the nuclear warning 2 Minutes To Midnight. The McBrain/Harris rhythm section sounds like one infernal machine, as does the intricately designed guitar interplay of Murray/Smith, while Dickinson soars over the top of it all with supreme bravado.
Producer Martin Birch continues to build a powerful and guitar-centric sound, once again recording at Nassau’s Compass Point Studios and ensuring that Powerslave delivers what the album title promises.
Click here for our celebration of classic era Iron Maiden guitars!
Other outstanding material here is Dickinson’s title track Powerslave, a chilling and possibly allegorical tale of a pharaoh’s addiction to power in ancient Egypt, and that 13-minute masterpiece by Harris: Rime Of The Ancient Mariner. The song is based on, and quoting extensively from, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1798 epic poem about a cursed seafarer’s encounter with a ghost ship.
Much of the subsequent tour’s stage show would be built around these two songs, and to this day they are able to instantly transport the listener to other times and other places. Indeed, the Powerslave tour offered one of the greatest stage productions in the band’s history, as this feature article argues.
Maiden’s lyrics are by now firmly rooted in history, fantasy and poetry, making the Di’Anno era but a distant memory. The monumental Derek Riggs cover art is inspired by the title track, and the visual landscape Riggs is able to conjur up depends greatly on the deeper and more mysterious lyrics:
The reissued picture disc gatefold reveals photos of the band, some of them on stage on the World Slavery Tour, which is a neat visual effect as it ties in with the album artwork. Obviously, the disc itself is decorated with the 2 Minutes To Midnight and Aces High single artworks, which are both top class Riggs paintings that continue to build the Eddie mythology. The more recent black vinyl reissue recreates the original packaging faithfully.
In fact, the quintessential Smith and Dickinson rocker, 2 Minutes To Midnight, seems to have inspired as much fire and brimstone in the mind of Riggs as it did in minds of fans around the world. Only a track with such intricate patterns of grooves, riffs, melodies and lyrical punch-lines could ever turn into this:
All of their imagery and mystery would come in very handy when Maiden hit the road and recorded their first ever live album in 1984 and 1985. Powerslave was the template for a concert spectacle that would achieve mythical status.
Click here for our review of Live After Death (1985)!
Unfortunately, the band is also showing the strain of having to come up with new material in the midst of their endless album-tour-album-tour cycles. The instrumental Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra) is not worthy of its place on the album, despite its middle part blending folk music and metal in a way that points years ahead to the black metal scene in Scandinavia.
Also of dubious worth is the annoyingly hyper Back In The Village, while Flash Of The Blade comes closer to matching the other material on display. It must have taken a few days to rehearse and record King Of Twilight and Rainbow’s Gold for the single B-sides, so why not rather use that time to get another killer original song into shape for the album?
Harris’ The Duellists is a forgotten gem here though, one of those tracks that the band has unfortunately never performed on stage. It has much in common with earlier masterpieces Phantom Of The Opera and Where Eagles Dare, reveling in staccato grooves and double and triple guitar harmonies.
In the end the subpar tracks prevent Powerslave from quite reaching the heights of its predecessor Piece Of Mind. However, the four stand-out cuts and one hidden jewel still make this a very special record.
Christer’s verdict: 5/6
10 thoughts on “Review: Powerslave (1984)”
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I agree that Rainbows and Twilight are just as great, but they do not fit on the record itself. I guess it has a more ” alternative” feel rather than standard Metal song.
I didn’t say I wanted cover tunes on the album.
My point was that they could have used the time it took to rehearse and record the two covers of Twilight and Rainbow to instead write and record another original killer song for the album.
Powerslave‘s a great record, no doubt, but with one more song in the same league as Aces and Mariner (say, in the place of Losfer Words) it would have been even better.
But back in the 80s the band always spent part of their short recording schedules doing B-sides for singles.
Man, I couldn’t disagree more in respect of Losfer Words and Back In The Village.
The former is their best instrumental, powerful, progressive and highly melodic. More intricate than any of their previous instrumentals.
The latter is a superb speed metal rooted track, with a gorgeous vicious main riff and great harmony accolades in the bridge. The vocal line in the chorus may be somehow annoying, but the track in its entirety feels timeless and compelling, a great transition to the mind blowing Powerslave song.
Flash Of The Blade is also fantastic, the guitar work is top notch and the melodies in the bridge are to die for (more than two guitars, for sure).
As for the The Duellists, one of Maiden’s greatest long forgotten gems.
Imo, Losfer Words is crap no matter how intricate, but I just don’t agree with Maiden putting instrumentals on the album at all. Should not have been necessary by that point, with Bruce fucking Dickinson as lead singer. 🙂
I love this album, but it is sorely overrated. The album comes to a screeching halt at the instrumental and does not pick up again until the song Powerslave. 4 out of the 8 songs are OK or worse. During the 4 song slump there is not ONE but TWO songs about SWORD FIGHTING!!! Give me a break!!!!
Personally I think The Duellists is a great song, but I agree that the instrumental, Blade and Village are not nearly up to the strength of the other material. Thus I think it is more uneven than Piece Of Mind and Seventh Son.
Powerslave is pretty much up there with Piece of Mind for my favorite Maiden album on the strength of it’s 4 best tracks. The rest of the material isn’t especially memorable, but not really bad, per se. Losfer Words is a fun instrumental that gives off a fantasy vibe (I’ve always felt like playing Skyrim to it), though it’s placement on the album doesn’t do any favors, following the two amazing singles. After hearing those songs, it just kinda feels a lot tamer in comparison. Flash of the Blade, I feel, is a companion piece to The Duellists, which is the mush stronger of the two songs. I have to wonder why they made two songs about pretty much the same thing and put them back to back. Back in the Village just comes off as very forgettable to me (I honestly can’t remember the last time I listened to it), and it certainly doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the album’s feel. However, Powerslave is bookended with 4 of the best Maiden songs period, and for that reason alone, I listen to it pretty much all the time.
“…and put them back to back. Back in the Village…” Hehehe… 😉
I completely agree with your points here.
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