In 1983, Iron Maiden were in a bit of a difficult spot. After releasing the classic The Number of the Beast
the prior year, it had seemed that they were on top of the underground metal community. Sure, they weren't selling as many records as Motley Crue or the Scorpions, but they were already being cited as an influence on many aspiring metal bands even this early in their career and they were causing plenty of controversy with their gruesome album covers and their lyrics that alledgedly praised Satan and celebrated and murder (when in actuality, they praised books and celebrated mythology), and in the early 80's, that was how a metal band got noticed. Soon, every mulletheaded kid in America was writing the Iron Maiden logo on their notebook and getting kicked out of church for wearing their "blasphemous" t-shirts, and of course, the albums were universally panned by pretty much every critic that mattered, and that's when you know you have a good band. Maiden were aware of this, and seemingly unable to keep a steady line-up, it was a bit tough following up an album that has often been heralded as the finest metal has to offer. However, with Piece of Mind
, Maiden did more than enough to solidify their spot as the kings of metal.
Despite the relatively concise nature of their previous albums (one epic song to close the album, and a bunch of four to five minute rockers) POM was the band's exploration in the territory of longer songs. The majority of the songs clock in around five to six minutes. Some songs like "Still Life" and "Revelations" go on a bit longer than they should, but for the most part, Maiden pull this off quite well. The opener "Where Eagles Dare" is a six-minute pummeller that has crushingly tasty riffs and a memorable chorus, much like "Invaders", "Prowler" or other previous Maiden openers, but what this song does differently is that, in the middle of it all, it just spirals into a sea of guitar madness, magically heavy drumming, galloping bass, and literal machine gun fire making for one of Maiden's heaviest songs yet, all the while keeping the great melodicism that the band is known well for. Another epic is the closer, "To Tame A Land", based off the Frank Herbert science fiction series Dune (which was adapted into a ***ty movie the following year). While not as immediately catchy and mind-altering as previous epics like "Hallowed Be Thy Name", it is still a beast of a song, featuring lots of guitar work and an overall sound that fits the theme of what the lyrics describe. The opening riff takes you to a far away planet covered in sand and spice. This is what Maiden does to you. While not as memorable as "Hallowed...", "Phantom of the Opera", or even "Killers", (which must serve as the token epic on its respective album) it is still an excellent tune, despite lacking the effortless feeling of previous Maiden epics. It feels as if the band forced out an "epic vibe" to emulate the feeling of the Dune books, but it still made for a fine track.
Not every song attempts an epic approach. The well-known (I refuse to say "hit") singles, "Flight of Icarus" and "The Trooper", are both amazingly well-crafted heavy metal singles that are concise and feature all that Maiden is known for. We have the marching in "...Icarus" and the galloping in "...Trooper", and while both of these songs are far better on later recordings like Live After Death
or basically live in general, they both contain catchy hooks, memorable and chant-able choruses, and two of Maiden's finest guitar solos, respectively. Some songs could have been left out of the equation though. This leads us to "Sun and Steel" and "Quest For Fire", the former being a decent jam but so silly and seemingly pointless that it simply has to come off as pure filler and the latter just being so unmemorable that you forget it is even on the album. While the former's chorus is catchy and upbeat enough for you to chant amongst buddies or for it to play in your head when you learn about the samurai warriors in world history class, it is not exactly one of Maiden's finest tunes overall.
Easily one of the best things about the album is the improved musicianship; this is the first album where everybody sounds perfectly working together as a unit, which is why this line-up of Maiden would continue for some time. Bruce's high-pitched shouts aren't nearly as humorous as they were on Number...
and the rest of the band seems more content on playing precisely and well rather than just shredding fast and playing loud. Nicko McBrain was certainly an excellent addition to the band, with his drumming complementing well songs like "Where Eagles Dare" and "Die With Your Boots On". Steve Harris is as fine of a bassist as ever, and Adrian and Dave seem to use the dual-guitar force to its fullest extent, and for a good affect. In fact, the entire band seems to be more focused on the trademark Maiden gallop, possibly representing war, which is often said to be a theme of this album by Maiden fanatics.
So despite the fact that a few songs could have easily been omitted and the fact that some of the songs drag on a bit, Piece of Mind
is all-in-all a more-than worthy follow-up to one of the most revered albums in metal history, and while both the album before it and after it in Maiden's catalogue surpasses it, it is still an essential piece (no pun intended) of metal history.