Review Summary: A highly influential album that cemented the band's legacy as masters of metal.
Iron Maiden’s fifth album, Powerslave, is a truly exceptional album. It takes all the elements that made early Maiden great [dueling guitar leads, galloping bass, Bruce’s soaring vocals, etc.] and throws them into the melting pot. The result is a classic melodic metal album that truly does live up to its ultra-popular status (and its amazing cover art). Powerslave is truly the pharaoh of heavy metal.
The key element that propelled Powerslave to its throne is, of course, the excellent musicmanship. This is definitely a guitar player’s record. Throughout the fifty-minute album, Dave Murray and Adrian Smith serenade the listener with catchy riffs and melodic solos; their interplay is fascinating. There are no riffs that don’t mesh with the previous riff, and every solo interacts perfectly with it’s song. This results in some of the best solos of the band’s discography; particularly on “Aces High” and “Powerslave”, my two favorite songs on the album. Powerslave possesses a special “togetherness”, where everything feels like it’s in the right place and balanced, even on the multi-sectional, thirteen-and-a-half minute finale “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. There are no moments that pass by when the guitar-work becomes tedious or boring to listen to.
Powerslave is home to some classic songs, and some songs that didn’t quite get the attention they deserve. The opener “Aces High” soars just as high as the fighter planes it details in its lyrics, and the mid-tempo second track “2 Minutes to Midnight” has found itself as a favorite in the live setlists thanks to its memorable intro riff and great sing-a-long chorus. The dark, heavy title track shows the extent of Maiden’s remarkable songwriting abilities, and of course, you can’t forget the multi-sectioned epic “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, which is the longest song in the band’s discography to date. But in between these classic songs, there are some songs that are not as well-known. “Flash of the Blade” plays like an updated version of “Running Free”; it’s just a ton of fun to listen to. “The Duelists” is a warrior’s anthem containing a lengthy instrumental section showcasing the band’s dueling guitar skills. Fitting, huh? “Back in the Village” is widely considered among critics to be filler, so I was apprehensive about listening to it, but when I did, the fiery opening guitar riff washed all my fears away. The track then progresses to be one of the most energetic songs on the whole album. Admittedly, I could live without the instrumental “Losfer Words”, but it is still a solid track with a great riff.
Bruce’s voice is, as usual, exemplary. He delivers his unique voice with enough power to keep the tracks alive. He can hit the soaring highs (“Aces High”), as well as the menacing lows (“Powerslave”) with ease. The lyrics are well-written too, if cheesy. (Hey, that was cool back in the day, admit it.) Powerslave doesn’t go out of its way to be heavy, instead opting for a lighter, poppier, approach, with emphasis on catchy choruses. And this isn’t a bad thing at all; not all metal has to be heavy. Powerslave’s relative lightness helps the album’s replayability factor, which is Powerslave’s greatest asset.
Powerslave almost never slows the pace down. It keeps the listener energized and headbanging throughout the entirety of the album, save for slower solos in “2 Minutes to Midnight” and “Powerslave”, and a minute worth of bassline in “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. The lack of ballads keeps the listener on their toes the whole time. This is a two-sided coin though. Powerslave does lack the variety that Somewhere in Time had, and it’s hard to distinguish some songs, particularly in the middle of the album. My other minor complaint about the album is the lack of drumming presence. Nicko McBrain takes a backseat here and doesn’t do anything interesting. In fact, when I showed my 12-year-old sister the album, she said she loved it, but she found the drumming boring. The album would have been improved if he had more of a showing, but the guitar-work makes up for it.
Overall, Powerslave is a fantastic album that makes all the right moves and showcases what 80’s melodic metal was all about. The songs are extremely well written and well played. Songs follow the same pattern, but when that pattern is as good as this one, it is fine with me. If I had made the album, I would have replaced “Losfer Words” with a slower song in the name of “Children of the Damned” or “Revelations”. But in the end, Powerslave is an essential listen for any metal fan, or music fan in general. This is a great starting point for entering the wonderful world of metal.